Counseling Arab Americans
Jay C Coleman
The belief, common among non-Arab Americans, that Arabic families are oppressive and dominated by violent fathers who mistreat their wives and children, has been documented in numerous sources (e.g. Suleiman, 1988, Al-Mughni, 1993). This is probably not unexpected given the struggle to fit traditional Islam with expanding women’s rights throughout the Muslim world (Al-Mughni, 1993). Despite theological interpretations of the Qu’ran that argue for equality between the sexes (e.g. Engineer, 2004) the issue of sexual equality remains contentious. Accounts of honor killings and other acts of violent oppression against women (Goodwin, 2002) in Muslim countries fuel the image of Muslim and Arabic men as hostile and violent toward women (although other women assist in many of these incidents).
Indeed, in Arabic families, men typically are considered the titular head of the household. However, women normally wield a great deal of influence over decision important to the family. Contrary to direct styles of confrontation and assertiveness favored by mainstream American culture, Arabic women often use more indirect means of communication and influence, which may make them appear more passive to Western observers (Abudabbeh & Nydell, 1993; Jackson, 1997). As is true in other cultures, the exact nature of a women’s power in the family may vary widely between families, as well as according to the cultural traditions of specific regions and nations. As an example of how cultural traditions may be misinterpreted as a sign of oppression, traditional cultural head and/or face coverings are often considered to be indicative of male oppression, although many women consider these adornments a sign of religious or cultural pride and devotion and have no wish to remove them (Erickson & Al-Timimi, 2004).
Family is centrally important to the life of many Arab
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