A Study of Violences in Muslim Pre-Marriage Courses in Singapore

The issue of family violence within the Muslim community pushed researchers from Beyond the Hijab, Crit Talk, Penawar and WALI to undertake an exploratory study into how issues regarding family violence were communicated in Muslim pre-marriage courses (PMCs). PMCs are meant to help couples “build a strong and long-lasting marriage from the start.” These courses, while not mandatory, are well-attended by Muslim couples. More than 10,000 participants have attended one of the available PMCs, Cinta Abadi, since 2014. 

We conducted face-to-face interviews with 22 Muslim women respondents between the ages of 26 and 35 years old between January and March 2019. These interviews aimed to explore (i) the respondents’ opinions of the course, (ii) what was taught to them during their course and, (iii) if there was any mention of family violence in their course. 

Our research finds that PMCs promoted overt and subtle forms of violence: discursive violence, spiritual violence, physical violence, sexual violence and psychological violence (see Sections 2.1 to 2.5). Discursive violence is the assigning of specific, gendered roles and responsibilities to husband and wife. Almost none of the respondents recalled the course trainers condemning abusive behaviour, on the contrary they remembered some trainers indirectly condoning physical and sexual violence through the use of religious and cultural ideology. Discussions on family violence were often garbed under the guise of ‘ineffective communication’ between spouses, which not only downplays the seriousness of family violence, but reinforces erroneous beliefs that family violence is a family matter that can be privately resolved (see Section 2.6). 

Fortunately, the respondents demonstrated awareness of the different types of family violence. In their reflections (shown in boxes in Chapter 2), they question the different forms of violence that were promoted by their trainers as being part of an Islamic marriage. Thus, there is a significant disconnect between what the respondents are expected to put in practice and their own lived realities.  

The report ends with seven recommendations for MSF, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Majlis Ugama Islam Singapore, MUIS) and PMC providers (see Chapter 3). 

  1. Recognise both spouses as equal partners and remove all forms of discursive violence. Marriage is and must be a partnership of equal responsibilities and rights. 
  2. Include a comprehensive definition and discussion of the spectrum of abusive behaviour and clearly condemn family violence.
  3. Introduce mutual respect into the curriculum to nurture the values of sakinah, mawaddah and rahmah.
  4. Discuss about sex and family planning in terms of mutual consent
  5. Teach effective communication skills and non-violent conflict resolution.
  6. Include information on customising the marriage contract and the legal rights and obligations of each party entering and exiting a marriage.
  7. Expand the course curriculum to comprehensively cover aspects of lived realities of married couples. Potential topics include parenting styles, financial planning and conflict resolution.