MADRID, Spain (WOMENSENEWS)–The 32-year-old Moroccan sat in the rehabilitation center for abused women and talked about all the things she never dared to do when she first moved to Spain.
She would never have worn the tight florescent pink top she had on or have gotten the red streaks in her black hair. Now, she’s even thinking of getting a driver’s license,something she had never considered before.
Why? “Because the men in our culture think we women can’t drive,” she said, laughing.
Fatya–who doesn’t want her whole name published for fear of continued threats from her husband–says her husband brought her from Morocco to Spain seven years ago and that he hit her “with anything he could get a hold of, an ashtray, whatever.”
Lawsuit against Author of Religion-Based Book
Concern over the rights of immigrant women such as Fatya has spurred around 80 women’s organizations, including several Muslim women’s groups, to bring a lawsuit against a Saudi-born imam, or mosque preacher, who wrote a book that claims that Muslim men have the God-given right to hit their wives. The suit charges the author of encouraging Muslim men to beat their wives
After three years of delays, the trial of Mohamed Kamal Mostafa is expected to start later this year.
“We just wanted to say ‘enough already!'” said Ana Maria Perez del Campo, president of the Federation of Separated and Divorced Women. “You can’t just come here and say it’s okay to beat women.”
Moroccans such as Fatya and her husband belong to the largest group of foreigners in Spain. They make up the bulk of the half-million Muslims that the Federation of Spanish Islamic Entities, based in Cordoba, says are legal residents in Spain, a nation of 40 million people. There are also hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, most from across the Strait of Gibraltar.
The influx is led by young males drawn by the prospect of jobs in Spain’s growth economy. Often, when they earn enough money and gain legal residence, they go home and bring back a wife.
Concern for Safety of Immigrant Women
Although there are no official statistics on domestic violence among immigrants, concern in Spain is growing about the level of domestic abuse in this population group. The human-rights group Amnesty International Espana, for instance, recently joined forces with the Association of Moroccan Immigrant Workers in Spain and issued “Invisible Women, Unpunished Abuses,” a report on violence against immigrant women.
An emergency shelter for battered women in Madrid recently reported that around 40 percent of those now showing up are foreigners.
But few of the women press charges, either because of their illegal status, or because they feel their situation is precarious or they don’t want to make trouble, said Maria Naredo, a women’s rights lawyer. “These women are afraid that if they report their husbands, they’ll be deported,” said Naredo, on staff with Amnesty International Espana.
Lawsuit Aims at All Religious Leaders
Perez said the court action is aimed not only at the book’s author, but at men of cloth in any religion whose words legitimize the degradation of women.
“When an imam, or for that matter a bishop, says something, many people believe them without thinking about it. The power of religion is absolute,” said Perez, 67. She fought hard for a divorce law in Spain after the end of the dictatorship, when the Roman Catholic Church had control over public morality.
Kamal is the imam of the mosque in the Mediterranean resort of Fuengirola in southern Spain. As a result of the court action, his book has been removed from Islamic cultural centers in Spain and can’t even be found in the library of his mosque, according to the mosque’s custodian.
In the book, “The Woman in Islam,” Kamal outlines the life and habits of what he describes as a proper Muslim woman. The author writes that marriage should be based on mutual respect, noting that Islam’s prophet Mohammed never hit any of his four wives.
If a wife disobeys her husband, he should first try “dialogue and calm words,” and if that fails, he should not let her into his bed.
And if she persists, he may hit her.
According to the imam, the blows should be concentrated on the hands and feet. They shouldn’t be administered with “too thick a rod so as not to leave scars” and they “shouldn’t be too strong or too hard, because the aim is to cause psychological suffering,” Kamal writes.
Kamal has lived in Spain for two decades. His mosque is a block away from the topless beaches and discotheques in the heart of Spain’s Costa del Sol, one of the top vacation destinations for northern Europeans.
According to Naredo, the women’s rights lawyer, many young Muslim men are worried that their women “will start getting ideas,” and perhaps demand the same freedoms, as Fatya did.
Lawsuit Confronts Passages in Koran
After prayers recently, hundreds of men poured out of the gleaming white mosque in Fuengirola where Kamal preaches. Dris Alawi, a Moroccan in his 20s, defended the imam’s book and played down its significance. “Everybody treats their women the same in every religion,” he said.
Only several women, covered head-to-toe in black robes, were seen leaving the mosque through a side door. The women refused to talk about the imam’s book, or anything else for that matter. “Ask my husband,” one of them said.
The prosecution’s case in Kamal’s trial is likely to be complicated by the fact that Islam’s holy book, the Koran, is often interpreted as giving Muslim men the prerogative to hit their spouses.
In the chapter of the Koran called “An-Nisa,” or “the Women,” verse 34 says, “As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill conduct, admonish them (first), (next) refuse to share their beds. And last beat them.”
Ahmed Hassanien, professor of Islamic law at Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, the leading center of Islamic learning, recently told the Middle East Times newspaper that the verse justifies “a light slap on the hand and not a brutal beating.”
In pretrial hearings, Kamal maintained that he wasn’t personally advocating gender violence. Rather, he said he was elucidating post-Koranic writings on the treatment of women for the benefit of readers.
Fatya Interprets Koran Differently
Fatya, the abused Moroccan woman, is now one of several Muslim women living at the shelter run by the Federation of Separated and Divorced Women’s Associations at an undisclosed location in Spain. She found a job as a translator and lives there with her 6-year-old son.
She recalled that her husband’s worst fits of violence came when she questioned his business ethics. He was neglecting to declare sizeable earnings from his hotel business to the tax authorities. She thought that was dishonest and against the teachings of Islam.
Fatya believes the passage in Koran doesn’t give men an absolute right to beat their wives. But when she turned to the imams in her city for advice, she said they told her to suffer in silence.
“Live and eat and don’t ask questions,” she paraphrased one, who she said advised her not to meddle in her husband’s affairs. She said that another one agreed that she could leave her husband, but that was only after she went back to him in desperation, saying she feared he would kill her.
As she finished telling her story, Fatya placed her hand on her chest and said “I still believe in God,” but added she no longer goes to the mosque to pray.
Jerome Socolovsky is a journalist based in Madrid.
For more information:
Amnesty International Espana