The brutal murder of our sister, Aasiya Zubair Hassan, finally forced a community of believers to unearth our heads from the sand and confront head-on the insidious epidemic of domestic violence. It is sad and sobering that it took a shocking, heinous act of violence to finally jolt a slumbering population into acknowledging this festering disease that existed in our very own neighborhoods, but was woefully ignored for far too long due to shame, negligence and indifference.
However, the murder of Aasiya marks a turning point where ordinary Muslims, without prestigious titles and acronyms, from diverse backgrounds representing a global community, were galvanized to act for positive change.
Within days of hearing about the murder, a few Muslim American professionals created a Facebook group entitled “In Memory of Aasiya Zubair: A Pledge to End Domestic Violence,” which currently has over 3,000 members from around the world. These activists mobilized a nationwide effort in just under three days called “American Muslims Call for Swift Action Against Domestic Violence” requesting imams across America to devote their Friday sermon to passionately and righteously denounce domestic abuse.
Remarkably, the “virtual” call translated to grassroots, nationwide community action, as Muslim Americans of every stripe – first-generation immigrants and their second-generation children, conservative Muslims and their progressive counterparts, the young and the old, heeded the call.
Imam Mohamed Hagmagid Ali, vice president of the Islamic Society of North America – one of the largest and most influential Muslim organizations in the U.S. – publicly stated, “Our community needs to take a strong stand against abusive spouses…This is a wake up call to all of us, that violence against women is real and can not be ignored.”
Influential scholar Shaikh Hamza Yusuf devoted his sermon to passionately denounce domestic violence as having zero rationalization or legitimatizing basis in the Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad. As the Shaikh reminded his congregation, the Prophet not only reprimanded those who struck their spouses, but he never once raised his hand against any of his wives.
Indeed, the Prophet Muhammad, who is the criterion model for Muslim spiritual, ethical and behavioral etiquette and referred to by his wife, Aisha, as “the walking Qur’an,” exhorted: The most perfect in faith amongst believers is he who is best in manner and kindest to his wife.”
However, no sane person denies the existence of certain cultural practices observed among some Muslims that facilitate misogyny and patriarchy. It is true that these cultural constructs lead to warped notions of male power, shame and honor, but what this ghastly murder represents is the most barbaric example of years of domestic violence and abuse against a spouse culminating in murder because she finally had the courage to leave, file for divorce and issue a restraining order.
Yet, many people – some with the best of intentions and others with cynical political agendas — have spuriously called this horrific murder an “honor killing” simply because Mr. Hassan comes from a Pakistani background and has identified himself as a Muslim. Aasiya’s case is similarly and tragically all too familiar to many families and women suffering from domestic abuse and violence in America who finally refuse to live in fear, and cast off the yoke of their abuser’s tyranny. Sadly, some of these women, like Aasiya Hassan, pay for their courage with their lives.
By recklessly labeling this murder an “honor killing,” it makes this horrific episode seem to be an exotic and only Eastern, South Asian, and Muslim phenomenon that afflicts only a few races and cultures, but no one else. The sickness of domestic violence is a global and national epidemic that needs to be addressed and confronted by all communities, regardless of faith, race, or ethnicity — thus the unified, nationwide intention of Friday’s prayer event.
A lot must still be done to combat domestic violence and abuse that exists in our communities, but this is an auspicious and symbolic first step commenced with a noble intention to honor the memory of Aasiya Zubair Hassan and help others like her who have suffered and continue to suffer silently.
May this be a clarion call for change.
Wajahat Ali is a playwright, humorist, essayist and attorney at law.