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Hero opens doors for Muslim women

By JENNIFER O'BRIEN
London Free Press Sept 26, 2008

Domestic violence services in
London are now seeing more Muslim
women.

For the first time, it's not unusual for abused mothers, daughters
and sisters from the 30,000-strong Muslim community to seek help. And
for the first time, mainstream services are equipped to help them.
That's largely because of the passionate work of one man --Mohammed
Baobaid, whose brainchild, the Muslim Family Safety Project, has
changed lives by educating the community about family services and
social service providers about Muslim culture.

The Yemeni immigrant is often praised by
London's imams for
mobilizing the community to address domestic violence. Today, at
Fanshawe College, he's to receive an Everyday Hero award from the
Centre for Research on Domestic Violence Against Women and Children.
'The kind of work he has done is really unique in
Canada,' said the
centre's Barb MacQuarrie. 'We are in contact with women we never
would have seen otherwise.'

'Islam does not condone woman abuse, but there are individuals within
the Muslim community who have patriarchal values and violence is the
way to maintain control.'

Only a few years ago, it was 'unusual' to see a Muslim woman seek
help out of an abusive situation, said Kate Wiggins, of Women's
Community House in
London.

Baobaid, recognized internationally for his research on domestic
violence in his home country, noticed the gap after immigrating to
Canada.

Speaking to women from his community, he soon learned there was a
lack of trust in mainstream agencies.

'Muslim women, like every other, are reluctant to come forward with
their stories,' said Baobaid. 'But for Muslim women, because often
they are coming from a collective society where relationships with
community come before self interest, there is also a fear of being
isolated if they ask for outside help,' he said.

As a result, Baobaid conceptualized the Muslim Family Safety Project,
to raise awareness and address myths inside and outside the
community.

'There is a myth among some Muslims about what Islam says regarding
woman abuse,' said Baobaid.

'Some men and women think that according to Islam, the man has the
right to exercise power and control over his wife and children,' he
said, adding such principles root back to cultural tradition -- not
religious -- in some Arab Muslim countries.

'To change that (way of thinking), we needed to engage the Muslim
community in a campaign against violence against women,' he said.
That was a tough task in a post-9/11 world, with leaders wary of
calling attention to seeming gender inequalities, given the intense
scrutiny Muslims were already facing.

'Ninety per cent of my conversations with the leaders were not about
the Canadian framework on women abuse but about Islam's position on
woman abuse,' he said.

'I said, 'Either we deal with the issues as a community and don't
worry about how people perceive that, or let the problem remain.' '
Because of his work with mainstream social service agencies, places
such as Women's Community House now have Muslim women on staff, the
Children's Aid Society now has two Muslim foster families and the
community now has the Muslim Family Support Services, through which a
counselor out of Family Service Thames Valley connects with families
and bridges them with the most fitting type of counselling.
But most changing is the impact the project has had on women who need
help, said Zina Abukhater, president of London's Middle Eastern
Women's Association.

'This has been a dream of mine for 15 years,' said Abukhater, who
helped found the project. 'You wouldn't believe how many (women) are
getting help now. He started to open eyes for both sides,' she said.

 

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