Guy Nicholson: Are religious leaders responsible for teaching against family violence?
Sheema Khan: Great question. Yes, they are, and yes, they have. Prior to the trial, Muslim activists and religious leaders brainstormed and crafted a national call to action against domestic violence, in which mosques pledge to give a sermon this Friday (in commemoration of Dec. 6, the national day of remembrance and action on violence against women), in which the imams make it clear there is no room for beating or striking one’s wife and children. About 60 mosques have signed on so far, and more are signing on each day.
One of these calls to action emphasize that there is no honour in killing a family member. In addition, the imam of the Kingston mosque, Sikander Hashmi, gave a powerful sermon on the first Friday of the Shafia trial, in which he made it unequivocal: Family conflict needs to be resolved peacefully, with mediation, and that there is absolutely no justification anywhere in the teachings of Islam that justifies honour killing.
Mohammad Shafia has said that his daughters betrayed Islam and humankind. Others allege it was he who did the betraying. Of course, there is no verdict yet and the defendants have pleaded not guilty. But the trial has shown a dysfunctional family where the men ruled with impunity.
Our imams carry a lot of moral authority, and they can use the mimbar (pulpit) to spread a moral message that brings civility to family life, and provides no cover whatsoever for violence. The national statement is a very good start, and the hope is that, once the media attention subsides, there will be regular Friday sermons on this issue, along with workshops and seminars to help vulnerable families deal with problems without resorting to violence.
Howard Voss-Altman: We have an incredible responsibility – one that has been largely ignored by too many clergy. Here in Calgary, we have a group called Faithlink, which has brought clergy of all faiths together to increase our awareness of family violence, and to provide assistance in counselling victims of family violence. Too often, in the name of shalom bayit (Hebrew for “peace in the home”), rabbis have counselled women to stay in abusive marriages. We can only hope that such days are long past.
Lorna Dueck: I think the bulk of topics in clergy’s inboxes are issues of family-related needs. The church has a unique challenge and ability to speak about family violence because the New Testament is so clear about relationships being undertaken in respect, kindness, mutual submission and in an attitude of servant-hood. Abuse does happen in Christian families, but it is not permissible according to any teachings in Scripture. Passages such as Ephesians 5:21-33 on how marriage is supposed to work, in roles of serving each other, bringing out the best, loving and laying down your life for each other like Christ did, get misinterpreted as power control – it’s a stumbling that religious leaders try to speak into.
Vettivelu Nallainayagam: I do not think this trial has anything to do with religious justification. No religion will condone the murder of women; what we see here is the misguided notion of honour and respect in society, which are cultural issues and not religious issues.
I think we should not associate violence against women with any religion, and hence not look only to clergy to deal with this issue. It is a social issue, and hence must be dealt with though education, providing counselling to men and women by qualified people.
Guy Nicholson: I’m curious about secular institutions, such as politicians and courts, which have in recent years found themselves in the middle of many divisive issues where Canadian women’s well-being has been seen to be at odds with at least some religious teaching: sharia law, birth control, abortion, the list goes on. Do you think these institutions have done a good job of safeguarding women? Have they been too intrusive? Not intrusive enough?
Sheema Khan: I think that, overall, our institutions have found the right balance.