The Refuge for Battered Muslim Women In Texas

National News

In a city where 3 Muslim women have been killed by their husbands this year, the Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation (TWMF) — based on a sanctuary model — serves as an oasis for victims of violence. The organization engages Muslim communities in addressing violence in the home.

There is a myth that domestic violence doesn’t affect many people. Fact is that a woman is beaten every nine seconds. The American Medical Association (AMA) and FBI estimate 3-4 million women are battered each year in the U.S. You read that right, million. Domestic violence is the single greatest cause of injury to women. The FBI estimates violence occurs during the course of two-thirds of all marriages.

Two deaths of young mothers shocked the Dallas Muslim community. Hanan Seid, a Muslim woman from Dallas, was recently killed by her husband, Ahmed Mehamded Abdel. Police reports say he shot her multiple times in the middle of the day in the parking lot of her Richardson apartment complex. She moved there trying to escape him. The time after a woman leaves her husband is the most dangerous time, according to experts. Women are 70 times more likely to be killed in the two weeks after leaving, than at any other time during the relationship. Noshin Chambers, another Muslim woman in Dallas, was killed in March by her husband. Ironically, Chambers’s sister sat on the board of TWMF. The DFW Metroplex witnessed the murder of 16 women in 2015 - their families and children devastated by the loss and living with this trauma for the rest of their lives. Since it launched in 2005, the organization has helped more than 1500 women and men.

Dr Hind Jarrah, one of the founders of the organization, the former president of board, and the current Executive Director for the agency, shares how Muslim women in the Dallas metroplex gathered together and held a listening session after September 11. Thirty women — strangers to each other — came to the initial meeting. They spoke about issues important to them and formed the TMWF. A major problem identified, amongst issues like generational divide, ethnic and racial divides, and misrepresentation, was a lack of culturally appropriate domestic violence services. “We started in 2004, and launched in 2005,” she says, largely in response to the scrutiny after 9/11.

TWMF offers a full continuum of services — from ESL classes to financial management— to serve and support victims of family violence and their families from all backgrounds, with a special ability to understand and address the needs of the Muslim population. There is a 24-Hour Family Violence Hotline (972-880-4192). With a diverse staff of 20, speaking more than 14 languages, the Peaceful Oasis Shelter can accommodate 16 (adults only) and up to 20 (adults and children). Each client is assigned a case manager, meets with a counselor, and a lawyer speaks with them, to assess their needs. “We do not make decisions for the clients, we give them options,” says Jarrah.

Faith, a recent immigrant, found out her husband owed large sums of money in child support debt from previous marriages, unknown to her. She spent her savings to help him pay his debts as well as their daily bills and expenses. He became more controlling and physically abusive. Finally, when Faith ran out of money, he abandoned her, taking the few remaining possessions they owned. “He left me there with no furniture, no money, nothing. I could not pay rent and the bills...” Alone in the United States, Faith ended up under the trauma- informed care of TWMF.

TMWF helped her obtain her Green Card and her United States Work Authorization. “I was upset because I haven’t been able to work. [I] came in for counseling and I [f]ound out about this,” she says, showing her work authorization card. “I guess God had something better for me this week!” she says joyfully, in spite of her years of dealing with the hardships from her abuse. “They really support you here. They celebrate with me when good things happen and help me when I need it. To have somewhere to go, especially when you are from another country with no money and family, give [sic] you courage and strength to go on,” says Faith.

The organization focuses on economic empowerment of the clients —three recent clients were enrolled in a two year medical program.TMWF also helps clients out with family law and immigration cases. Mahira* lost her seven children after they were removed by Child Protective Services (CPS). She was fearful because they were separated from each other. One was molested in foster care. TMWF helped by having the children placed in the home of their grandparents.

Imams are often first responders in many cases. TMWF prides itself on the relationship it has with local clergy. 13 local imams have signed a zero tolerance for domestic abuse pledge. Imam Yasin Sheikh, now at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, was instrumental in his role as an advocate as an imam in Dallas when TWMF was in its infancy. “DV is a problem, we are not causing the problem, [but] are providing the solution. We enlisted the help of imams with a khutbah drive and trained them in healthy relationships,” says Dr Jarrah. “If the victims wants to talk to an imam, we refer them. We don't answer theological questions, we don't give edicts and don't provide spiritual counseling. We connect them with the community,” discloses Dr Jarrah.

Outreach is extremely important to the foundation. Dr Jarrah says that they never refuse an invitation to speak at churches, colleges, high schools, companies which helped them establish a reputation.

The foundation received several grants, initially from Dallas Women’s Foundation and recently from the Robert Johnson Foundation of $200,000 over 3 years. “They gave us $60,000 [the first year and we had to match it in cash and inkind donations from within the community,” said Dr. Jarrah. “You have to have support from the community that you are claiming to serve.” With the grant, the foundation was able to hire full time staff. The shelter was purchased in 2011, and opened in 2012. Several transitionary housing units are also owned by the foundation.

In accordance with the Prophetic method, TMWF extends the stay of women trying to get on their feet — a client can stay upto 180 days, almost a month longer than other shelters. “Some clients go back to abuser, [often] due to family pressure,” says Dr Jarrah. On the average a woman goes back at least 7 times before she gives up. “One thing we learn from mainstream providers is that the norms are the same, [regardless] of race or religion,” comments Dr Jarrah. “The victim go[ing] back to the abuser, hopelessness, the shame, destruction self esteem, self value, is same across the board. Even the use of religion to manipulate the abused is the same. Many husbands tell their wives that God is punishing them through the beatings. In Christian circles, the pressure is put on victim and the Bible is used just like the Quran is used to tell the victim that their faith requires them to stay with the husband,” says Dr Jarrah. “Domestic violence has no respect of culture, status or place in society and it has a stigma. It is something, where it takes time to realize because you love the person who is abusing you. It breaks you. TMWF builds you up and makes you whole again when you are broken from abuse,” shares Faith.

TWMF also gives referrals to Battering Intervention and Prevention Programs (BIPP), for Muslim men. According to the Domestic Violence Intervention Program, “studies have shown that high consequences affect batterer’s decisions to continue the use of physical violence. The criminal justice system can hold batterers accountable for their actions and court order jail and counseling. Men who batter can learn to take responsibility for their own behavior and can learn non-violent ways to act and communicate. The programs for men who batter, however, are only as effective as the willingness of the batterer to change.”

Dr Jarrah says some of the best practices of the organization are that the board and staff are constantly learning through conferences and workshops. “We are thorough; we research and study the practices put in place by other providers,” she says. The organization works with DV providers and participates in a local coalition. Much of the professional staff is from the community it serves. “We are an organization that emerges from the community,” she says.

Muslim organizations need to understand non-profit management. “Our boards need to understand the rules and receive training and orientation,” advises Dr. Jarrah, “We have to learn how to work collectively as a team- we have lots of one man shows. We cannot succeed and get trust and confidence that is needed unless we do it.” She says it is easy to form an organization but to be sustainable and retain the confidence of the Muslim community and regulating community, the watchdogs, organizations have to be transparent and accountable.“We are sensitive and aware. We abide by the laws and the requirement in the countries that we are in,” says Dr Jarrah.

Another key to success in Jarrah’s eyes is that the organization proceeded very slowly and gradually established understanding and won the support of the Muslim community. When challenged as a ‘feminist organization’, TWMF made it clear to community that it was an asset for the community, and not out to undermine the culture and requirements of Islam. TWMF is working with local Muslim families in training them in how to become foster parents.

The organization maintains a ‘good’ working relationship with law enforcement, Child Protective Services, Legal Aid, and the District Attorney’s office. “They refer clients to us,” says Dr Jarrah. Regular review of local laws, laws particular to non profits and abiding with requirements is also a big part of TWMF success, in addition to a solid work ethic, and detailed program documentation.

Jarrah stresses that “the Muslim community must understand that professional staff is a must and the community must support the general operations of an organization.” “Stop expecting that money goes immediately to the client,” she gently scolds the Muslim community. “Staff must have their basic needs met, such as health insurance. We are very proud of how hard [our staff of 25] works. This work requires a huge degree of [emotional] support as many women don't speak English, are undocumented or don't have papers or huge amount of [family] support,” stresses Dr Jarrah. “[We] pay staff well so they can focus on helping the clients. Our staff goes out of their way for them,” shares Dr Jarrah. “Unless organizations invest in human capital and have trained development officers, accountants, etc.—sole reliance on volunteers burns you up— they [will] burn out,” she adds.

“There is no cookie cutter approach that will fit everyone as you are dealing with individuals. You have to understand that, to provide them with the best services.” “We have male clients who are victims, we provide them with everything except offering them use of the [female only] shelter,” shares Dr Jarrah. TMWF helps male victims of domestic abuse by arranging and paying for a stay at a hotel and offers them complete case management.

“Our dream is to become like Catholic Charities- [a faith based organization serving all] as 25 percent of our clients are non-Muslims,” says Dr Jarrah, sharing many stories of success, of women rebuilding their and their children’s lives and learning to live with dignity. The organization has won several awards from local universities, foundations, and domestic violence service agencies. Beating the odds by advocating and serving, and most importantly, uplifting the vulnerable in accordance with the boundaries set by the Divine, the most Merciful of the Merciful. *name changed for privacy