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American Muslims Call for Swift Action Against Domestic Violence
On February 12, 2009, in Orchard Park, Buffalo, NY, forty-four year-old Muzzamil Hassan, a prominent Muslim businessman, was arrested for having allegedly beheaded his wife, thirty-seven year-old Aasiya Zubair Hassan. His wife filed for divorce February 6, and police had responded to several domestic violence calls at the couple's home according to the police.
Aasiya Hassan’s death and the described manner of her murder are travesties of unspeakable magnitude. The news painfully affects the American Muslim community, not only to have a member of their faith act in such a horrific manner, but to then read the reinvigorated stereotypes of Islam espoused and reiterated in the reporting of this heartbreaking story.
According to newspaper accounts, the Hassan family had a history of domestic violence, resulting in Aasiya Hassan’s obtaining an order of protection after numerous reported episodes, and this is possibly the reason she filed for divorce. Speculations are rampant in the media that this was an “honor killing” in revenge for the divorce.
In fact, the Qur’an provides means for women to divorce and advocates that they do so when there are irreconcilable differences or when they or their children are in danger. Contrary to common perceptions, and often due to cultural practices, women have every right to divorce and to fair treatment following a divorce. Attitudes, actions, and practices which lead to disrespect, abuse and violence against women, including honor killings, have no basis in Islam, and are often rooted in cultural or traditional attitudes, or are emblematic of this common phenomena in many societies and cultures.
Islam teaches that a husband’s treatment of his wife is paramount to discerning his spiritual nature. An Islamic prophetic saying states the following:
The best of you are those who are best to their wives and families.
The Qur'an describes the nature and purpose of marriage as follows:
Among His signs is this: that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts); verily in that are signs for those who reflect. (30:21)
Also, killing an innocent person is considered the most egregious crime in Islam; to commit this crime against one’s wife, and the mother of one’s children is even more horrendous. Islam prohibits harming or hurting one’s wife or children, and domestic violence is grounds for divorce. This heinous crime should serve as a wake-up call for those who would deny that this is a problem in all communities, or relegate it to the back burner.
As Islamic Society of North America Vice President Imam Mohammed Hagmagid states in a 1300 word document:
This is a wakeup call to all of us, that violence against women is real and cannot be ignored…Women who seek divorce from their spouses because of physical abuse should get full support from the community and should not be viewed as someone who has brought shame to herself or her family. The shame is on the person who committed the act of violence or abuse. Our community needs to take a strong stand against abusive spouses.
Local and national American Muslim advocates against domestic violence have also issued a call to action in their communities against the scourge of domestic abuse and violence, and are asking religious leaders to do the following:
Remind congregants of the Prophet Muhammad's abhorrence of harshness, abuse and violence, and emphasize solutions that strengthen families and ensure all members are treated with fairness and respect, free of fear of abuse or violence.
Specific calls to action for imams and religious leaders include:
1. Unequivocally denounce domestic violence and any attitudes that enable or excuse it.
2. Remind Muslims that the Prophet Muhammad condemned with unequivocal language all forms of spousal abuse.
3. Immediately create community social service committees made up of qualified social service providers to supply educational resources and staff institutional programs that support abused and battered women.
4. Promote educational and awareness programs that outline abusive and violent behaviors.
5. Allow community members ways of pointing out and preventing the emergence or escalation of possibly abusive relationships and environments.
The release which was issued on February 18th cites several prominent imams who have heeded the call to action, including Shaykh Hamza Yusuf of the Zaytuna Institute and Imam Tahir Anwar of the South Bay Islamic Association in San Jose. The full release can be found on Imam Tahir’s website at: http://imamtahir.com/imgs/events/EndViolence-Press.pdf
These imams have committed their Friday sermons to addressing domestic violence and preaching that in the Islamic tradition and by the example of the Prophet Muhammad, family harmony can never be achieved by force and that emotional and physical abuse is never acceptable.
Additionally ING cautions against using this incident to stereotype all Muslims or paint Islam and Muslims with a broad brush. Numerous media outlets, “experts” and pundits have joined the bandwagon of associating this crime to Islam, labeling it an honor killing, or even linking it to terrorism. Such statements enflame prejudice against an entire group, perpetuate ignorance and incite Islamophobia. As Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, a producer and host for Bridges TV who worked alongside the Hassans, said:
I will only say to those who leap to the conclusion that this kind of thing is intrinsic to Islam, ask yourselves if you think that drunkenness is intrinsic to Irish Catholics, or cheating in business is to Jews?
Domestic violence occurs in all cultures, religious groups, and among all economic and educational strata in society. Those concerned with women’s rights must join hands to work together across all religious and ethnic groups to prevent such incidents and work for the general welfare of all women.
ING is an apolitical, non-partisan educational institution with affiliates across the country. If you are interested in learning more about Islam’s position on violence, terrorism, and other contemporary issues, and would like to request an ING speaker to address these issues, please contact ING at (408) 296-7312 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.ing.org/speakers/request.asp. More information about ING can be found at http://www.ing.org.