Founded in fall 2004, WAFA House (Women Against Family Abuse) is a privately run domestic violence crisis center based in Paterson that caters primarily to the needs of women of South Asian, Arabic and/or Muslim descent. The Arabic word “wafa” translates to “sincerity,” “faithfulness” or “to have hope,” and the organization has come to be known as a place where a Muslim woman can find all three.
The rate of domestic abuse in the Muslim community is about the same as in the general population — about 18 percent, according to a 2000 study performed by Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., a rate comparable to the national average. It tends, however, to be more hidden, says Dorria Fahmy, WAFA’s founder and executive director.
“There is a mindset that you don’t talk about things outside of the home,” says Fahmy, explaining the thinking that inhibits some women from seeking help. “There is concern that taking these issues outside of the community somehow contradicts religious teachings.”
The need for organizations like WAFA House is especially great in New Jersey, which is home to an estimated 10 percent of the U.S. Muslim population, according to the New Jersey branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“The issues that we face are quite unique,” says Lakshmi Rajagopal, a coordinator at Manavi, New Jersey’s oldest Muslim-focused domestic abuse center. “Among those are the dynamics of violence in the community. The way that violence manifests requires an understanding of the culture, the family structures and the people that abuse comes from.”