20 Feb 2009

Imams Asked to Preach Against Domestic Violence

The Washington Post - February 19, 2009

by David Waters | Under God Blog

News of the beheading of an American Muslim woman in a Buffalo suburb last week was immediately overshadowed by news of the plane that crashed near Buffalo the same day killing 50 people. But the murder of 37-year-old Aasiya Zubair Hassan was and continues to be a big story in the American Muslim community, especially amid speculation that it was a domestic "honor killing."

Because of the slaying, a number of Muslim organizations, including the Islamic Society of North America, are calling on imams and other Islamic leaders to speak out against domestic violence in Friday's sermons. It's another example of the continuing willingness of American Muslim leaders to speak out against violence in all forms.

"This is a wake up call to all of us, that violence against women is real and cannot be ignored. It must be addressed collectively by every member of our community," Imam Mohamed Hagmajid Ali, vice president of Islamic Society of North America, wrote this week. "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."

The decapitated body of Aasiya Zubair Hassan was found last week at Bridges TV, a Muslim-American television network started by Hassan and her husband Muzzammil, who has been charged in the murder. Police in Orchard Park, N.Y., said officers had responded to domestic incidents involving the couple in the past, and Aasiya Hassan had her husband served with divorce papers a week before her death.

Hassan's attorney dismissed suggestions that religion or culture played a role in the crime, but Marcia Pappas, New York State president of the National Organization for Women, told the Buffalo News that "this was apparently a terroristic version of honor killing, a murder rooted in cultural notions about women's subordination to men."

In an article posted this week on Middle Eastern Forum, professor Phyllis Chesler, who recently conducted a study of 50 "instances of North American honor killings," thinks authorities need to look more closely at the Buffalo case. "When a husband murders a wife or daughter in the United States and Canada, too often law enforcement chalks the matter up to domestic violence. Murder is murder; religion is irrelevant," Chesler wrote.

"Honor killings are, however, distinct from wife battering and child abuse . . . Families that kill for honor will threaten girls and women if they refuse to cover their hair, their faces, or their bodies or act as their family's domestic servant; wear makeup or Western clothing; choose friends from another religion; date; seek to obtain an advanced education; refuse an arranged marriage; seek a divorce from a violent husband; marry against their parents' wishes; or behave in ways that are considered too independent, which might mean anything from driving a car to spending time or living away from home or family."

The United Nations Population Fund estimates that 5,000 women are killed each year for dishonoring their families.

But American Muslim organizations are condemning the killing and stating that Islam forbids such domestic violence as well as honor killings. "The Muslim community unreservedly condemns domestic violence of all types," the Muslim Public Affairs Council said in a statement issued this week. "Such crimes are despicable and unequivocally prohibited in Islam . . . Regretfully, Aasiya has become another statistic in an ever-growing problem of spousal abuse in New York. Islam celebrates and protects human life. Muslims of all shades and opinions know that."

Shahed Amanullah, editor-in-chief of the online newsmagazine altmuslim.com, is among those who are encouraging imams to speak out against domestic violence. "It is essential that we address the problem and take steps to ensure that no one else faces the same tragic fate as Ms. Zubair," Amanullah said.

Contrary to popular belief, American Muslim leaders and organizations continue to speak out against violence and terrorism, both foreign and domestic. The murder of Aasiya Hassan is just the latest example.

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