Houses of worship often serve as safe havens for African Americans to discuss critical issues in their communities. However, a stigma still lingers in many faith communities about domestic violence.
In Prince George’s County, local houses of worship are working with law enforcement, government agencies and nonprofit organizations to learn how they can make their communities safer.
On Oct. 26, the county’s Department of Family Services Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Division hosted a Sacred Spaces Interfaith Symposium at Martin’s Crosswinds in Greenbelt.
A multi-faith panel discussion with Christian and Muslim leaders provided their spiritual perspectives and experiences to respond to domestic violence. The panel was moderated by Rev. Tony Lee, senior pastor of Hope AME Church in Hillcrest Heights.
Chaplain Asma Inge-Hanif, a registered nurse and founder and executive director of Al Nisaa, a health center for Muslim women and children, shared her experience of working with victims.
“Domestic violence is criminal, not religious,” Inge-Hanif said. “And that was the problem as a Muslim is that when Muslim women would go to obtain services for themselves that were not treated as a victim of domestic violence. They were being told that you’re part of that faith tradition or religion that says it’s OK to beat women. Therefore, if you wanted these services from us, you have to be able to come out of that religion and come our way. That’s how we help you.”
Inge-Hanif said that when women are going through domestic violence, often the only thing that allows them to survive is their handhold to God.
“Why on Earth would you break that handhold?” she said. “You want to strengthen that handhold.”
Christians and Muslims disagree on some topics based on their religious beliefs but the leaders at the symposium agreed that domestic violence is unacceptable.
The panel also addressed how religion is weaponized to control women, what to do if the victim is being abused by a faith leader in their community and how to hold perpetrators accountable for their abusive behavior.
Domestic violence affects approximately one million people in the U.S. each year and 85 percent of victims are women.
Michael A. Jones, a retired law enforcement officer, ordained Christian Minister and domestic violence advocate, discussed church security during the safety, security and awareness presentation. He stressed to faith leaders to learn how to identify red flags in their congregations and encouraged them to have a security plan in place.
Domestic Violence Awareness Month is overshadowed by Breast Cancer Awareness Month since they take place in October. Though breast cancer has been the main focus, the audience was reminded that domestic violence happens during the year and to continue to educate their communities about it.
“The only way we can combat domestic violence is for all the faith traditions to come together and be able to recognize what is and to help one another,” Inge-Hanif said.