Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Beheading in Buffalo

Muzzammil Hassan, Aasiya Hassan

Was it an honor killing?

This month, Muzzammil Hassan (44) was arrested and charged for the murder of his wife, Aasiya Hassan (37). Mrs Hassan's body was discovered by police in the Orchard Park (suburb of Buffalo) office of the cable TV network, "Bridges". She had been beheaded. The Hassans were owners of the network, which was devoted to providing a positive look at Islam and Muslims in the US. Why was this murder committed? At this point, the motive is believed to be the fact that Mrs Hassan wanted a divorce. The question is whether this was just a tragic case of domestic rage-or whether it was done as an act of "honor-killing".

Below is a statement by Imam Mohamed Hagagid Ali, Vice President of the Islamic Society of North America. It also appears on CAIR's website.

By Imam Mohamed Hagmagid Ali
Executive Director, ADAMS Center
Vice-President, The Islamic Society of North America

"The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is saddened and shocked by the news of the loss of one of our respected sisters, Aasiya Hassan whose life was taken violently. To God we belong and to Him we return (Qur’an 2:156). We pray that she find peace in God’s infinite Mercy, and our prayers and sympathies are with sister Aasiya’s family. Our prayers are also with the Muslim community of Buffalo who have been devastated by the loss of their beloved sister and the shocking nature of this incident.

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.

I call upon my fellow imams and community leaders to never second-guess a woman who comes to us indicating that she feels her life to be in danger. We should provide support and help to protect the victims of domestic violence by providing for them a safe place and inform them of their rights as well as refer them to social service providers in our areas.

Marriage is a relationship that should be based on love, mutual respect and kindness. No one who experiences a marriage that is built on these principles would pretend that their life is in danger. We must respond to all complaints or reports of abuse as genuine and we must take appropriate and immediate action to ensure the victim’s safety, as well as the safety of any children that may be involved.

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. We should not make it easy for people who are known to abuse to remarry if they have already victimized someone. We should support people who work against domestic violence in our community, whether they are educators, social service providers, community leaders, or other professionals.

Our community needs to take strong stand against abusive spouses and we should not make it easy for them to remarry if they chose a path of abusive behavior. We should support people who work against domestic violence in our community, whether they are educators or social service providers. As Allah says in the Qur’an: “O ye who believe! Stand firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do” (4:136).

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) never hit a women or child in his life. The purpose of marriage is to bring peace and tranquility between two people, not fear, intimidation, belittling, controlling, or demonizing. Allah the All-Mighty says in the Qur’an: “Among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye 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),

We must make it a priority to teach our young men in the community what it means to be a good husband and what the role the husband has as a protector of his family. The husband is not one who terrorizes or does harm and jeopardizes the safety of his family. At the same time, we must teach our young women not to accept abuse in any way, and to come forward if abuse occurs in the marriage. They must feel that they are able to inform those who are in authority and feel comfortable confiding in the imams and social workers of our communities.

Community and family members should support a woman in her decision to leave a home where her life is threatened and provide shelter and safety for her. No imam, mosque leader or social worker should suggest that she return to such a relationship and to be patient if she feels the relationship is abusive. Rather they should help and empower her to stand up for her rights and to be able to make the decision of protecting herself against her abuser without feeling she has done something wrong, regardless of the status of the abuser in the community.

A man’s position in the community should not affect the imam’s decision to help a woman in need. Many disasters that take place in our community could have been prevented if those being abused were heard. Domestic violence is not a private matter. Any one who abuses their spouse should know that their business becomes the business of the community and it is our responsibility to do something about it. She needs to tell someone and seek advice and protection.

Community leaders should also be aware that those who isolate their spouses are more likely to also be physically abusive, as isolation is in its own way a form of abuse. Some of the abusers use the abuse itself to silence the women, by telling her “If you tell people I abused you, think how people will see you, a well-known person being abused. You should keep it private.”

Therefore, to our sisters, we say: your honor is to live a dignified life, not to put on the face that others want to see. The way that we measure the best people among us in the community is to see how they treat their families. It is not about how much money one makes, or how much involvement they have in the community, or the name they make for themselves. Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) said, “The best among you are those who are best to their families.”

It was a comfort for me to see a group of imams in our local community, as well as in the MANA conference signing a declaration promising to eradicate domestic violence in our community. Healthy marriages should be part of a curriculum within our youth programs, MSA conferences, and seminars as well as part of our adult programs in our masajid and in our khutbahs.

The Islamic Society of North America has done many training workshops for imams on combating domestic violence, as has the Islamic Social Service Associate and Peaceful Families Project. Organizations, such as FAITH Social Services in Herndon, Virginia, serve survivors of domestic violence. All of these organizations can serve as resources for those who seek to know more about the issues of domestic violence.

Faith Trust Institute, one of the largest interfaith organizations, with Peaceful Families Project, has produced a DVD in which many scholars come together to address this issue. I call on my fellow imams and social workers to use this DVD for training others on the issues of domestic violence. (For information, go to the website: For more information, or to access resources and materials about domestic violence, please visit

In conclusion, Allah says in the Qur’an “Behold, Luqman said to his son by way of instruction… O my son! Establish regular prayer, enjoin what is just, and forbid what is wrong; and bear with patient constancy whatever betide thee; for this is firmness (of purpose) in (the conduct of) affairs” (31:17). Let us pray that Allah will help us to stand for what is right and leave what is evil and to promote healthy marriages and peaceful family environments. Let us work together to prevent domestic violence and abuse and especially, violence against women."

Imam Ali's statement is welcomed, but it overlooks the central question; are we dealing with a case of "honor killing"? If so, it behooves the imam to say forcefully not only that domestic violence is wrong, but that the idea of taking the life of a family member for purposes of "honor" will be vigorously prosecuted in the United States. If this is some sort of "custom" that existed in the mother country, which was accepted or dealt with leniently there, such will not be the case in America.

This is not the first incidence of so-called honor killings carried out in America-or Europe for that matter. Our country has enough problems with every-day street crime that leads to a shameful murder rate for a civilized country. We don't need any new forms of murder.

I applaud Imam Ali's statement regarding domestic abuse. I wish, however, that he had gone further into the problem and issued a clear statement that "honor killings" are to be condemned. American imams are the leading voices of the American Muslim community. They need to join together and lead the way to fighting not just domestic abuse, but this custom called "honor killing" that can never be accepted in the United States-or anyplace else for that matter.


Bryan said...

Pretty sure that honor killings would fall under the category of violence against women, which the letter strongly condemns. I see no reason to SPECIFICALLY condemn honor killings when ALL violence against women is being condemned here. Especially since it's still not known for sure whether or not this incident was an honor killing.

Gary Fouse said...


This was a very moderately-worded posting. The fact is that many Muslims (not all) have been taught that a wife may be physically "punished". We and Europe have had cases of honor killings, often directed toward young girls who disobey the parents in their social activites.

If their is a cultural aspect to this -which there is- we cannot allow it to happen in our country.

Domestic abuse crosses all ethnic lines. Honor killings are something entirely different.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

Gary, regarding your response to Bryan, I seem to recall reading about "honor killings" (although they may have had a different name) in non-Muslim countries. It's been a while, but I believe that it was in one of the Latin American countries. I could be totally off-base on this one though. I'll research it a bit later when I have some time.