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Changing perceptions: Plano group provides resources for Muslim victims of domestic abuse
While the Texas Muslim Women's Foundation is based out of Plano, its reach throughout Islamic communities in Dallas-Fort Worth -- and the state of Texas -- is vast.
For the past eight years, the foundation has provided general social services, interfaith outreach and youth programs.
But one of its most essential services deals with a serious issue that affects people of all faiths -- domestic violence.
In 2005, the organization's first year of existence, referrals were provided for four victims of spousal abuse. In 2012, the group handled 155 cases of domestic violence involving a total of 83 children. Last month, the group opened a battered women's shelter capable of housing up to 18 adults and 22 children.
Hind Jarrah, executive director of the foundation, said the organization gears its services to the unique needs of Muslim women, providing multilingual information and counseling. The group also takes into consideration requirements of the faith as they relate not only marriage and relationships, but daily life.
"Sometimes it is very hard for a Muslim victim of domestic violence to leave or to separate because of her concept of what her role in the family is," Jarrah said. "There is a misunderstanding of what role or what rights the man has over the woman. ... One of our clients one time was talking to us and said, 'But he's my husband. He has the right to beat me; that's in the teachings of our faith.' We have a major, major responsibility as an organization to try to ... make people realize that no way on earth does your faith tell you that you have to be beaten by your husband."
To this end, the organization also provides educational resources relating to domestic violence, including prevention workshops and an awareness campaign that coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
"We are very proud that we have the support of the religious leadership, and they come to work with us," Jarrah said. "In their sermons in the mosques, they tell the people, you are mistaken. This is not the teachings of the faith. Some of it is cultural. Some of it is baggage that you bring from your old homes. It is not what the faith expects or demands or requires. ... That's in fact, against the teachings of the faith."
The idea for such an organization came during the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, a time when faithful and non-faithful alike were examining the Muslim religion and its teachings, Jarrah said. Several women came together in 2004 to identify what issues they found were most important in their community.
"Domestic violence was a major problem, but because of the Muslim community constituency -- we come from different parts of the world, different cultures, different languages, different backgrounds, different denominations -- really there weren't culturally appropriate services for the victims of domestic violence within the Muslim community," Jarrah said.
The organization also works closely with non-Muslim and secular organizations such as the Collin County Council on Family Violence, Child Protective Services and local police departments.
Angie Sifferman, 2012 chair of the Collin County Council on Family Violence, said several members of the Texas Muslim Women's Foundation serve on the council's committees and have been instrumental in getting Muslim leaders to participate in the council's interfaith symposiums. The foundation was recently awarded the council's Rebecca Egelston Caso Bridge Builder award for its interfaith efforts.
"They have a really loud and clear voice in the Muslim community as a group that really is seeking to increase peace and dialogue," Sifferman said. "We're so thankful for the leadership they bring and the collaborative nature that they come to the table with, and I think they're such a leader in our community."
The foundation's interfaith program sees representatives from the Muslim community giving presentations regarding the religion's teachings to churches and synagogues throughout the Metroplex.
"For me, it has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life, because it gave me a chance to meet other people and understand them and learn about that faith, and while doing that, also make them aware of my faith," Jarrah said. "It has been a bridge builder."
Aside from the foundation's myriad services -- which also include a 24-hour hotline, counseling and legal referrals -- the organization provides a voice for Muslim women in Texas, Jarrah said.
"There is so much misconception about the faith and about the teachings, and the actual role of women," she said. "We thought having Muslim women themselves present would be the best answer for people who do not understand or do not know or have no idea of what the faith is."
For information on the Texas Muslim Women's Foundation, visit tmwf.org.
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