- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2009


The crime was so brutal, shocking and so resembled the worst public images about their religion that some U.S. Muslims thought the initial reports were a hoax.

The harsh reality of what happened in an affluent suburb of Buffalo, N.Y. - the beheading of 37-year-old Aasiya Hassan and the arrest of her estranged husband - is another crucible for American Muslims.

Here was a couple that appeared to be the picture of assimilation and tolerance, co-founders of a television network that aspired to improve the image of Muslims in a post-9/11 world.

Now, as Muzzammil “Mo” Hassan faces second-degree-murder charges, American Muslim leaders are once again facing hard questions - about gender issues, about distinctions between cultural and religious practices, and about differing interpretations of Islamic texts regarding women.

“Muslims don’t want to talk about this, for good reason,” said Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur, a Muslim author and activist. “There is so much negativity about Muslims, and it sort of perpetuates it … . But we’ve got to shine a light on this issue so we can transform it.”

In an open letter to American Muslim leaders, Imam Mohamed Hagmagid Ali, of Sterling, Va., vice president of the Islamic Society of North America, said, “Violence against women is real and cannot be ignored.” He urged that imams and community leaders never second-guess a woman in danger, and said Muslims should not view abuse-related divorces as bringing shame to their families.

Muslim women’s advocates consider the statement significant after years of indifference in a community that has seen only recent progress - for example, the opening of shelters for battered Muslim women in a few major cities.

“This is a horrible tragedy, but it gives us a window,” said Ms. Abdul-Ghafur, editor of the anthology “Living Islam Out Loud: American Muslim Women Speak.”

“The next time a woman comes to her imam and says, ‘He hit me,’ the reply might not be, ‘Be patient, sister, is there something you did, sister? Is there something you can do?’ The chances are greater the imam will say, ‘This is unacceptable.’ ”

At least nine mosques, imams and Islamic organizations also agreed to denounce domestic violence this week at the behest of a coalition of Muslims that organized on Facebook after Mrs. Hassan’s death.

At the South Bay Islamic Association in San Jose, Calif., Imam Tahir Anwar said he preached at Friday prayer services about keeping peace in the family and denounced physical and emotional domestic violence.

“I wouldn’t say [the problem] is particular to the Muslim community, but to the immigrant community whether you’re Muslim or otherwise,” Mr. Anwar, whose parents are from India, said in an interview. “Women don’t speak up about it. It’s a taboo that all immigrant communities sort of face.”

Asra Nomani, a Muslim journalist, author and activist from Morgantown, W.Va., challenged Muslims who say the killing has no link to Islamic teachings. While Islam does not sanction domestic violence or killing, a literal reading of a verse in the Koran taught in some mosques can lead to honor killings and murder, she said.

“It’s sort of like the typical reaction to terrorism in the community, where people want to say, ‘This had nothing to do with Islam,’ ” Ms. Nomani said. “Well, it doesn’t have anything to do with your interpretation of Islam that teaches you can’t kill innocent people. But terrorism, violence, honor killing - they are all part of ideological problems we have in the community we need to eradicate.”

The passage about wives - chapter 4, verse 34 - reads, according to one popular translation: “As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them.”

Mrs. Hassan was killed six days after her husband was served with divorce papers and a protective order. Mr. Hassan is a native of Pakistan, and acquaintances said he was not overtly religious. His attorney has said neither religion, nor culture played a role in what happened.

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