The first and only Muslim domestic violence shelter in the Carolinas welcomes all faiths
The founder of the first and only Muslim-operated domestic violence shelter in the Carolinas can point to some easy numbers to understand.
There are 13,500 animal shelters in the United States, but only 1,887 domestic violence shelters, according to research from Northeastern University.
Sa’idah Sudan started Charlotte’s shelter in October 2019 after an experience in a hospital emergency room in New Jersey.
“There was a Muslim woman that came into the ER,” Sudan said. “I didn’t recognize her because of how badly beaten she was. But she knew me. She was actually a friend of mine. From that point, I was trying to figure out what can I do to help Muslim and immigrant women in terms of domestic violence.”
Sudan became the first Muslim woman certified by the New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women, and after five years of classes, training, and internships on domestic violence, she had the background and confidence to open a shelter.
With fundraising support from Penny Appeal USA, the Baitul Hemaya domestic violence shelter opened in October 2019 in Charlotte, focusing on Muslim women. But any woman going through domestic violence is welcome. Baitul Hemaya means “house of protection” in Arabic.
Painful Statistics on Domestic Abuse
One in four women have been victims of severe domestic abuse, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Peaceful Families Project statistics indicate 31% of American Muslims had experienced abuse within an intimate partner relationship. Hadia Mubarak, assistant professor of religion at Queens University of Charlotte, explained that one of the Peaceful Families Project’s key objectives is creating religious awareness of domestic violence.
In addition to food and housing, the Baitul Hemaya shelter staff provides training, counseling, and protective and psychiatric services for women.
“The shelter is a Muslim-led organization, but everyone and anyone is allowed to come here,” said Sudan. “If you have been abused or have been a victim we are here to help you. The goal behind the shelter is to make it easier for Muslims and immigrant women who are stagnated. They don't know where to go. The shelter is equipped with prayer rugs, Quran for women to read.”
The home has three bedrooms, a handicap-accessible bathroom, kitchen, living room, and conference room. Family members take turns cooking and cleaning. The conference room hosts group sessions and house meetings. Women go through financial education and substance abuse classes, individual advocacy, life skills, arts and crafts, crochet classes. Yoga instructors teach classes. A Charlotte mosque donated furniture and clothing.
“This shelter brings together people of all faiths,” Sudan said. “Everybody comes together and we are one family under the shelter. I don't care what your religion is. It doesn’t matter to me. We just want to be here to help you move from one place to the other.”
Women and families arrive at the shelter with a maximum stay of 30 days. The shelter helps the women find jobs, provides bus cards to attend appointments and helps find child care at no cost.
Families in the shelter are supported with therapy services and instruction in independent living.
It’s not uncommon for women to go back to their abuser, Sudan said. “A lot of the women have never worked before and they aren’t confident in themselves or are just lazy and are just going to go back to him because ‘I don't want to be out here.’ It's an excuse, but to them it's survival.”
The Need for More Shelters
Sudan plans to open more shelters for Muslim women in areas that need capacity.
“Let me tell you something,” Sudan said. “Domestic violence shelters are very scarce and they’re very full. COVID didn’t help this situation so lots of women have had to stay in the home with the abuser, with nowhere to go during the pandemic. Almost every shelter is full because there is always abuse.
“If it's not child abuse, it's elder abuse, or it's spousal abuse, or it's intimate partner abuse. The abuse never ends.”
Resources on Domestic Violence
Baitul Hemaya Domestic Violence Shelter: 704-764-1773
Safe Alliance: 980-771-4673
Mecklenburg County Community Support Services - Prevention and Intervention Services: 704-336-3210