Aasiya Hassan: To Him She Belongs And To Him She Returns

6 years ago

I’ve been thinking about Aasiya Hassan non-stop for two days.

All I know about her is this: She was a Pakistani-American, a mother of two small children, a Muslim, a co-owner of a television station, and the victim of a horrific murder at the hands of her abusive husband. He was convicted yesterday of second degree manslaughter. According to the news reports, Mrs. Hassan had filed for divorce and her husband killed her a week later.

Actually, he did more than kill her.

He beheaded her.

It’s important to mention that this Muslim Pakistani American man who had lived here for twenty five years and subsequently beheaded his wife for trying to leave him owned a television station called Bridges, which, dear-GOD-could-this-be-more-ironic, was aimed at “dismissing anti-Islamic” stereotypes.

Now there are discussions surrounding the subject of Islam and honor killings and how the two are related.

Sites such as JihadWatch, who I will NOT link to, imply that there is an obvious connection between this woman’s murder and her religion. Academics who are clearly influenced by their politics are pointing at this incident, and saying, “See? This is what happens to Muslim women… even in America.” They choose to ignore subtexts, differences, ethnicity, personality, history, psychiatry, the nuance of domestic abuse, and then they lay it flat in front of Islam. If a Christian woman beats her son to death, then she’s crazy. A Muslim man kills his wife, though, and, well, you know… he’s Muslim.

On the other side of the argument, there are more Islam friendly arguments that suggest that this behavior was wholly un-Islamic, and that critics are once again confusing culture with religion.

Most American Muslims balk at the phrase “honor killing.” We engage in long explanations of the impact of tribal cultures on Islam as it is practiced and how the expression of this custom has more to do with ignorance than with divine revelations. For example, since divorce is permitted in Islam, we argue Aasiya Hassan had committed no crime against God, and there was no loss of “Islamic honor” in this case. Even if there had been, her husband’s murder of her would not have been justified within the majority of interpretations of accepted Islamic jurisprudence. Frankly, there is no academically credible argument that can adequately conflate the tragic murder of this specific woman with Islam.

Still, I suppose you could call this an honor killing.

Muzzammil Hassan may have felt that his honor was being blemished by his wife’s decision not to tolerate his abuse any longer. He may have felt dishonored when he was served with a restraining order by the police. He may have felt dishonored when he had to come to their shared office at the television station to pick up his clothes. He may have believed that severing his wife’s head from her body would somehow restore his honor.

Hassan had been divorced twice before. He was also divorced for the same reasons that Aasiya Hassan was divorcing him: “Cruel and inhuman treatment.” That’s legalese code for he probably violently beat his wife.

Having grown up in a Pakistani household, I will tell you that shame and honor are a huge part of our heritage, and that the brunt of that value falls most heavily upon the head of the women in a family. A family’s reputation is often directly proportional to how its women behave. Women who misbehave shame their brothers and fathers by showing the world that the men in their family are inept and lack leadership. This is an indisputable fact within my heritage.  Still, when I wore certain clothes of which my father disapproved or came home past an acceptable time at night, I was not chastised with words from the Quran.

It was always about the community. What would the community think? What would the community say? I suspect in the case of many “honor killings,” it never is really about God. It’s about honor and shame. It’s about power and control. It’s about reputation and holding on fiercely to the esteem of one’s community.

It is rarely about God.

I wonder about the community of which Muzzammil Hassan was a member. I wonder about their reactions as he went through his two previous divorces. I wonder if they said or did the things I’ve seen my community do.

“She was a white American, so they were incompatible,” they may have said about the first.

“She was too demanding, and couldn’t adjust here,” they could have said of the second.

I wonder if this community ever noticed anything amiss in Aasiya Hassan’s eyes, actions or the way her husband treated her. I wonder how the community reacted when they found out about the restraining order she filed. I wonder if they shook their heads and gossiped about her problems.

When I was in Mecca this past year, I had somehow gotten separated from my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. It was time to pray, and I had Y. with me in a baby sling. As you may know, there’s a lot of bowing in our prayers and the baby was just not having it. A woman, maybe Indonesian or Malaysian, had just finished her prayer and patted me on the shoulder and gestured for me to hand the baby to her. I must have looked worried because she sat down very close to my feet and put her bag down. It’s hard to explain, but she was indicating that I had nothing to worry about, and she wasn’t going to run off with the baby.

And so the baby laid in this woman’s lap who I had never met, who didn’t even speak English, as I prayed for mercy, for my parents, for my brother, for my husband’s family, for my children, for you, and certainly for the woman holding my child. When I was done, I sat down next to her and she opened her bag and put dates in my hand. I tried to wave her off, but she was adamant about making me eat those dates. As I was eating, she got up and got me a glass of water. I replied in Arabic, “May Allah grant you goodness.” That’s how Muslims say thank you to one another.She smiled, she wished me peace and mercy also in Arabic, and then she left.

Muslims pray right next to each other. Our feet and shoulders have to touch. We move in rhythm. We remind one another of the path to righteousness. We kiss each other when we greet each other. We say, “May the Peace and Mercy of Allah be Upon You.”

That is what our community is supposed to be.

It should be respite, support, safety, and comfort. A community should be a place where protection from evil is not only offered, but readily available. It should be a place where women can experience power in their lives. It should not be a place where women are afraid to speak out because they will be branded as being trouble makers or bad wives. Finally, it most certainly should not be a place where the abuse of a woman is proclaimed the domain of something that must be resolved between her and her husband alone.

I think about the many women I have kissed on their cheeks and hugged as I wish them peace, and I wonder how many of them are hiding a secret like Aasiya Hassan did. I know enough about these women to know that many of them will suffer in silence. Not because of their religion, but because many of us have brought these ideals of shame and honor from across the world with us. We have imported it, we have fostered it, and we have done little to combat it. It’s important to note that almost a year before Aasiya Hassan’s murder, a Muslim man in Texas had also murdered his daughters for being “too Western.” I assume that he, too, was motivated by the preservation of his honor within his community.

The method of distancing and academic explanation has become second nature to American Muslims when they are confronted with something as terrible as what happened in Texas or New Jersey. As soon as something terrible happens, we quickly spout off logical proofs that these situations are wholly the product of culture and not our religion. We say, “That’s not in Islam,” when, really, I think we should be asking ourselves, “How did this happen in our community and what can we do to stop it from happening again?”

Have American Muslims, as a community, offered these women protection? Are we a community in the most esteemed sense of the word?

Or are we a community that inadvertently propagates this violence not because we are Muslim, but because we are acting outside of our duty to one another by holding such incredibly worldly and narrow notions of honor and reputation that women dare not speak out against anyone who hurts them?

God, in the Quran, had given Aasiya Hassan permission to get divorced. He had even required that Muzzammil Hassan support her and his children until his children were married.

That is a man’s honor in Islam: the fulfillment of duty, support, protection, obligation and commitment to one’s family, community and to his God.

As I see it, this man hated his wife, if not all women. He desecrated Aasiya’s body after killing her as an expression of his hatred. And, yes, I believe that the decapitation aspect of it may have been influenced by watching soldiers and journalists being decapitated in Iraq, northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. Hassan had lived in the United States since the age of seventeen, though, and not hailing from the frontier region of Pakistan, I am assuming that his exposure to this method of dispatch was more likely the result of watching CNN and less of being Pakistani or Muslim.

So, when people talk about how Islam contributed to the beheading of Aasiya Hassan, I do feel anger at their ignorance. But I also wonder if maybe the failure is closer to home than we think.

Though the failure is not in our religion, we must address that it may be within our community.

Maybe it’s time for us to stop talking about whether or not Islam contributes to things like this because we, as Muslims, already know the answer to that.

Maybe it is simply time to ask ourselves why women in our community are being treated this way, and what we can do to help them.

Living A Cultured Life At: www.Native-Born.com

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