Madinah House – a shelter for women, commemorates 20th anniversary

Assistant resident representative of the UNDP (TT) Sharifa Ali-Abdullah, (left to right) Zalayhar Hassanali, Madinah House president Lydia Choate and Sabeerah Maryann Khan share the stage at the launch of a commemorative magazine, which celebrates Madinah House’s 20th anniversary, at the Prince Albert Street Mosque, San Fernando, Trinidad

San Fernando, Trinidad March 9th 2019: Madinah House is a temporary shelter for women and victims of abuse has been caring for clients from many parts of Trinidad regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.

Lydia Choate, the President, thanked everyone for assisting the organization saying it faced financial constraints and decreasing government subventions.

She said: “You supported us by purchasing tickets for our takeaway meals and giving your donations to keep the ship floating in the absence of government subventions which cannot be used for capital expenditure, like repairs. Many essential repairs were effected to the property that is leased from an anonymous donor. Help the women and children who have been victims of the scourge of domestic violence. Let us stop domestic violence now,”

Assistant resident representative of the UNDP (TT) Sharifa Ali-Abdullah in her keynote speech recalled the formative years of Madinah House and reflected on equality of the genders in the teachings of Islam.

Ali- Abdullah said “As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2019 with its theme:  Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change I want us to focus on the first call to action – think equal!   

Do Muslims think that men and women are equal?

In pondering over what message I wanted to share with you – the issue of equality and domestic violence keep haunting me.   From the research identified earlier, men in Trinidad and Tobago are influenced by what their religion and media tell them about how to treat women.   So let us bring it home – do Muslims think that men and women are equal?  Is the false notion that a man is superior to a woman which gives him the excuse to abuse her?  How does this play out in male-female dynamics? Interestingly, in cultures where women are treated as inferior to men, violence against women is higher – but also in countries where there is gender equity, perhaps of greater reporting and empowerment.  There are also no shelters in Muslim majority countries – maybe because there is no domestic violence there! 

So in thinking equal let us be reminded by what Allah tells us:

  ‘Never will I allow to be lost the work of any of you, male or female’ 3:195

  • [16:97] Anyone who works righteousness, male or female, while believing, we will surely grant them a happy life in this world, and we will surely pay them their full recompense (on the Day of Judgment) for their righteous works.
  • [49:13] O people, we created you from the same male and female and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may know one another. The best among you in the sight of GOD is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. GOD is all Knowing, all-Aware.

It is clear from these ayats (verses) that Allah has ordained that men and women are equal, that they complement each other but equality does not mean sameness.

In thinking equal and formulating a strategy to create a better society for all we should be guided by Surah 9 Ayah 71 where Allah tells us

The believers men and women

Are awliya of one another

They enjoin the good  

And forbid the wrong

They observe the prayers and give zakah

And obey Allah and his Prophet

For me, this ayah represents the true spirit of Islam – men and women striving to establish a just society, enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong, being allies, awliya not competitors nor enemies of each other.”   

Negative impact of media messaging

Ali-Abdullah continued “Remember the study said the media was also to be blamed for the messaging.    While we would not venture into the lyrics of the music that we listen to – particularly our children that denigrates and disrespects women and promotes the culture of violence – I want to state my total disgust for the manner in which some people use social media to attack marriage and family and promote disrespect for these institutions which nibbles away and eventually leads to weakening of these fundamental structures for peaceful existence – sakinah.

In the past, it was jokes at weddings that did the trick, but now with social media, especially with easy messaging – it is disgusting that people including Muslims circulate ugly and sometimes nasty jokes about marriage and family – about men and women.   While this may appear to be innocent and a bit of good trini humour – I am reminded that Shaytan has said that he will attack us with the small things – and I want to make an appeal to all of us here to delete all such messages at the least and not be part of Shaytan’s plan to promote fitnah, discord and as the research has shown domestic violence.   The psychologists can explain how these messages take root and influence our behaviours. ” 

Ali-Abdullah said in 1993, the UN declared violence against women a pandemic and now 26 years later, one in three women still experience physical or sexual violence at the hands of their partner, according to the results of a women’s health survey in 2017. It means that about 130,000 people in TT have experienced from physical or sexual violence. The study also found that the respondents’ cultural beliefs, including religious, fuelled this violent attitude toward women and children.

“Other notions about how we treat each other are shaped and reinforced by the media,” she said.

In concluding Ali-Abdullah paid tribute to the men who assisted in founding Madinah House “yes, we need to recognise the good men amongst us – Zabar Baksh, Saeed Mhammed , Imam Nazim , Kalamazard Mohammed, Asim Abdullah and Dr. Firdaus  and their contribution to women.  The memory of Gayaz Rajab beaming with love and pride at his Rose, Wardah who was a few centimetres in length and a few grammes then when we visited after she was born is one that is indelibly written in my mind.  May Allah bless him and their families with His choicest blessings.” Ameen