Muslim Voices — Zakaria
0:00:06:>>MANAF BASHIR: Welcome to Muslim Voices. I'm your host, Manaf Bashir.
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0:00:12:>>MANAF BASHIR: Each year, more than five million women are the victims of some form of abuse in the United States, and no group is immune from the problem, including Muslims. For Muslim domestic violence victims, the stigma that often surrounds the issue can be compounded by cultural values that encourage women to reconcile with their abusers. For others, there is a worry if they leave their abuser spouse they'll also have to leave the religion and their community. Attorney Rafia Zakaria is the director of the Muslim Alliance of Indiana's Women's Fund. Housed at the Julian Center in Indianapolis, the fund has been working to help Muslim women find ways of leaving abusive situations but still retain their sense of who they are, as Zakaria tells Rosemary Pennington.
0:00:53:>>RAFIA ZAKARIA: The Muslim Women's Fund is essentially a legal aid clinic where we provide free legal representation to Muslim women as well as other, you know, women here in Indiana who face domestic violence issues. We represent them in family law cases and in immigration law cases. So, you know, we're housed at the Julian Center in Indianapolis. It's actually one of two full service shelters in the country. So, you know, our part, obviously, is the legal services. But because we're housed at the Julian Center, we can put our clients, essentially, in - you know, give them access to counselling, to shelter up to two years, our food pantry, you know, other household items that they may need, therapy for themselves and their children. So that, obviously, allows us to offer a much wider range of services than we would, you know, just as a legal aid clinic.
0:01:56:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: Domestic violence is something that is incredibly stigmatized, no matter who you are or where you're at, and is incredible - it's an incredible problem to try to work on because of the stigma issues and because domestic violence victims tend to be isolated by their abuser, no matter who they are, what color, what ethnicity, what religion. Are there circumstances or obstacles within the Muslim community that makes it difficult to - especially difficult to deal with this?
0:02:22:>>RAFIA ZAKARIA: You know, I think that there are two dimensions to the issue. One, obviously, is that the Muslim community as a whole post-9/11 - and I know you've discussed this in several of your podcasts - is a community under scrutiny. And anytime you have a community that has a spotlight placed on it in the way the Muslim community has, there is a - you know, perhaps a kind of automatic insularity that results from that where, you know, people are really reticent to look at internal problems within the community because they feel that it's essentially going to substantiate existing stereotypes, right? So that's definitely a challenge that we deal with. You know, in terms of, I guess, actual demographics, the problem with most of the clients that I see is probably similar to other immigrant communities mostly because, you know, you've got women who are immigrants as well as suffering and abuse situation, which essentially creates a double whammy for them. They don't know how the American system works and are often, because they don't know, are suspicious of - you know, of kind of, you know, administrative mechanisms and bureaucracies. And so that's one huge part of it. In terms of, I think, the cultural part of it - you know, I think that, you know, there are - I mean, there are definitely obstacles that Muslim women face. Traditionally, within the Muslim community, there is an emphasis on reconciliation instead of seeking divorce and issues like that. And the way we've tried to deal with it is to essentially bring in imams who've worked on this issue within the community so that they can have - because, you know, obviously, they have the religious legitimacy we need to show that, you know, this is not something that's necessarily coming from religious doctrine. It's coming from often, you know, cultural practices that are then justified through religious means. So that's been our approach is essentially to try to train, you know - and ISNA actually does this work to try and train imams on DV issues and then have those imams be involved with what we do. You know, the - most of the Muslim women that come, you know, who are facing these issues are very committed to their faith and they - you know, our emphasis has been to show them that, you know, coming out about this issue or dealing with this issue does not mean that, you know, you're going to be ostracized by the community.
0:05:13:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: What's the reaction to your work been?
0:05:16:>>RAFIA ZAKARIA: You know, it's been varied. I - you know, I have to be honest and say that our biggest supporters are professional Muslim women who have really taken an active role and have really committed to this issue both in terms of donations and fundraising as well as really kind of forming a core that is very vocal about it that is trying to - you know, because what - I mean, more than having this help, you know, our obstacles are also to get the people who - get in touch with the people who need the help, right? So - and the best way, really, like you said, is to kind of form these internal networks within the community so that, if someone knows that, you know, this - that X friend or friend's sister or whoever is facing this issue, that they have someone to talk to and just even get an idea of what their rights are. So that's really our focus is to - you know, to show - or to increase information within the community about what it means to get a divorce in the U.S. or what that involves - what custody involves here. Also, you know, the special immigration benefits that are available to domestic violence victims in terms of the, you know, VAWA petitions, in terms of U visas, et cetera. So those - that's the kind of information that we're trying to trying to get out.
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0:06:49:>>MANAF BASHIR: Rafia Zakaria is the director of the Muslim Alliance of Indiana's Women's Fund. The fund has only been operating since last fall but is already seeing four or five women a month. This has been Muslim Voices, a production of Voices and Visions in partnership with WFIU Public Media from Indiana University. Support comes from the Social Science Research Council. You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes or join the discussion on our website. Find us online at muslimvoices.org.
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