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The culture of silence surrounding domestic violence is common in many cultures across the world. Women are made to feel shame for being victims of violence and are therefore not willing to report the crimes committed against them. But the violence itself, not the chaos, is what tears families apart.
In Northern Nigeria, this culture of silence is emboldened using the Islamic teachings of Sabr and Tawakkul. Women are taught to have sabr (endurance) when they face domestic violence in their marriages rather than report to the police or leave such dangerous environments.
In Nigeria, like many places in the world, the burden of having a successful marriage is placed on the wife. Women are socialised to do whatever it takes to not have a “broken home”. A divorced or single mother faces a lot of challenges and is treated with scorn because society believes that a woman has somehow failed if her marriage doesn’t work out. This places a lot of pressure on married women. Many Northern Nigerian women or Arewa women may not be allowed to keep their children after the divorce. This makes divorce the last thing on the minds of a lot of women in our community.
Tawakkul Is the word for the Islamic concept of reliance on God or “trusting in God’s plan”. It is seen as perfect trust in God and reliance on Him alone.” It can also be referred to as God-consciousness. Sabr translates to “endurance”, “perseverance” or “persistence” and this is one of the two parts of Faith. The other is called shukr in Islam. It teaches us to remain spiritually steadfast and to keep doing good actions in the personal and collective domain, specifically when facing opposition or encountering setbacks or problems. It is patience in the face of all unexpected and unwanted outcomes. These two concepts are typically taught to Muslims to give them faith in times of hardship and strengthen their faith in God – not to give women a reason to remain in dangerous situations caused by physical, and emotional abuse.
Sheikha Tamara Gray once mentioned that telling women to have sabr when a crime is committed in their homes is UnIslamic. Khul is a form of dissolution of marriage Muslim women can initiate when there is ill-treatment from their Husbands. In other words, Islam has provided a way out for women who are being abused by their husbands. So it can be established that this culture of covering up rape and remaining silent about physical and emotional abuse thrives not because of Islamic provisions, but because of the upholders of modern-day Islam.
Until the Arewa community begins to realise that Sabr and Tawwakul are not to be utilized when crimes are committed against women, domestic violence will continue to thrive, empowered by our culture of silence. In the real works, when the sabr runs out, you’ll find a community of women whose voices have been snatched.