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Domestic Violence:Verbal Abuse in Marriage: Words can Kill

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Domestic Violence Series

Sticks and Stones May Break my Bones but Words will never Hurt Me….

“My husband thinks I am stupid. He thinks I can never learn Arabic because I don’t have the brains to.” A sister said while she was seeking advice about her marital discords. She has been married for more than 10 years and has been verbally abused throughout her marital life. When I first met her, she appeared very unconfident and insecure. I was not sure if she had always been like that or if the marital verbal abuse had turned her into a self-doubting, vulnerable person.

According to her, her husband puts her down and calls her all sorts of names even in front of the children. He constantly undermines her abilities and compares her with other “accomplished” women. He is very judgmental and I realized that she has no more self-esteem left in her.

She described her husband as someone who loves to criticize her, calls her all kinds of degrading names, even in the presence of their children. He undermines her abilities and compares her with other“accomplished” women. It seems like that he had been very judgmental throughout their marital life and perhaps that is the reason why she has no more self-esteem left in her.

Unfortunately, this is not the case with just one family, rather verbal abuse in marital relationships has been a major problem in the Muslim communities.

Perhaps it is phrases like, ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,’ that is not only inherently wrong but has encouraged verbal abuse and underestimated its evil affects on the abused. The truth of the matter is that verbal abuse hurt as badly if not more than the physical abuse.

Confusion about Verbal Abuse vs. Physical Abuse:

Those men and women who have not been physically abused by their wives and husbands but are verbally abused on a daily basis remain confused whether or not they are in a damaging relationship.

Unlike physical abuse, verbal abuse is difficult to identify. Once a person has been hit, it is a physical abuse. There is no need to be confused because the bruises are visible. On the other hand, verbal abuse is more dangerous because there is no “apparent” damage. Yet, it causes internal destruction, leaves invisible scars, wounded spirit and low self-esteem.

Verbal abuse can be done by either spouse. In some cases, the perpetrator is the wife who not only verbally abuses her husband but drags his whole family along the way.

Islam recognizes the evil of verbal abuse and perhaps that’s why there is so much emphasis on guarding one’s tongue and keeping others secured from its invisible harm.
The Messenger of Allāh, ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said,

“A true believer is not involved in taunting, or frequently cursing (others) or in indecency or abusing.”’ (al-Tirmidhi)

If this is the right of a regular Muslim, then how much more so a wife or husband is entitled to be safe from verbal abuse and taunting.

In another narration, the Prophet of Allāh said:

“…Cursing a believer is like murdering him. (Al-Bukhāri and Muslim)

SubḥānAllāh, how true are the words of the Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam who thoroughly acknowledge that, in fact, harsh tongue and cursing is as painful and harmful as murdering someone.

Hence, those husbands who are duped into thinking that they are free from being abusive because they have never raised their hands on their wives, yet, frequently curse or use abusive/foul language should take heed in the words of the Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam. And so should the wives who have been using harsh tongue against their husbands.

Break the Cycle:

If you are in a verbally abusive relationship, then change your situation. Remember YOU have to break the pattern. The first step is to acknowledge your spouse’s verbal abuse.

Ask yourself the following questions:

●Do you feel like you have to walk on eggshells around your partner?
●Do you feel threatened, humiliated, helpless or depressed?
●Do you feel as though you cannot do anything right?
●Does your spouse belittle you?
●Does your partner have complete control over your bank accounts?
●Does your spouse ignore or disregard your achievements?
●Does your partner blame you for all of your marriage problems?[i]

Oppression must not be encouraged whether physical or verbal. Find the courage to change your situation.

●Communicate with your spouse. You should not be intimidated to talk to your spouse.
●Set Limits: be specific what you can tolerate and what you cannot.
●Seek help: your spouse must not have any problem should you get a third party involved to seek help
●See a therapist: be careful who you chose for therapy

●See a Religious Counselor:

If you  speak with a shaykh, make sure he has enough time to listen to your problem thoroughly.
Do not catch the shaykh during the prayer breaks for 10-15 minutes.
Make an appointment.
Make sure the shaykh spends enough time to listen to your complain and your spouse’s and give step by
step advice to both of you.
Make a follow up appointment to ensure the benefits of
his advice.

A “Henpecked” Husband

In some cultures, eastern and western, a kind and affectionate husband is considered “henpecked” by family and friends. Consequently, to prove otherwise husbands may resort to verbal harshness in public or even in private. Let them be reminded, that in the eyes of Allāh ‘azzawajal, the Ultimate Judge, their strength as husbands is not shown in how much verbally they can abuse their wives, rather:

The strong man is not one who wrestles well but the strong man is one who
controls himself when he is in a fit of rage.”

And the excellence of a man has been described in his good manners and in his control over his tongue. And the excellence of a man has been described in his good manners and in his control over his tongue. Abu Musa Al-Ash`ari (ra) reported: I asked the Messenger of Allāh, ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam:

“Who is the most excellent among the Muslims?” He said, “One from whose tongue and hands the other Muslims are secure.”

(Al-Bukhāri and Muslim)
This right is exceedingly due upon the wives. If a wife is not secured form her husband’s tongue then it merely shows the weakness, cowardliness and lowliness of a man’s character not his strength

Woman’s Harsh Tongue:

Sisters remember the story of the two women, one prayed and fasted and performed extra acts of worship yet she was known to be very harsh with her tongue towards others. The other women performed her obligatory acts of worship but she was very polite to towards others and didn’t hurt anyone with her tongue. The first one was from the women of hellfire and the second was from the people of Jannah.

If this is the case in dealing with others, just imagine what will happen if a wife, consistently, uses harsh tongue towards her husband, who has most rights over her politeness, respect and kind treatment.

وقولوا قولاً سديداً

Allāh ‘azzawajal says (which means):

O you who have believed, fear Allāh and speak words of appropriate justice قولا سديدا
. He will [then] amend for you your deeds and forgive you your sins…


In this verse

قولا سديدا

has a very profound meaning. It doesn’t merely mean just speech rather these are the words through which a person connects with the world around him/her. A spouse is the one a person most frequently interacts with hence the one most entitled toقولا سديدا .

It doesn’t merely mean just speech rather these are the words through which a person connects with the world around him/her. A spouse is the one a person most frequently interacts with hence the one most entitled to قولا سديدا. These words (everyday speech) are from the characteristics that separate a person from the other creatures and these words are the means by which a person makes himself/herself either from the people of Hell or people of Jannah.[ii]

Lastly, those brothers and sisters who are in emotionally abusive relationship must realize that verbal abuse is often worse than physical abuse.

Words hurt and can be more harmful than physical pain. Also, patience through verbal abuse (though will be rewarded by Allāh’azzawajal inshā’Allāh) can and will have damaging effects on the children. Not only at the time when they are growing up but on how it shapes their personality and what type of spouses would they turn out to be in future. Mostly, sons will follow their father’s footsteps and daughters will follow their mother’s. Hence, be cautious of what you are putting your children through and take a stand for yourself and for your children.

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