(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 13 October 2010)
“Do you (Groom’s name) take (Bride’s name) to be your wife – to live together after God’s ordinance – in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love her, comfort her, honour and keep her, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, in sadness and in joy, to cherish and continually bestow upon her your heart’s deepest devotion, forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto her as long as you both shall live?”
According to the traditional words spoken at a Christian wedding, “Marriage is the union of husband and wife in heart, body and mind. It is intended for their mutual joy – and for the help and comfort given on another in prosperity and adversity. But more importantly – it is a means through which a stable and loving environment may be attained.”
During the second step of the seven pheras, the Hindu bride and the groom promise that they would develop their physical, mental and spiritual powers in order to lead a lifestyle that would be healthy and while taking the fourth vow, the married couple pledges to acquire knowledge, happiness and harmony by mutual love, respect, understanding and faith.
For a Muslim, what is more important than marriage? “It is the spirit of marriage, the intention which underlies it, the treasures which it contains hidden within it, but which must be brought out and realized by the married couple themselves. So the male and female complete each other – together they make a single self and this is how they must strive to make their lives together – as if they are one being, one person, one spirit.”
“The Prophet (s.a.) was once asked, ‘What is more important than prayer?’ He replied, ‘The spirit of prayer’ – the spirit that animates the prayer. He was asked what is more important than fasting – he replied, the spirit of fasting. For each question concerning an Islamic practice the answer was the same – because the spirit brings the action to life and unfolds its potentials.”
I remind the reader of these marriage customs because never once do these traditions give right to the man or the woman to inflict abuse on one another. Regardless of religious background, every person who is married has at one time or another entered into marriage vows similar to these just stated. These promises of love, respect, commitment and honour are “not to be entered into lightly.”
It might be that some people have grown up in homes where beating the women and children is normal and acceptable. Young boys watch the abuse and assume that is how they should act with their wife and children. Young girls watch and believe they too should be willing to take the physical, mental and emotional blows from their future husband. However, these assumptions and the abuse are contrary to the commitments made on the wedding day.
I want to make it clear that I believe physical, mental and emotional abuse on any level – whether inflicted by male or female – is immoral. Yet, when I speak on abuse, I advocate for women for two reasons: 1) The number of women being beaten and murdered is so staggering that it would be wrong of me to remain silent, and 2) I take issue with the way women are being treated, because I am a woman.
For those who think I am a man-hater, nothing could be further from the truth. Being an advocate for women does not make one a man-hater any more than being an advocate for children makes one an adult-hater. My passion to help those in domestic violence situations comes from growing up in a home where my mother physically, emotionally and mentally abused me daily until I married at a young age.
When a man and woman commit to love and honour each other on the day of their wedding, the Christian vows state that this commitment is for better or worse, richer or poorer and through sickness and health. None of the aforementioned marriage vows state that a woman’s husband can abuse her. Why do none of these long-held traditions state a commitment to abuse? Because even centuries ago, the men of these patriarchal religions knew it was wrong to abuse their wives.
For a very long time, there were people who used scripture to justify slavery. However, there is now no doubt whatsoever in anyone’s mind that slavery is evil. It is wrong to subjugate a human because of race. I feel the same about sexism. It is wrong to subjugate a human because of gender. We need to stop using our differences to harm each other and instead come together as humans – all races, nationalities and genders – to create the best world we can.
Marriage is the perfect example of how humans – men and women – can come together and make something beautiful together. In an abusive relationship, each strike of the hand, each degrading remark, each lie to cover an indiscretion tears pieces off of this beautiful fabric of devotion until what is left resembles nothing close to the loving relationship that marriage should be.
When a woman is beaten and abused, there is nothing but humiliation and fear. There is none of the honour, love and mutual respect promised on the wedding day. In fact, there is no honour whatsoever in domestic violence. There is only shame and terror, which is no functioning relationship at all.
I want to close this column with more from the traditional Christian marriage ceremony, “This is a beginning and a continuation of their growth as individuals. With mutual care, respect, responsibility and knowledge comes the affirmation of each one’s own life happiness, growth and freedom. With respect for individual boundaries comes the freedom to love unconditionally. Within the emotional safety of a loving relationship – the knowledge self-offered one another becomes the fertile soil for continued growth. With care and responsibility towards self and one another comes the potential for full and happy lives.”
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Don’t turn a blind eye to the wickedness of domestic violence. Speak up and save a woman’s life.