Murder Of Muslim-American Woman Sparks Media Frenzy


Sometime last week, Aasiya Hassan, 37, filed for divorce. Several days later, she was dead. On Thursday, her husband, Muzzammil Hassan, went to the police and told them where they could find the body.

Judging from massive amount of tips we’ve gotten over the past week on this, most of you probably know how this story goes: Mrs. Hassan had been beheaded in a horrific, alleged “honor killing” by her husband, who owned a television station devoted to dispelling stereotypes about Muslims. She was found in the offices of the television network they had both worked to build.

Despite the tips, we held off on writing or posting about this story for several reasons. First, of all, we did not want to add to the growing pile of crap that has been written about it. The media portrayal of Mrs. Hassan and her husband has made us (and some of our tipsters) uncomfortable: The speculation over whether this was an “honor killing”, the awkward way in which people have dealt with a clearly terrible crime committed by an obviously unhinged man, and the lamentations over the “brutal irony” of Mr. Hassan’s occupation have all made this crime more about the religion of the perpetrator than the experience of the victim. For some, it has even come down to a feminist vs. Muslim debate.

At this point, we don’t want to speculate over what happened to Mrs. Hassan, or even why. She was brutally murdered at the hands of her husband, and this is a tragedy. But the reality is that many women are killed by their partners, just as many women suffer from domestic violence. However, while we’ve made Rihanna the poster girl for speaking out against domestic violence, we hesitate to make this into a poster-case for “honor killing.” While we care about Rihanna because she is already, independently famous, we (and by “we” I mean the media and our society, not necessarily the Jezebel editors or readers) care about Mrs. Hassan’s death for other reasons. We care because of the manner of her death, but more importantly, we care because he was Muslim.

In a particularly awful article from CBS News – which begins, “The crime drips with brutal irony” – “acquaintances” speculate on just how “Muslim” Mr. Hassan really was:

Acquaintances said Mo Hassan was not overtly religious – co-workers did not see him pray, for instance. But he seemed to adhere to many traditional practices.
Nancy Sanders, the television station’s news director for 2 1/2 years, remembers him asking her to move her feet during her job interview so he would not see her legs. She was wearing a skirt and stockings.
He also would not let women enter his office unless his wife was there, and he blocked the station from airing a story about the first Muslim woman to win the title of Miss England in 2005, Sanders said.

And although Mr. Hassan had two children from a previous marriage, The Buffalo News focuses on the stigma against divorce in Muslim communities as a possible motive for the crime:

Nadia Shahram, a matrimonial lawyer in Williamsville, said that some Muslim men consider divorce a dishonor on their family.
A teacher of family law and Islam at the University at Buffalo Law School, Shahram said that “fanatical” Muslims believe “honor killing” is justified for bringing dishonor on a family.
While it has not been determined whether Aasiya Hassan’s death had anything to do with fanatical beliefs, the community should address the attitudes that make divorce particularly difficult for many Muslim families, Shahram said.

And certainly this has been hard for Muslim families. But Marcia Pappas, New York state president of the National Organization for Women has placed the blame entirely on his faith: “This was apparently a terroristic version of honor killing, a murder rooted in cultural notions about women’s subordination to men….Too many Muslim men are using their religious beliefs to justify violence against women.” Although this may be true, there is no way of knowing Mr. Hassan’s motives. Pappas may be right, but there is also a possibility that Mr. Hassan was just unhinged and violent. The New York Times addresses this view point:

The gruesome death of Ms. Hassan prompted outrage from Muslim leaders after suggestions that it had been some kind of “honor killing” based on religious or cultural beliefs.
Dr. Sawsan Tabbaa, a Muslim community leader who teaches orthodontia at the State University at Buffalo, said, “This is not an honor killing, no way.”
Dr. Tabbaa added, “It has nothing to do with his faith.”

However, the question of whether or not Mr. Hassan’s faith played a role in her murder has acted as a screen for the bigger issue of violence against women. In a collection of responses about the story on Muslimah Media Watch, Imam Mohamed Hagmagid Ali, Vice-President of The Islamic Society of North America writes:

This is a wake up call to all of us, that violence against women is real and can not be ignored. It must be addressed collectively by every member of our community. Several times each day in America, a woman is abused or assaulted. Domestic violence is a behavior that knows no boundaries of religion, race, ethnicity, or social status. Domestic violence occurs in every community. The Muslim community is not exempt from this issue. We, the Muslim community, need to take a strong stand against domestic violence. Unfortunately, some of us ignore such problems in our community, wanting to think that it does not occur among Muslims or we downgrade its seriousness.

The most important thing to take away here is that domestic violence “knows no bounds,” it is not related to a single religion or group. It happens to pop stars and civilians alike.

Possibility Of ‘Honor Killing’ Mulled In Orchard Park Slaying [The Buffalo News]
Upstate New York Man Charged With Beheading His Estranged Wife [New York Times]
Brutal Irony In New York Woman’s Beheading [CBS News]
A Collection of Responses Concerning The Murder Of Aasiya Hassan[Muslimah Media Watch]

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