On 12 February 2009, Aasiya Zubair, a Muslim Pakistani American MBA student and co-founder of Bridges TV, was murdered by her estranged husband, Muhammad Hassan, after she officially filed for divorce and obtained a restraining order against him. Hassan’s previous two wives left him due to domestic abuse, and Asma Firfirey, the sister of the deceased, stated Aasiya had previously sustained physical injuries requiring nearly $3,000 of medical bills. Hassan, who was ostensibly and regrettably considered a community leader despite his history of abuse – a shameful oversight and failure of the Muslim leadership community – is now charged with the murder. Remarkably, he recently invoked the “battered” spouse defence combined with psychiatric elements claiming that it was in fact he who suffered verbal abuse and humiliation by his wife.
Hassan’s defence takes away from the very real statistics that show the sobering reality of domestic violence in America. Approximately 1.3 million women in America are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually and nearly 25% of women experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Contrary to some spurious reporting and ignorant, reactionary stereotyping in the wake of Aasiya’s murder, abhorrent violence against women is neither culturally innate nor exclusive to Muslim, South Asian, or immigrant males. Sadly, domestic violence is universally endemic in “women of all races [who] are about equally vulnerable to violence by an intimate partner”.
Stocking up on lunch snacks at Costco, I saw a book that immediately grabbed my attention. It had a picture of a woman wearing a niqab, a face covering worn by a minority of Muslim women.
Intrigued, I bought the book, mentally congratulating the publisher for having squeezed $20 out of my pocket. They know only too well that the niqab sells, grabs headlines and diverts attention. It is also a lightening rod for emotions and fear.
A few months ago, the debate raged among Canadian politicians whether wearing the niqab and voting could jibe, and whether women would be allowed to wear the veil in legal proceedings. It has been discussed in Quebec, England, the Netherlands, Italy and many other parts of the world, usually spun to create false controversy by right-wing politicians.
8 Jul | Filed Under: Forced Marriages
The European initiative and campaign against forced marriages launched by the Rotterdam Munipality and an organization called SPIOR in May 1008 is to be much welcomed.
Forced marriages may seem to belong to the past, but actually still are a reality in European societies. Young people, both girls and boys, are being forced to marry someone their parents or family have chosen for them and are not being given the opportunity to say ‘no’. It happens amongst groups of different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds, also amongst Muslims. As far as Muslims are concerned, it is often thought – by Muslims and non-Muslims alike – that forced marriages are a part of Islam. However, Islam actually forbids forced marriages. A marriage is only valid according to Islam when both man and woman enter it of their own, free will.
How is it that one religion – Islam – seems capable of undermining women and promoting them at the same time?Anyone attempting to take stock of the position of women in the Muslim world cannot help but be confused. One finds stories in the media all the time about injustices committed against Muslim women, such as “honour” killings, child marriages and discriminatory legal judgments in matters of divorce, custody and inheritance.
On the other hand, one also comes across stories about the remarkable strides made by Muslim women in education, career development and political activism in countries as diverse as Bangladesh, Morocco and Turkey.
How can we make sense of such a dichotomous picture?
The answer is simple: by distinguishing the religion of Islam from the Muslims who practice it.
Those who study the Qur’an know that Islam elevated the rights of women beyond anything known in the pre-Islamic world. In fact, in the seventh century Muslim women were granted rights not granted to European women until the 19th century, such as property ownership, inheritance and divorce.
That said, Muslims who codified the Qur’an and Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) into Islamic law did not succeed in expunging the patriarchy of the pre-Islamic world from their practices.
This distinction between the faith and the various manifestations of its practice is a subtle but extremely important one.
The Islamic position on homosexuality has become one of the most sensitive issues facing Muslims living in the West, particularly in Europe.It is being held up as the key to any eventual “integration” of Muslims into Western culture, as if European culture and values could be reduced to the simple fact of accepting homosexuality. The contours of this de facto European culture is in a state of constant flux, shifting according to the topic of the day. Just as some insist, as do the Pope and certain intellectuals—often dogmatic and exclusivist defenders of the Enlightenment—that Europe’s roots are Greek and Christian (thus excluding Muslims), so several homosexual spokesman and the politicians who support them are now declaring (with an identical rejection of Muslims) that the “integration of Muslims” depends on their acceptance of homosexuality.
The contradiction is a serious one: does Christianity, which forms the root structure of European culture, and which purports to embody European values and identity, not condemn homosexuality? A curious marriage. Unless the contradiction is intended to stigmatize Islam and Muslims by presenting them as “the Other”… without fear of self-contradiction.
We must reiterate, as does Isabelle Levy in “Soins et croyances”  that all the worlds’ major religions and spiritual traditions—from the majority view in Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism to Christianity and Islam—condemn and forbid homosexuality.
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10 Mar | Filed Under: Domestic Violence
Muslim Presence USA
Over the past few weeks much has been written about the horrific killing of Aasiya Hassan. The gruesomeness of the murder has become both a feeding frenzy for Islamophobes and a wake up call to Muslims. Aasiya, may God build her a house in paradise as her name sake- the wife of the Pharaoh- prayed, was not the first or last woman to have endured violence or to be murdered by a partner. But the brutality of her murder, the public status and professed mission of the couple, and the new scrutiny of Islam have all positioned this case in a category of its own.
There is no need to enumerate the rates of spousal abuse regardless of color or creed, recall the high profile cases of women beaten or murdered by their husband, recite the moral and religious condemnation, or ponder what is going on in the minds of abusers and murderers. We already know the statistics, the theories about the “making of an abuser,” the scripts for declarations exonerating religions from the insane actions of followers. We also know countless women – and some men – mortally wounded in body and spirit by partners who are supposed to be their refuge from the world. They walk amongst us, concealing wounds with stories of running into walls and bedposts and covering their shame with smiling lips and pleading glances. They are our friends, neighbors, family members, brothers and sisters in faith.
Aasiay wanted her children to live without shame in a world where their faith is not defined by the worst actions of its followers. Let not her legacy be the “abused and beheaded” wife or allow her children to forever walk in double sorrow and shame. She and they deserve better from us – the Muslims and other fellow citizens. Honoring Aasiya obligates us to remember her not for the gruesome way she exited this world but as the visionary woman who imagined a better world and worked to bring it about.
Aasiya Hassan was probably beheaded in a Buffalo suburb just hours before the Malaysian Muslim women’s group Sisters in Islam brought us together this month for the launch of Musawah, a global movement for justice and equality in Muslim families.
Justice and equality were likely in short shrift for Ms. Hassan, who had filed for divorce and obtained a restraining order against her husband a week before police found her body. Muzzammil Hassan will stand trial for second-degree murder.
In 2004, the Hassans co-founded Bridges TV to improve the image of Muslims and promote cultural understanding. Ever since police found Ms. Hassan’s body in the TV station’s offices, a culture war has broken out between the anti-Muslim right wing and Muslim apologists over who can save us poor Muslim women.
The right wing, determined to see a woman beater in every Muslim man, seemed to celebrate the gruesome crime as the latest example of “honour killing,” something “they” do to “their” women.
They forget that the singer Rihanna cancelled her concert in Malaysia – coincidentally set to take place on the first day of Musawah – after she reportedly complained to police that fellow singer and boyfriend Chris Brown had beat her up. They forget that Scott Peterson murdered his pregnant wife.
Buses roll by outside, the day unfolding in a succession of sirens and shouts, and in her small flat in west London, Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is discussing how she came to find her husband.
Janmohamed is better known as spirit21, a blogger who has provided a unique perspective on the life of a British Muslim woman over the last three years, addressing issues that range from the political role of Turkey to Jack Straw’s comments about women who wear the veil. She is also now author of Love in a Headscarf, a book that hovers somewhere between chick-lit and memoir, as it follows Janmohamed’s journey through the process of arranged marriage.
The memoir is irreverent and feminine: perhaps not the most conventional tone for discussing this topic. “I love chick lit,” she says. “I noticed when I started reading it that it was very much about ‘How do you find the prince?’ And what I wanted to do was tell that universal story, but from the perspective of being a Muslim woman.”
Janmohamed was always aware that her marriage would be arranged, and is frustrated by the common misconception that such unions bypass the desires of the bride and groom. “The Islamic view on marriage is that the man or woman should make an active choice as to who they want to marry,” she says. “And there’s no long-term dating procedure, but it’s essential that the two people have met, that they’ve had as much discussion as they like and that they feel comfortable with each other.”
Introductions are usually organised by parents and a designated matchmaker, but there was, she recalls, “a lot of frank discussion about what I would want in a partner” beforehand. She credits this with helping her to make an informed choice and teaching her about herself. “You look at your list and you think, ‘Gosh, I’m so shallow!’” she laughs, “because it’s ‘good-looking, tall, handsome …’”
It takes specific circumstances to highlight absurdities in the practices of certain Muslim groups.
I attended a fund raiser this past weekend that was held to assist the victims in Gaza.
The event was organized by a few mosques that are culturally orthodox in dealing with their membership.
On arrival at the reasonably elegant banquet hall where the program was held, men and women were being directed past ‘checkpoints’ through separate entrances.
The banquet hall was divided by a ‘separation wall’ – men into the ‘neighborhood’ and women and children into the ‘camp.’
‘Diplomats’, including female politicians and politicians’ wives, were ushered into the friendly ‘neighborhood’ with female attendants providing services.
The women and children could not engage in the proceedings and were not to be heard, ‘sisters, keep quiet and listen!’, very much like their Gazan sisters whose images were being projected onto the video screens.
Someone looking in from the outside would have thought that the organizers were brilliant in putting on an enactment to highlight the oppression and injustices that Palestinians have been enduring for sixty years.