Salam waleykum, readers. Last week, we brought you daily updates on the Muslim community’s response to Aasiya Hassan’s murder.
This week, we’re bringing you our own thoughts on the coverage surrounding the case.
Media coverage around Aasiya Hassan’s murder has been slow but steady in its speculation. Much of it has been Islamophobic, throwing around sound bytes from unqualified spokespeople (looking in Brigitte Gabriel’s direction), making assumptions about Islamic law, and generalizing about the Muslim community.
Faith: The media coverage of Aasiya Hassan’s murder brings up two important issues for me. The first is the connection of Islam to any criminal behavior that is done by a Muslim. This has been happening more frequently whenever a Muslim commits a crime and it is a disturbing trend. Islam does not make people become criminals. No religion makes a person become a criminal. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but Islam does not condone or support domestic violence or criminal acts.
Yusra: In writing about Aasiya Zubair (may Allah rest her soul), any good journalist will ask, “what makes this different that any other domestic violence case?” Muzzammil was a public figure who promoted himself as a leader of the Muslim community, which in turn honored him with awards and cash donations. He was seen as a spokesperson for Islam, and founded Bridges TV with the intention of dispelling stereotypes about Muslims. We cannot blame the media for jumping on the irony here. Muzzammil’s faith and profession make this story unique; any story that does not mention this is incomplete.
Sobia: What strikes me most about the coverage of this tragedy is all the speculation regarding the case. No one has stated Hassan’s reasons – not even him. Neither he nor the authorities have stated anything about Islam or Shari’ah, yet we have media outlets basically fabricating his motives to (and to me, this is the sickest part) sensationalize the tragic murder of a woman, a mother, a daughter, a sister because she is Muslim. Had the victim been a White, non-Muslim woman, I have a strong sense she would have been afforded a little more respect.
Krista: Of course this murder has nothing to do with Islam, and therefore, as Muslims, we should not have to explain it. And yet, even as I write that, I know that there is a wholly different Islam being talked about in the news, an Islam of violence and misogyny, and that this is the Islam that we are being asked to justify or to distance ourselves from. So, as I sift through the stories and the analysis, the evidence and the misinformation – all the while aware that there is much about the story that we still do not know – I find my religion on trial, often condemned even before we have a chance to speak up. The language used in a lot of the coverage of this murder, pretty much from the beginning, has served to accuse Islam and Muslims as a group for the violence that occurred, and to suggest that Muslims are people that the rest of Americans should fear.
Even more troubling are the ways that the word “terrorist” is popping up in some articles. This horrific instance of domestic violence has suddenly been turned into a “terrorist” act – in other words, Muzzammil Hassan is portrayed as not only a threat to his wife, but also a potential threat to all people around him. Again, there is nothing that points to this case being anything other than a shocking and brutal form of domestic violence. However, the language used, with “Shari’ah” to implicate all Muslims, and “terrorist” to suggest a broader threat, implies that all Muslims (and men in particular) are potentially violent, that spousal abuse and murder are acceptable in our religious worldviews, and that our inherent violence and support of violence make Muslims a danger to our broader communities.
Sobia: The fact that this poor woman was beaten by her husband regularly and lived in such fear for so many years of her life are being completely forgotten in the efforts of Islamophobes to use her death to push their agenda.
Especially troubling are the constant references to Shari’ah law and honor killings.
Yusra: Blaming Muzzammil’s faith for the murder or somehow hinting that Islam has anything to do with it is a forceful injection of drama that belongs in trashy tabloids not credible newspapers. Yet so many media outlets went ahead and labeled the beheading an honor killing or injected Shari’ah in their stories, just so they could be cool and show they knew what Shari’ah was. This sort of ignorance and libelous editorializing by journalists is commonplace whenever they write about Islam and Muslims.
Sobia: The Toronto Star not only attributed this murder to Shari’ah law without any evidence (extremely poor journalism in my books), but they also quoted an ex-Muslim, now evangelical Christian, on what Islamic law is. This would be equivalent to quoting Richard Dawkins, world famous atheist who was raised Christian, on Christian laws.
Faith: Every time an article or news story is done on Muzzammil Hassan, Shari’ah and “honor killings” are mentioned. It’s so disappointing, because it makes me believe that the media really doesn’t care about accuracy when it comes to any story about Muslims. Aasiya’s murder had nothing to do with Shari’ah, nothing. I honestly feel that Shari’ah is simply being mentioned to make the story more sensational than it already is. Additionally, Aasiya’s murder had nothing to do with “honor killings”.
Fatemeh: As I wrote in my post on ReligionDispatches, I believe that “honor killing” is the wrong word to describe what happened to Aasiya Hassan:
However, there is overwhelming evidence that the “honor killing” label is an incorrect one: Aasiya was Muzzammil Hassan’s third wife after two divorces, she suffered a history of abuse during her marriage to him, and his first wife’s cousin has spoken out about the domestic abuse that she faced while married to him. She had filed for divorce from him a week before her murder, yet she still worked in the same television station he did (they co-founded the network). As many domestic violence statistics show, women in abusive relationships are most in danger when they attempt to leave the relationship, and Aasiya had not only filed for divorce, but also gotten a protective order against her husband.
Not to mention that, if divorcing Muzzammil is considered dishonorable and is the reason he allegedly murdered her, why didn’t he also kill his first two wives, both of whom divorced him for spousal abuse?
Krista: We had an interesting discussion in the comments section of an MMW post a little while ago on whether “honour killing” was even an appropriate or useful phrase to use. I’m still uncomfortable with it, but the argument for using the phrase that I found most compelling was the idea that it conveys a very specific set of circumstances (the issue of “honour,” often the involvement of several family members in the murder, etc.), and that some argue that it is necessary to have specific language to address the crimes that happen in these circumstances. Again, that point is debatable, but the reason I bring it up is that, from what I have seen, nothing about this case fits that description. If it is indeed useful to use the term “honour killing,” shouldn’t it be reserved for situations that actually fall under its definition? And shouldn’t that definition be more concrete than “domestic violence committed by a Muslim”? At this point, we have no evidence that this murder had anything to do with an “honour killing.” Naming it in that way undermines the purpose of “honour killing” as a meaningful term, and needlessly (and dangerously) attaches cultural and religious connotations to this case.
Constant references to “beheading” also color the circumstances in a different light. When someone’s head is removed in a murder, news reports refer to it using the word “decapitation”. It’s a pretty good bet that the Associated Press Style Book (referred to on the Associated Press’ website as “the journalist’s Bible”) would advocate as such. Yet, many outlets (including the Associated Press, disappointingly) refer to her murder as a “beheading.”
Sobia: Referring to this murder as a beheading, as opposed to as a decapitation which would be more accurate, brings forth connotations of some sort of judicial ruling, as opposed to a vicious hate crime against a woman.
Fatemeh: “Beheading” also conjures up some seriously Orientalist stereotypes, as if he’d murdered her using a giant scimitar (which is exactly what Bill Maher seems to think, despite the fact that no details about the case, including the murder weapon, have been released).
Krista: The language around “beheading” also carries connotations of a judicial sentence imposed on Ms. Hassan. Again, nothing that has been published in any of the news reports has given any indication that this was some kind of religiously-imposed punishment, or that Ms. Hassan had been said to violate any Islamic law. Even the most extreme and violent (mis)interpretations of Shari’ah don’t allow for beheading a woman who divorces her husband. The way that Shari’ah gets talked about in relation to this case – usually without a direct link; the word just gets thrown in there to imply a connection – is really worrying, and puts the blame on Islam for something that would be clearly condemned within an Islamic legal framework.
Last Friday, imams across the United States discussed domestic violence in the Muslim community in an effort to make sure that no other women suffer the way Aasiya did. Tinting the story with references to Islam, Shari’ah, and honor killing obscure the real truths of the situation, and make the murder of a wife by her husband seem like something that only happens to Muslims.
Faith: The second issue that this tragedy brings up is the Muslim community’s complicity in domestic violence against women. Muzzammil Hassan was supported by various Muslim organizations in the U.S., including ISNA, despite the fact that all three of his wives left him because of domestic violence. He had a reputation for being violent and abusive, yet he still managed to gain a platform at major Muslim conventions throughout the U.S. because he founded Bridges TV. Abusers should not gain the support of Muslims, yet too often we are silent when they are among our mist. I hope that this tragedy really makes Muslims take a cold, hard look at how we treat domestic violence and abusers in our community. Not just speak about the issue, but actually stop embracing and sheltering abusers and take actions to help victims of abuse.
Sobia: What heartens me is the response from mainstream Muslims to fight intimate partner violence. Just as after the tragic Aqsa Parvez murder, this time again mosques across North America delivered khutbahs against domestic violence, explaining how un-Islamic such terrible actions are. It appears the Muslim community is stepping up to the plate in North America and, as such, showing Aasiya Hassan respect.
Fatemeh: There is no doubt in my mind that this is a case of domestic violence. Aasiya isn’t the first person to be decapitated in this country (do a Google News search for “decapitation” if you don’t believe me), but I hope she’ll be the last, enshallah.
Domestic violence affects Muslims just as much as it affects other communities, and we have to face it. And we are: it’s reassuring to see how Muslim Americans came together after this horrific murder and turned it into something positive by raising awareness in our communities, attempting to ensure that no other woman faces this same fate. As tragic as it is, Aasiya’s murder may have saved more women than her work as a Bridges TV executive, even as her husband’s alleged actions have hurt the community more than his work at Bridges TV helped.