My name is Huda. I live in a village called Kufr Sume. It is close to the border between Syria and Jordan. When I was a child, I used to take the family goats up on the hills overlooking the Yarmouk River which ran through the deep valley below. I remember the wind coming from the west from the Sea of Galilee. I can still feel it blowing against my face and tousling my hair. I would take a deep breath and inhale the crisp of the day and gaze over to Syria whose terrain sloped in gentle hills while my goats jumped and nibbled on tufts of grass. Being free with the goats felt better than going to school. I hated going back to school at the end of summer. I used to attend the Kufr Sume School for girls. I can still hear the girls in my class making fun of me.
“Look at Huda,” they would say in a mocking tone of voice. She’s deformed! Look at her arm. She’s a freak! She limps too.”
I tried my best to hide my deformed arm. I tried not to limp. Nothing worked. I buried my pain in my studies and graduated from high school at the first of my class. I went on to study nursing and finished with honors. When I crossed the stage to receive my diploma, I struggled not to let my limp appear as obvious as it was. When the president of my university handed me my diploma, I took it with my good hand and hid my deformed arm beneath my dark robe. The sweetest words I heard came from the president when he said, “Great job Huda. We’re proud of you!”
The local hospital offered me employment soon after I applied. My deformed arm and my limp didn’t seem to matter. I immersed myself in my work. The pay wasn’t great, but I became a productive member of my large family. I was the only girl and the youngest one of my 5 sibling brothers. Our family was large and poor but my father worked hard to educate us all. We spent our evenings listening to the sounds of the night and watching my father play cards with my older brothers and family friends. My mother and I kept ourselves busy serving hot tea and Arab coffee. We served three cups of coffee during intervals. The first cup was for the soul, the second cup was for the sword, and the 3rd cup was for the guests. Those days were good and at home no one bothered me about my deformities.
Girls in the villages were considered old maids if they didn’t marry before they reached 30. No young man ever came knocking on our door asking for my hand in marriage. I guess none of us ever expected one to. My deformities spoke for themselves. But we had all forgotten one very important thing. I now had a profession. I earned money. Of course, this means that the only men who would ever consider marrying a handicapped woman would be the kind who needed a wife to support them. This is how Fareed came to approach my father.
One night as my father, my brothers and their guests slapped their cards down hard on the table amidst rings of smoke, strewn cups of coffee, and much laughter, Fareed knocked on our door. He had loaded his arms with gifts and wore a large grin that stretched from one ear to the other. His clothes looked shabby, his face unappealing, and he was short.
My father sent me off to the kitchen because the decisions made in our family were his. Even though I was sent off, through the open kitchen door I heard Fareed ask my father if he could marry me. His voice sounded small. My father’s voice boomed loud and clear. He gave my brothers no say in the conversation.
“Yes,” my father replied. “I will consider your offer. Come back in a week and ask me once again.”
Both father and I knew that no one would break our door down insisting to marry me. So Fareed it was. My dowry consisted of a gold necklace, two gold bracelets, and a pair of earrings. Because of my physical challenges, my father made no big deal out of my wedding. There was no honeymoon. No loud celebrations took place. My wedding night became a brutal memory where the introduction to my husband’s physical abuse took place. I soon learned that my groom was a good-for-nothing who had married me of course, because I could bring home money while he loafed around and did odd jobs when he felt like it. My dreams of happiness and the knight in shinning armor come to save me from spinstership vanished.
A little two-room hut became my new home. I made do the best I could. A year later, I gave birth to my first child. I still worked and brought home enough money to support my small family. At least my position as a nurse and a married woman brought me some respect in the new village where I now lived. Whenever Fareed flew into a rage or became frustrated with those he dealt with, he punched, slapped, and beat me. Sometimes I went to work with bruises on my arms and legs. On more than one occasion, I had a black eye. I didn’t complain to my family and for a long time. I took the abuse, worked hard, and attempted to make the most of my situation.
Within four years, I had three small children to care for. They became my life. But the abuse continued. In winter, I shivered from the cold. Fareed took control of my earnings and spent most of what I made on gambling and fun for himself. My children had barely enough to eat. Their only toys were ones they fashioned themselves.
Even though I worked and kept myself busy being the mother of three children, I felt lonely. After I put my boys to sleep, I would listen to the evening breeze rustle the leaves of the willow tree that shaded our small home. Gray pigeons cooed in the night as I shivered to stay warm and find peace of mind. Then one afternoon after work, Fareed stormed into our small living room. The boys jotted down notes for their upcoming projects. I don’t know exactly what happened next. All I remember was Fareed shouting at me and saying, “You’re an unfit wife. You’re a cripple. You’re ugly.”
He punched me hard with his fists. Next thing I remember was waking up in the emergency room. Fareed was nowhere to be seen. I looked up at the doctor hovering over me. “Ah, you’re awake,” he said. “What kind of person would beat a helpless woman so hard that she passed out?”
I bit my lip. My body felt broken and bleeding. I chose not to implicate Fareed. I knew he would go to jail for this if I said anything. I stayed three days in the hospital and then the doctors released me. One doctor, kind and tender, warned me. “You did not tell us who beat you but we are certain it was your husband. Your silence only encourages him to beat you harder the next time and then one day, he could possibly kill you.”
That night I did not go home. Instead, I went to my father’s house and spent the night there. My father mumbled something like, “It’s all your fault. You don’t know how to take care of your husband.”
My mother only shook her head and whispered to me, “Oh, Huda. What have you done? Why did Fareed beat you so terribly?”
I refused to return to my husband. “I’m not going back,” I said. “There is nothing you can do to force me to go back to Fareed.”
Two weeks later, I heard a hyena yelp in the forest not far from my father’s house. Some of our neighbors had a fire going. I could hear sparks crack. The smell of roast potatoes and kababs drifted into my bedroom window. The stars sparkled in the deep of the night, the pale moon blinked calmly, and the laughter of the men sitting around their barbecue taunted me. Why couldn’t Fareed act like my neighbors? Why did he always behave like such a despicable animal? Someone knocked on our door. I heard my father saying, “Come in Fareed. What’s going on?”
Then my father ordered me to make some Arab coffee. I had no choice. I obeyed. As soon as I brought the coffee into the living room in the small gold colored cups, Fareed rushed over to me and said, “Huda, I missed you so! The boys need you. Come back home.”
When he mentioned my boys, I started to cry. They were my life and now I hadn’t seen them for three weeks. I needed to go home. All I said to my father was, “I’m leaving now. I have to see the boys.”
For the next ten years, I ran away from Fareed and then returned. Then my father died of cancer. My fate lay between my brothers and my abusive husband. I know I drove my brothers and my mother crazy. I didn’t know what to do. Fareed legally claimed all rights to my sons and the only way I could stay with my children was to stay with Fareed. My brothers decided to rent me an apartment. The oldest brother Musfafa confronted my mother and other brothers one day during lunch. “We can’t have this. One day Huda is here, the next day she is with Fareed. We can all pitch in and rent her an apartment and buy for her furniture.”
My brothers proved to be much more generous than Fareed. I had a comfortable apartment not far from my mother. My brothers shared the cost of new furniture, a large screen TV, and put a new refrigerator and stove in the kitchen. Two olive trees stood guard on either side of the entrance. In the back yard grew a cherry tree and a large mulberry tree provided shade during the hot summer months. I planted a garden and in no time, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and a small flower bed full of black irises and red anemones filled the air with their sweet scent and beauty. I had everything I needed. Everything but my sons.
One summer day after work, I stopped by my mother’s house. “Mother, I miss my boys so much. I have to be with them,” I said. I saw the color of her face change.
“Huda, you’ve got to stop this nonsense. Your boys are older now. They can get along without you. All you get from Fareed is abuse. Please settle down. Please stop traipsing back and forth. Your brothers have been so good to you. But they will not put up with your running between your apartment and Fareed for much longer. Look how nice they were to rent you an apartment and furnish it for you.”
I didn’t really listen to my mother. All I could think of were my boys. I kept repeating the pattern of going back to Fareed, suffering his abuse and returning back to my apartment. One night my mother came knocking at my apartment door. Her body shook, her hands trembled and she said, “Huda, I told you to stop this nonsense. You never listened to me. Now your life is in danger. Your brothers speak of getting rid of you because you bring so much shame on our family’s reputation. All our neighbors and relatives are laughing at you.”
I knew she spoke the truth. It was no longer a question of missing my boys any longer. Now it was a matter of life and death. I knew my brothers were capable of murdering me. But instead I laughed and said, “How are they planning to kill me mother?”
“Ha, you laugh as if it’s a joke. Mustafa bought some rat poison the other day and I heard him say, ‘This is for Huda. We’re tired of her problems. We can’t face people anymore.'”
“But mother, the one who kills me would go to jail!”
“Don’t be so naÃ¯ve! Yes, for 5 or 6 months. That’s all. Then the one who kills you will be free and you will be buried somewhere in a secret grave. The family honor will be restored but you won’t be around to see your children.”
Every word she spoke rang true. Honor killings existed. I had a friend who was killed because one of her brothers came across a letter she had allegedly written to a married man. Later, police discovered that my friend didn’t write the letter after all. One of her friends wrote it to get revenge. I took my mother’s advice and now live in a safe house. No one knows where I am, not even my mother. I don’t dare contact my mother or my children. I don’t know how long I can remain in hiding. I miss my boys so.
Related External Links:
Authority and the Abuse of Power in Muslim Marriages
by Shaykh Seraj Hendricks
In: Gender Equity in Islam
by Jamal Badawi, Ph.D.
Honor Killing from an Islamic Perspective
Fatwa (Islamic decree)
Wife Beating in Islamic Perspective
Fatwa (Islamic decree)
How does Islam view domestic violence?
by Islamic Fiqh Academy
Islamic Perspective on "Honor Killings"
by Muslim Women’s League
Domestic Violence hurts Muslims too: Stop The Hurt Now
by Aneesah Nadir, MSW, CISW
Domestic violence – a reality that must be addressed
by Shahla Khan