An American Muslim Man's Case for VAWA (Violence Against Women Act)

In a meeting last week with a few Washington, D.C. leaders, I was asked what one issue I was most passionate about right now. Without hesitation I said, to the surprise of many, the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). I knew why people in the room were surprised by my answer; in meetings with American Muslim leaders the answer they would have received would generally be civil rights, Islamophobia, national security or foreign policy. These are the issues that have impacted our community and have defined the American Muslim narrative in the public square post-9/11. Although these issues are important and will continue to dominate the agenda of many of our institutions, as American Muslims who are inspired by the social justice underpinnings of our faith, we must be clear and present and advocate for this piece of legislation that currently is being stalled in Congress.

VAWA was introduced in 1994 by then Senator Joseph Biden and passed overwhelmingly in a bi-partisan fashion by the Senate and the House. For the first time a piece of legislation recognized the overwhelming nature of violence against women both in domestic settings inside of the home and in the broader context of society. We all know the facts and figures when it comes to this problem. Nearly one in five women have been raped in their lifetime, one in four women have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner and, in an even more alarming trend, nearly 10 percent of high school girls have reported being hit, slapped or physically hurt on propose by the person they are romantically connected to.

VAWA put forth a comprehensive national strategy to deal with these issues, and it gave law enforcement agencies, judges, prosecutors, local government, civil society groups and religious institutions the funding and legal framework to both help victims living in the shadows of violence and to establish preventative programs. From the onset, VAWA worked. Since VAWA passed in 1994 until 2010, intimate partner violence has declined 67 percent and the rate of intimate partner homicides decreased 35 percent. More victims of domestic violence and sexual violence are going to the police and as a result there have been more arrests and prosecution of these crimes.

Since 1994, VAWA has been reauthorized twice expanding the legislation to immigrants, those married to U.S. citizens, victims of sex or labor trafficking and children who have been abused in a domestic setting. The expansions created new visa categories and gave law enforcement agencies and immigrations services the ability to fulfill the real reason our nation was founded, to be a bastion of safety and hope for the most vulnerable. So when VAWA went up for re-authorization last year, advocates and members of Congress continued to expand the categories of those who would be protected to undocumented immigrants, tribal courts and LGBT victims. Yet House republicans did not pass VAWA in the last Congress, and they continue to obstruct the bill because of their political positions on communities included in the bill.

Regardless of why it is being stalled in Congress, one thing is clear; American Muslims must assert their voice in this conversation. Besides our community being heavily impacted by this issue, it is our prophetic tradition to stand up for the most vulnerable in society and inspire our communities to engage in the advocacy process. American Muslim institutions, mosques and leaders should be at the forefront of advocating on this legislation.

We know that there are instances of domestic violence in all communities and none of us are immune. Sadly, I hear numerous stories of domestic abuse from counselors, therapists and Imams, who spend their time dealing with these issues.

This is why the Muslim Public Affairs Council, with our coalition partners, is launching a campaign that will contribute to the advocacy of this legislation. We are striving to provide our leaders and community workers with the resources to get this legislation passed.

There is no doubt that many are weary of getting involved in the political debate over a bill that should be a no-brainer, but if we are true to the underpinnings of social justice in our faith we must act. We must engage our elected officials, educate our community and work with community partners to ensure this bill is passed in 2013. As President Barack Obama said in his inaugural address, we must be a community and a nation who together are "resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life's worst hazards and misfortune." This must also be our mandate as an American faith community.