Religious topics seem quaint in this secular age, but we can take notes to combat violence, writes Zain Ali

Why can't we see God? I pause a moment and carefully consider how I should respond to my son's thought-provoking question.

My daughter has no issue with answering the question; God, she declares, can't be seen because God is a beautiful woman! At this point we burst out laughing.

Nevertheless, such religiously themed questions pop up quite often, and it's usually when I'm driving my children to school when these questions arise. I don't force my children to talk about God or religion, but it is their interaction with their peers at school that almost invariably gets them thinking.

So it is with great sadness that I read the story about the 15-year-old Muslim girl who was forced to wear a burqa to hide her broken nose, damaged teeth and extensive bruising. The burqa was used to cover up the abuse she suffered at home.


In theory, the veil is meant to symbolise faith in its positive aspects. In this case, the burqa became an instrument of control, and a mechanism to conceal an act of evil.

The family members, and others, who knew of the abuse or were complicit in the abuse and its subsequent cover-up have not only failed as Muslims, but have failed as human beings.

Domestic violence and child abuse is a significant problem in New Zealand, and the Muslim community is not immune to this issue. I'm aware of a number of cases of abuse and violence within the community; I have also been in touch with organisations within the community, such as the Fatima Foundation, who deal with a number of victims of domestic violence.

What is deeply troubling about this case, and other cases of abuse, is that it is often women and young girls who are the victims. The Roast Busters case also highlights this issue, namely criminal and depraved behaviour directed toward women.

Such behaviour isn't unique to one society or community.

The treatment of women was an issue that the first Muslim community wrestled with, and this was because the customs of pre-Islamic Arabia included the practice of female infanticide. The practice involved burying female infants alive. With the arrival of Islam, the practice faded away and this was because the Koran declared the practice to be evil.

In one rather poignant verse, the Koran has the victim ask for what sin she was killed. The question is rhetorical since the victim is sinless and it is the killer who is the real sinner.

In our secular age it seems quaint to speak of sin, but the rhetorical device used by the Koran can still be useful. Why are women so often targeted by the depraved; why do the perpetrators act with such impunity?


The answer may have to do with love, or rather the absence of love. Domestic violence, and child abuse, can be seen as signs that love is absent - especially the kind of love that is compassionate toward those who are vulnerable.

If the absence of love is at the root of this problem, then we have to ask why there is such an absence.

The Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions have faith commitments that centre on love, to love God, for example, with all your heart, soul and will. The love of God is, again, one of those quaint ideas, but with a little thought we can appreciate its potential value to a society that is wrestling with the issues of domestic violence and child abuse.

To love God is not only to believe in the existence of some higher power, it involves an act of trust. To trust that a being who is totally independent from you, is worthy of your deepest commitment, is to be utterly vulnerable. Realising your own vulnerability is also an important step in acknowledging the vulnerability of others - your partner, your children, or your neighbour.

Once we realise our own vulnerability and the vulnerability of others, it should become easier to reach out in love, rather than react with anger, hate and violence. If, as my daughter suggests, God is a beautiful woman, then to fall in love with her would be the greatest love indeed.

Dr Zain Ali is head of the Islamic Studies Research Unit at the University of Auckland.