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NYC women's shelter fills a critical gap for Muslim survivors of domestic abuse

Asiyah's approach includes cultivating a sense of community, which encourages survivors to rebuild their lives.
Domestic survivor
Posted at 5:02 PM, May 02, 2024

Scripps News visited Asiyah Women's Center, a new shelter addressing a critical gap for Arab, Muslim and BIPOC survivors of domestic abuse in New York City.

"I came to Asiyah looking for safety and stability," said a woman who survived domestic abuse. "I was fleeing from my society, from the people around me, from my country."

The woman asked us to hide her identity for her safety. She says she fled her homeland escaping danger in order to save her life. She found help in New York.

"We are in one of the most diverse cities in the world, New York City, and the lack of culturally competent and trauma-informed resources that exist for survivors of domestic violence are virtually zero," said Dania Darwish, executive director and co-founder of The Asiyah Women's Center in NYC.

"The Asiyah Women's Center is one of the first domestic violence centers to exist to accommodate to the needs of Muslim survivors of domestic violence." said Darwish.

New York City is home to one of the biggest Muslim populations in the U.S. — yet, Darwish says the city shelters aren't doing enough for the community.

"There's over 1 million Muslims in New York City ,and in the city shelters they don't serve halal food. They don't have places for women to pray, they don't have places for women to breastfeed. Unfortunately, this puts women in a position where they have to decide, do I stay with my abuser, or do I stay in a system in a city that doesn't serve people that look like me?" said Darwish.

According to a recent survey from The Peaceful Families Project, an organization dedicated to preventing domestic violence in Muslim Families, 36% of American Muslims experience intimate partner violence at some time in their lives.

"There were no services at all in the first shelter. We stayed for about four days without any food. Dania spoke to me at the last moment, I told her I'm exhausted. I've been fasting for four days. It was during Ramadan as well. Thank God that I came here," said the domestic abuse survivor.

To address this gap in the shelter system, Dania founded Asiyah in 2018, providing culturally sensitive support, resources and temporary shelter. Since opening, they have served over 500 women and children, and 94% of their clients identify with the Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, South Asian and/or the Black, Indigenous, people of color population.

"We get so many referrals from imams, from mosques, from other community-based organizations. Sometimes we get referrals from the city. Sometimes the city doesn't know what to do with domestic violence survivors that come from a Muslim or South Asian or Arab or Black background and they send them to us," said Darwish. "Because city resources are not as organized or easy to understand, especially if you have limited language capacity or if you're undocumented, there's not many places you want to seek resources," she added.

"Asiyah has provided me with many services. First and foremost as a family, offering moral support before material, legal, or health care. Asiyah is entirely special," said the domestic abuse survivor.

"We're very cognizant of making sure that a survivor is supported throughout their entire journey of leaving their abuser.," said Darwish.

Asiyah's approach includes cultivating a sense of community, which encourages survivors to rebuild their lives.

"We connect women with lawyers, we connect women with doctors, we connect women with getting an order of protection, and we are there for them throughout every step of the way." said Darwish.