RIYADH, 8 May 2008 — A two-day conference on domestic violence ended yesterday with participants saying there is no justification in Islam for abuse of women and children. They also came up with a list of demands and recommendations to tackle the problem.
Experts from across the Kingdom participated in five sessions of discussions at the first National Experts Meeting to Fight Domestic Abuse Against Women and Children, with all participants agreeing that Islam does not condone abuse and that the problem should be brought to an end.
"Traditions that allow abuse should be brought to an end," said Dr. Maha Al-Munief, executive director of the National Family Safety Program (NFSP), which organized the event. "We will start training courses for people who work with abuse victims... We need cooperation from all NGOs," she said in a press conference held to announce the recommendations.
One of the forum participants, who asked her name not be published, said, "Why do we have to wait until a crime happens and someone dies? Why can't we interfere early. Privacy is not an excuse for our silence."
Dr. Hissa Al-Alsheikha, a board member of the NFSP, said there are no proper statistics about the problem and all available figures are inaccurate.
"Although nothing is 100 percent true, one thing is very clear: Abuse has become a phenomenon... if one has an inclination to it, he will find an excuse to abuse someone," she said.
The recommendations, which comprise 21 articles, included a suggestion for the need to have a clear fatwa about the topic that would serve as a legal basis to approach a court. The fatwa would also serve to disprove misconceptions that Islam sanctions abuse of one's family members.
"We aim to set up a national strategy to minimize the effects of domestic abuse," said Al-Munief. "We want NGOs to come forward in support of the program... We want women and children to know their rights and ask for them."
Dr. Majid Al-Essa, head of the Medical Section at NFSP, said that it is the foremost responsibility of every individual to help change the mindset accepts abuse. "People must realize that they need to change," she said.
"The language of violence that was claimed to be religion should be corrected," she said. "We need to criminalize violence and all kinds of abuse... There is nothing on earth that justifies abuse."
The forum was inaugurated by Princess Adela bint Abdullah on Tuesday. "Abuse of women and children is a real threat to the stability of our society. It is a worrying universal phenomenon, not just a local one," she said in her opening speech.
Speakers in Tuesday's session included Sheikh Salman Al-Odah, supervisor of the Islam Today website, and Dr. Suhail Zain Al-Abideen, head of the Women's Section at the National Society for Human Rights.
The participants stressed the need for enacting clear rules against domestic violence and discussed such varied issues as punishments for perpetrators and agencies responsible for handling complaints.