Beheading Moderate Islam

Muzzammil Hassan allegedly beheaded his wife Aasiya on February 12 in the offices of Bridges TV, the Muslim-oriented cable channel that he founded in 2004 to combat the negative perceptions of Muslims that he claimed were dominating mainstream media coverage.

He said at the time the station was founded that Aasiya was his inspiration for founding Bridges TV: “Some derogatory comments were being made about Muslims that offended her. She was seven months pregnant, and she thought she didn’t want her kids growing up in this environment.”

The environment that they will grow up in instead cannot be imagined. But many people are doing their best to make sure that, whatever the other features of that environment may be, a critical appraisal of the roots of honor killing in Islamic culture, and a determination to put an end to this phenomenon, will not be among them.

Was the murder of Aasiya an honor killing, for something she did that offended Islam? The denial and obfuscation began almost immediately after the killing. Khalid J. Qazi of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) chapter of Western New York, declared: “There is no place for domestic violence in our religion — none. Islam would 100 percent condemn it.”

This is a strange claim, given the fact that while spousal abuse exists in all cultures, only in Islam does it carry divine sanction. The Qur’an says: “Men shall take full care of women with the bounties which God has bestowed more abundantly on the former than on the latter, and with what they may spend out of their possessions. And the righteous women are the truly devout ones, who guard the intimacy which God has [ordained to be] guarded. And as for those women whose ill-will you have reason to fear, admonish them [first]; then leave them alone in bed; then beat them…” (4:34)

The Islamic prophet Muhammad was once told that “women have become emboldened towards their husbands,” whereupon he “gave permission to beat them” (Sunan Abu Dawud, book 11, no. 2141). And he himself once struck his favorite wife, Aisha, as she recounted: “He struck me on the chest which caused me pain” (Sahih Muslim, book 4, no. 2127).

These and other elements of Islamic teaching have helped create a culture in which so-called “honor killing” is widely accepted. There is no sanction given in the Qur’an or Islamic law for honor killing. However, the practice is encouraged by the shame/honor culture that Islam has created. A transgression of the moral law is not seen only as a sin to be somehow expiated by the individual who committed it, but as a blot upon the honor and purity of the family of the victim — and that blot inheres in the sullied purity of the victim, not the perpetrator. Thus the victims of rape in Islamic countries are often further victimized in honor crimes. One notorious example of this connection came in the relatively moderate Muslim country of Jordan in 2003, when the Jordanian Parliament voted down a provision designed to stiffen penalties for honor killings. According to Al-Jazeera, “Islamists and conservatives said the laws violated religious traditions and would destroy families and values.”

Yet instead of dealing honestly with all this and beginning to take steps to make sure more Muslim women in America do not suffer suffer the same fate as Aasiya Hassan, the Muslim community in America has continued in denial. Bizarrely, Faizan Haq, whom the Buffalo News identified as “a local professor who helped launch Bridges TV,” even declared: “I think of Aasiya as a martyr. She has given her life to protect the image of American Muslims. And as an American Muslim community, we owe it to her not to let this happen again.”

Indeed we do owe it to her, but as long as Haq and other Muslims in the United States ignore and deny the elements of Islamic tradition that justify honor killing and violence against women, what can possibly be done to make sure this doesn’t happen again? The ultimate victims of this denial are Muslim women — especially the ones whose life will end as Aasiya Hassan’s did, at the hands of a man who imbibed the Islamic teachings that Muzzammil Hassan seems to have learned very well.