I thought my old blog was lost– I’d done some reflections there on stories from the Abrahamic tradition that I wanted to reprint here- I found it today searching for something completely different….
Here’s a post I did about my DV activism from 2009. I’ve come a long, long way since then, but the story of where my passion for the work I do with folktales is still just as powerful:
“He stood right here, in this spot,” Brother Alakoum emphasized pointing at the ground next to where he stood as he looked out over the massala, “stood right here and asked for money for Bridges TV.”
Earlier in his portion of the presentation, Br. Alakoum had told the story of a man from our community that was such a tyrant that his family celebrated his death at Chuck E. Cheese. He wanted to stress that the issue of domestic violence is real in our community, and its time to move to Zero Tolerance. “You think its being a man to have your house afraid of you, but then your family celebrates your janaza at Chuck E. Cheese.”
The panel discussion entitled “From Domestic Violence to Domestic Peace” was held during the Friday night halaqa spot at ICC in Tempe. I’d printed 40 of each of the flyers we had to give out. We’d run out. 50 – 60 people were there, many new faces. Panelists were Dr. Aneesa Nadir, Founder and President of ISSA-USA, Ahmad Daniels, Executive Director of CAIR-AZ, Ahmed Alakoum, Executive Director of MAS-AZ, and Jacqueline Freeman-Ennaffah President of AMWA-AZ and founder of I AM: American Muslim (that would be me)
I’d spent the afternoon trying to untie the knot in my stomach. Each event I’m involved in concerning domestic violence brings an onslaught of feelings of insecurity and helplessness, inadequacy almost to the point of despair. Each of these attacks serves to prove to me how important this work is- how much Darkness would stop it- but staying on top of the wave instead of being crushed under it takes tremendous effort and God’s Grace to get through.
Women’s Studies professors aren’t generally well-recieved in any religious congregation, let alone a mosque. Talking about feminist theory and women’s emancipation will likely repel this audience even more than the average American. Yet, I am convinced that the issue of domestic violence will not be significantly reduced until faith communities become proactive in preventing abuse and intervening when it does occur.
Why is this issue so important to me? Why should anyone listen to what I have to say? If being a Women’s Studies instructor has no authority here or even arouses suspicion, what can I possibly say to this audience that would matter to them?
I was raised in an abusive home. My father sent my mother to the hospital a few times. We learned very quickly not to talk about it. Dad convinced us with his screams, Mom with her tears. My extended family knew mother’s stories about broken bones and bruises were lies. They tried to get my brother and I to tell them what was happening. We merely regurgitated the half-truths we had been trained to tell. I remember so clearly the suspicion in my uncle’s eyes, the pleading in my grandmother’s face, but my tongue was tied in a knot I didn’t know how to loosen.
A hostage, a puppet, my mouth bore the words that had been planted there. I hoped as much as I feared my eyes would tell the Truth. No one ever acted on what they saw in my eyes, only what they heard come out of my mouth. I thought they didn’t see. I realize now they must have felt as tied and helpless as I did.
I learned there is no safety in the world.
I am a product of both my mother and my father. Growing up with the violence, the distrust, the lack of respect, the lovelessness, ripped something inside of me. That hole would yawn wider and wider as the years went by. I would try to fill it with just about anything. Nothing worked. It seemed too big even for God.
My parents were not just at war in our house, they were at war inside of me. There was not communion between my male and female sides, there was competition. There was not communication and comprimise, there was name-calling, ultimatums, and threats. I was not given a foundation of trust, respect, love, dignity, equality upon which to build my relationship with myself, with God, with the world around me. Instead, I was raised on the rim of a volcano, never knowing when the ground beneath my feet would crumble or explode.
My dad never hit me, but hearing him hit my mom, listening to the way he talked to her, seeing how little respect he gave her, taught me about being a woman. Woman was something despised, sometimes pitied, but seldom loved. She was an object. A slave. Not really human. She was not appreciated, she was not respected, what she contributed was not important.
My mom clung on for years. For the kids. We all wish she hadn’t done that. It would have been better to not have Dad there. It would have given us the chance to be a family, instead of a collection of refugees, each huddling in their own corner, hoarding supplies, listening for signs of the next raid.
It has taken me a long time to learn to forgive my parents. Both of them: him for doing it, her for staying.
I haven’t forgiven myself yet. For the cowardice I exhibited huddled in the dark on the top of the stairs while they screamed, while he hit, when she was chased. For being the reason they were still together. For getting sick so they would fight about him not giving me my medicine on time. For being alive and the reason they would argue about money or later, visitation. For needing anything ever from my mother who was clearly struggling to stay alive herself. For continuing to love my Dad even when he’d caused my Mom so much pain.
I haven’t forgiven myself yet. I don’t know how to loosen the knots of emotion and the guilt-ridden consciousness of a child that takes all blame upon themselves. My intellect cannot comprehend it, and my heart is afraid of feeling it fully enough to let it go.
So I do this work. I hope that parents will hear, that they will listen, though the arc of change is slow and incremental. I hope that leaders will pay attention and take this problem for being the real threat to the community that it is. I do this work in the hopes that fewer children will grow up carrying the same burden that I do. That fewer children will have to work so hard to trust God and believe that they can experience love. That fewer souls will be ripped in quite this way.
I do this work so that more children will have fewer barriers in their relationships with themselves, with God, with the world around them. That more children will be brought up on a foundation of equity, justice, trust, honor, dignity.
And today, humbled and in awe of the immensity of God’s grace–of the enormity of what happened last night in that mosque, faces turned upward, next to the projector screen–I am so grateful for the plowers and planters like Dr. Aneesa Nadir. Those constant and patient souls that have banged their hearts, minds and souls against the hardened earth of this community, who have spent their years breaking up the surface, dropping seeds, praying for the right balance of rain, sun, and temperature to bring the seeds to fruition…
Oh Lord, hear our prayer