Buffalo Killing Puts Spotlight on Domestic Abuse
By Liz Robbins
Muzzammil “Mo” Hassan, the Muslim-American television executive charged with murdering his wife Aasiya Zubair Hassan in suburban Buffalo 11 days ago, is still in the Erie County Holding Center without bail, awaiting a grand jury trial.
On Feb. 12, he told the Orchard Park police that his 37-year-old wife was dead and she was at the offices of Bridges TV, which he founded with his wife to counter Muslim stereotypes. When the police discovered Ms. Hassan’s body — which was separated from her head — they charged Mr. Hassan with second-degree murder.
The estate of Aasiya Hassan filed a lawsuit against Mr. Hassan and Bridges TV on Thursday in Erie County Supreme Court, requesting that the offices be kept closed and the judge granted the temporary relief.
Even as Mr. Hassan, 44, sits in jail under a suicide watch that has been considered only a precaution, said his attorney, James Harrington, the gruesome murder has provoked some soul-searching within the Muslim-American community about the role of women and domestic abuse within Islam.
Ms. Hassan had filed for divorce and had taken out a restraining order on her husband only six days before her husband told the police she was dead. Friends, family members and even the police were aware of prior domestic abuse issues in the marriage.
“The only good thing that can come from this tragedy is that hopefully Muslim families will treat domestic violence seriously and perhaps women will be able to come out and speak about it,” said Nadia Shahram, a Buffalo divorce lawyer, who teaches at the University at Buffalo Law School.
Ms. Shahram organized an open forum at the university’s law school, to be held at 3 p.m. Sunday. The seminar, “Domestic Violence: A Global Epidemic,” will involve local imams, lawyers and counselors.
It is just one of two public forums associated with the Muslim-American community in Buffalo this weekend.
At 4:30 p.m. today at The Islamic Society of Niagara Frontier in Amherst, N.Y., the president of the Islamic Society of North America, Ingrid Mattson, and Salma Elkadi Abugideiri, the author of the book “Garments for One Another: Ending Domestic Violence in Muslim Families,” will be facilitating a discussion “in memory” of Ms. Hassan.
The Muslim-American community in Buffalo and around the United States has reacted with outrage over suggestions that this was a religiously motivated killing, an “honor killing” brought on by the shame of Mr. Hassan’s wife seeking a divorce. The Hassans were originally from Pakistan. Although some Muslim fanatical extremists have justified “honor killings” because of shame brought on a family, Islam is a peaceful religion, and does not condone such violence, Muslim-American leaders have repeated in the last week as the case drew more attention.
Mr. Hassan had twice been divorced in the United States before marrying Ms. Hassan, said his attorney, Mr. Harrington.
“We as Muslims are trying to alienate his actions from his understanding of the religion,” Ms. Shahram said. “It is a very difficult subject to bring up something which has culturally been so private — there is a lot of cost for anybody who comes out and talks about divorce.”
Islam does allow for divorce, if the couple has tried to work out the difficulties in their marriage. But it is easier for men to initiate a divorce than women, Ms. Shahram said.
And while Islam may be grappling with cultural misogyny, it does not condone domestic abuse, say American-Muslim leaders.
“This is a wake-up call to all of us, that violence against women is real and cannot be ignored,” Iman Mohamed Hagmagid Ali, vice president of the Islamic Society of North America, wrote in an open letter to the leaders of American Muslim communities. He added:
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.
And later, he said:
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.
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islam Relations, said that freedom and equality exist in Islam, but “there is a need of reform for Muslims,” Mr. Hooper said in an interview this week. “If someone mistreats women they should not seek refuge in Islam.”
While Mr. Hassan, a former bank executive in Buffalo was the chief executive and the fund-raiser, friends and colleagues said it was his wife’s devotion to Muslim-American culture and her passion for making people understand her religion’s peaceful ideals beyond its stereotypes that was the backbone of the fledgling operation.
Ms. Hassan, trained as an architect, was the program director for the station and had been taking executive M.B.A. classes in Buffalo.
The television station, available via satellite in select markets, had been struggling before the murder rocked the community. “Whether it survives or not is in question,” said Mr. Harrington, Mr. Hassan’s lawyer.