How to leave an abusive marriage

To the person who searched “Islam: how to leave an abusive marriage” and found my blog:

Here is a good resource on what an abusive marriage/intimate relationship is, and how to leave it:

(For some reason, linking directly to it doesn’t work. Don’t know why.)

Nobody deserves to be abused, no matter who they are. No religious justifications can made it right. None whatsoever.

As for the “Islam” part of the equation: That is more complicated. There will be people who will lay religious guilt trips on you in order to encourage you to tolerate abuse. Or even, so that you can’t see when you are being abused.

Looking through this booklet that I have linked to, I am sharply aware of all the hadiths and Muslim-y sounding rhetoric about your duty to your husband and obedience and humility and not giving into your nafs and the importance of family and being patient that is too often thrown at women in bad marriages. It is as though even now, I read simple statements such as “nobody deserves to be abused” through a veil of pious-sounding “yes, but…’s”. Yes, nobody deserves to be abused, but maybe I deserved to have X done to me because….” I lived that way so long. And I was numb. I could hardly feel anything. And I didn’t think I really had a choice. I had several young children, no money, no resources, no friends outside my small, conservative Muslim circle, no job skills worth mentioning, I was out of touch with the wider culture having lived for years in a conservative Muslim bubble, I was consumed by religious guilt.

For years, I felt as though I had painted myself into a corner, and there was no way out. I remember visualizing my situation in my mind: myself in a corner, paint-brush in my hand, unpainted portion of the floor shrinking, and no way out… except possibly above my head? Which would be impossible anyway.

Towards the end of my marriage, I went back to school, and began to get some idea of how people outside my conservative Muslim bubble conducted their relationships. I was shocked when I saw people in egalitarian, loving relationships—and I began to realize that the marriage I was in (as well as the marriages that a number of my friends were in) was not the best that could be expected—not even taking into account human sinfulness and the pressures of the dunya and “the way men just are” and all that.

I slowly began to see that my ex (and the husbands of a number of my convert friends) was living down to what the marriage market would bear. He could get away with with abusive behavior, so he did so. But it didn’t have to be that way. Marriages could be better—a whole lot better—than those that I was most familiar with.

Though (I still wondered) maybe I deserved it? Maybe good marriages are like winning the lottery—just for the lucky few (who are willing to get involved in haraam by buying lottery tickets).  :-/  In other words, not for the likes of me. Those folks in happy marriages/intimate relationships seemed to be like inhabitants of another world. Not my world. Not a world that I was ever likely to belong to. Nice to look at from a distance, but that was all.

In the end, it was three factors that enabled me to leave that marriage: (1) It became clear to me that my kids were being harmed by my remaining in it. (2) My ex had become more controlling and threatening, and I was becoming very afraid for my physical safety. (3) I got a job offer, so I finally had the means to leave.

This is such a typical list of factors that it is very saddening for me to think about now.  The major motivator to seriously consider leaving was realizing what was happening to my kids. Fear pushed me to do what had been previously unthinkable, and a job made it practically possible.

How little I valued myself, my life, my future. How thoroughly I had been convinced that I was essentially worth nothing, except to the extent that I could sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice… in other words, effectively destroy myself.

Yes, cutting through the religious guilt is difficult, and in my case, it is still very much a work in progress.

But looking at those folks in good marriages/intimate relationships, I did wonder more than once: How does all this religious guilt that I have internalized make theological sense? Unless we believe in a god that enjoys needlessly torturing and abusing his creation, why should my allowing myself to be degraded and miserable be pleasing to God? Surely, it should be the reverse? If we can look at an eagle and say that God made it to fly, or at a rose and say that God made it to bloom, why can’t we look at women and say that God made them to live up to their potentials for fulfillment, joy, love and happiness?

I wish you the best. Get the help you need, live the abuse-free life you deserve, and don’t let religious guilt stand in your way.


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  1. #1 by Heather Rawlings on October 16, 2012 - 2:03 am

    I found your blog the same way. This is a timely post as October is Domestic Violence Awarenss in the u.s.a. Your posts continue to resonate with me, and while I lived in a moderate religious household, I experienced many of the same feelings.

  2. #2 by luckyfatima on October 18, 2012 - 11:28 pm

    “If we can look at an eagle and say that God made it to fly, or at a rose and say that God made it to bloom, why can’t we look at women and say that God made them to live up to their potentials for fulfillment, joy, love and happiness?”

    Beautifully written. Made tears come to my eyes.

  3. #3 by Anonymous/ on October 21, 2012 - 12:04 pm

    Kinda arbitrary, no? We could just as easily claim, and with as little basis, that God created them to serve and to suffer.

  4. #4 by Anas on October 23, 2012 - 12:30 pm

    Salam Alekom,

    I loved this article very much. There are a lot of sister out there who are suffering from similar situations and scenarios. I hope that they realize that manhood does not come with the ability to yell louder, hit harder or uttering religious rhetoric to support a silly idea. Every woman has the right to leave a marriage and that is a code within Islam… To suffer is not …

    I do not know the name of the writer, but I salute your courage to leave, the strength to endure and your honesty to share… Thank you..

  1. Link Love (27/10/2012) « Becky's Kaleidoscope

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