Wednesday, February 18, 2009

“Disconnecting people through misunderstanding”

A disturbing story appeared in various news sources yesterday and today. An American of Pakistani origin has been arrested for the beheading of his wife. Last Thursday the body of Aasiya Hassan, 37, a Pakistani national who had been living in Buffalo in the US for eight years, was found in the offices of a television station where she worked with her husband. Aasiya's husband, Muzzammil Hassan, 44, a Pakistani-American businessman, had turned himself in to the police and was arrested for the murder of his estranged wife.

Muzzammil is the Chief Executive (and founder) of an Islamic television station called Bridges TV that he launched in 2004, which he said was his wife’s idea in responding to the need for an English-language cable television channel aimed at the US and Canadian Muslims. Bridges TV was apparently created in the hopes of portraying Muslims in a better light under the slogan "connecting people through understanding".

But in the couple’s private life, there seemed to be a history of misunderstanding and domestic violence. The Hassans lived in Orchard Park — a well-off Buffalo suburb that hadn't seen a homicide since 1986. Aasiya Hassan filed for divorce February 6, police said, and Muzzammil Hassan was served with divorce papers at the station. That night, he showed up at the couple's home, she notified authorities and he was served with a restraining order. Just 6 days later, Muzzammil went to a police station and told officers his wife was dead at the TV studio.

To add to the horror of the murder by beheading, the sister of the victim, who resides in South Africa, may have been on the phone with her sister at the time of the murder. Asma Firfirey of suburban Cape Town, South Africa, reported to a local South African newspaper that she was on the phone with her sister, when she heard her tell her husband to calm down. She said she heard her sister say the two could talk about their impending divorce the following day. Then she heard something that sounded like her sister struggling to breathe. Police have charged Hassan's husband, Muzzammil Hassan, with second-degree, or intentional, murder in the death of his wife, according to the Erie County District Attorney's Office. Police are yet to find the murder weapon.

The incident has ignited major debate about what role religion played in the brutal slaying. Some commentators have termed it an ''honour killing'' and blamed extremist interpretations of Islam for the beheading. Acquaintances said Muzzammil Hassan was not overtly religious — co-workers did not see him pray, for instance. But he seemed to adhere to many traditional practices.

Muslim activists are urging against applying cultural and religious stereotypes in what they say is an extreme case of domestic violence. Muslim activists though condemned what one academic called ''exploitation of her (Aasiya’s) death by others with an agenda of vilifying Islam and demonizing Muslims.'' After a story in the Toronto Star that reported the slaying with a reference to Sharia law, Aliya Khan, a professor of clinical medicine at McMaster University, wrote to the paper expressing outrage that the article jumped from ''describing the tragic murder to attacking Sharia law, as though it could somehow be blamed for a totally unrelated incident.''


Edge Of Where said...

I read about this as well on the CNN website and while reading the article I was waiting for the honour killing component to be brought up but to my surprise it wasn't... The encouraging part of the cnn article was the fact that a cleric voiced his concern about domestic violence within the muslim community

robg said...

Can anyone explain the importance of honour in Sharia law? It does happen that those accused of murder claim in court that they are justified or excused because of 'honour'. Is that a total BS assertion or does the Sharia indeed leave room to be interpreted as to provide for an invocation of 'honour'??

KimyaShafinaaz said...

Theres not basis for this in Shariah; its an interpretation of tribal or customary laws that take as precendent, that women are signifiers of a clans so-called honour (read status and not moral tenet) and men are seen as the guardians of that honour; and so any behaviour by which a woman might taint that honour is seen as a deviation and an act to rectify or restore that is seen as something 'honourable' - so u get cases where fathers and brothers will murder a young woman who may have even so much as been suspected of adultery, infidelity, etc.

This is gruesome and barbaric. What scares me is that in easily pinning this as an extremist reading of Shariah???? they desist in marking out the psychopathology of the perpetrator. What ever happened to public firing squads :( either way, this guy needs a straitjacket.

robg said...

ah ok, thanks. So that practice doesn't originate from the Shariah but from custom. I guess the reason why honour killings are perceived as a religious problem though is that there is a religious law, and that law does not explicitly allow honour killings, but it also does not sanction them where the perpetrators rely on customary justifications. People generally expect from a just law that it rises above cruel and unreasonable custom and sanctions it. Does it still happen often nowadays in the islamic world that men commit honour killings and get away with them?

Riverwolf, said...

sad and tragic any way you look at it.

KimyaShafinaaz said...

guess again robg;

some of these people take their interpretation of Shariah from a blurring of their 'lived' way of life between 'cultural belief' and religious law, having learnt them side by side. they act without consultation.

and heres a question for you:
everytime a woman in the world is killed in an act of domestic dispute/violence, is it suddenly wrapped up as a case of 'personal matter' not a legal thing really...
would be interestin to see how manyof them are... how many do not in fact get reported...

can we pin them on the same chart as so-called 'honour killings'?
deviance and psychosis are not
to be pinned on well meant moral perspectives that they hope to claim allegiance to. are we really that naive?

dd: ur word veri says 'weetemin'

i think thats hilarious :P

KimyaShafinaaz said...

*they act without consultation with a faqi or legal convener - so they in fact take the law into their own hands. its as simple as that. they'r not sitting there with a document or a court order saying this is the action to be taken.

Robert G said...

i totally agree that honour killers are out of their mind. But the question is a different one.

There is still a significant number of honour killings and the perpetrators seriously assert a defence of 'honour'. We have recently had an honour killing on a street in Berlin-Kreuzberg, and the perpetrator said in court he had no choice but to kill his sister in order to save his family's honour. There is absolutely no question that this is inacceptable - not only in Berlin-Kreuzberg but in every place on this earth.

The important question is whether there are legal systems that tolerate these practices, allowing perpetrators to get away with it without being convicted or even prosecuted.

desert demons said...

This topic has certainly raised many questions that have been shadowed in recent years.

Kimya - thanks for sharing and clarifying the Sharia law on honour.

I view this particular case as a tragic act of domestic violence not of honour. That the perpetrator is Muslim and of Pakistani origin and therefore Islam and Shariah are to blame in condoning honour killings has been spin doctored to propagate and fuel anti-Islamic sentiments, particularly in the USA.

"Honour killings" do occur and to some degree have been exported to the west but I don't think this particular case is honour-based. Had the perpetrator and the victim not been of Islamic faith, the case would have been viewed very differently in the media.
In addition, the method of killing was beheading, which in recent years has been attributed once again to Islam, casts an even darker shadow on Islam, as seen by the West.

What should be clear, and as Kimya has pointed out, Islam does not condone such acts, rather it is the customary interpretations and impositions of the tenets of Sharia that have distorted the law through practice.

Robert G - I don't think that there are any legal systems where it is tolerated but in some remote tribal areas, where tribal law prevails, sadly some of these crimes have gone unpunished. In certain countries and in certain cases, leniency has been shown by the court through minimal sentencing. However, there have been strong advocates against this and there definitely is a shift in how justice is meted out.

P.S. Kimya, I don't see the "weetimin" thing! I'm so confused!

robg said...

I know that this is a complicated matter and it is ok if you cannot answer my question, but would it be ok to not give me any bullshit?

Jordan: Article 340 Penal Code: "He who discovers his wife or one of his female relatives committing adultery and kills, wounds, or injures one of them, is exempted from any penalty."

Syria: Article 548 "He who catches his wife or one of his ascendants, descendants or sister committing adultery (flagrante delicto) or illegitimate sexual acts with another and he killed or injured one or both of them benefits from an exemption of penalty."

Pakistan: The practice is supposed to be prosecuted under ordinary murder, but in practice police and prosecutors often ignore it. Often a man must simply claim the killing was for his honor and he will go free.

Egypt: A number of studies on honour crimes by The Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law, at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, includes one which reports on Egypt's legal system, noting a gender bias in favor of men in general, and notably article 17 of the Penal Code: judicial discretion to allow reduced punishment in certain circumstance, often used in honour killings case.

desert demons said...

Robg - since u seem to be the expert on the legal systems, why did you play dumb in the first place?

As I said, leniency has been shown in some countries but I also know for a fact that such cases have been prosecuted (I know definitely of casesin Jordan) even though reduced sentences were given.

I don't want to get into a debate on honour killings and sharia! And might I add that honour killings happen in non-Islamic societies as well, only then they're referred to as crimes of passion!

I'm not in favour of honour killings nor of leniency in the law, however, bringing this particular case to light was not an intention to delve into such a debate.

In future, if you have such in depth knowledge on the subjects and on the penal codes of the countries, why not be direct in educating the rest of us idiots instead of using this as platform for rhetorical questions that you already have the answers to!
I'm not a legal expert and never claimed to be on this blog!
And altho extremely vain, I can humble myself enough to admit that I don't know everything!!!!

robg said...

I didn't know either that honour killings are pretty much accepted in large parts of the world before I looked it up on wikipedia this noon.

Sorry. I really didn't mean to offend you! I was just a bit astonished because titling a post "(...) misunderstanding" kind of implies that you have a special knowledge that you want to share. But when all it takes is a look at wikipedia to realise that you too misunderstand how much honour killings are tolerated in islamic jurisdictions, then that comes as a suprise.

Sorry again. Wouldn't keep coming back here if I didn't like the blog. I just think it would be great if some research be done before a post, so as to really do away with the misunderstandings ;)

USpace said...

No matter how many beheadings, stonings, or terrorist attacks there are, we must never fear, resist or mock the precious and ever peaceful Islam. Who are we to say that raping 9 year-olds is immoral? Who are we to say that stoning gays and rape victims to death is evil?

Who are we to say that killing hundreds of people every month in the name of Allah is the height of evil? That is just their culture and ideology and it MUST be respected. Morality is all relative, we must remember that.
absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
cut off your wife's head

if she dishonors you
by asking for a divorce

absurd thought -
God of the Universe wants
all planets Islamic

Earth is one of many
in process of conversion

absurd thought -
God of the Universe wants
many Taliban planets

stonings and beheadings
billions served daily

absurd thought –
God of the Universe says
convert the infidels

or make them pay a tax
if they don’t want to die
All real freedom starts with freedom of speech. Without freedom of speech there can be no real freedom.
Philosophy of Liberty Cartoon
Help STOP Terrorism Today!


desert demons said...

RobG - appreciate your visits and your insights and wouldn't want you to stop coming here because of a "misunderstanding". :-)

The post was taken from the news, so no, there was no "special knowledge" that I had on it, just that I was disturbed by it and found it a topical issue that I wanted to bring to the attention of readers of this blog. If you look at it, I placed no opinion of my own until responding to comments.

The title I used was a twisted form of what the accused used as a slogan for his tv station: "connecting people through understanding".
The misunderstanding I was referring was the domestic dispute and perhaps to a degree, the linking of the killing with honour killings elsewhere. And the "disconnecting" - well maybe that's my demon side showing its darker colours with reference to the beheading. No offence intended.

Perhaps the issue of honour killings should be dealt with on this blog, but once I have actually researched it and it seems that both you and Kimya may have a lot to contribute.

It was not my intention to defend the countries or tribes or peoples that allow these types of killings. I condemn it, and I am confident in stating that Islam does not condone it either! There is no basis for it in Sharia, where Sharia is derived from the Quran and Ahadith (sayings and actions of the Prophet - may peace be upon him) but I didn't think this was the platform for the debate! Give me some time to wander in the desert and uncover the carcasses before we do the autopsy!

USpace - thank you for attempt at sarcasm and propaganda. Freedom of speech comes with responsibility and should be used wisely. Please take your hatred elsewhere!

Saaleha said...

it does smack of irony though doesn't it??

desert demons said...

Saaleha - mindbogglingly