Aasiya and the horrors of Domestic Violence
I have been putting off writing this column on Aasiya Hasan, who was brutally murdered by her husband, a prominent figure in the American Muslim community, founder of Bridges TV. The subject is painful in many ways. Domestic violence is a problem that continues to plague not only the Muslim community but American society as well. But the beheading of Aasiya is so disturbing, that it has been difficult to write about.
Extensive study from the Center for Disease Control has revealed that domestic violence is a leading cause of death for women ages 15-44. Over 1100 American women are murdered by their partner or a former partner each year. Nearly one-third of all American women report experiencing violence from a current or former spouse or boyfriend, according to the San Francisco-based Family Violence Prevention Fund. The numbers around the Muslim world vary widely.
According to Wikipedia:
In some Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia,
reports indicate that domestic violence is quite widespread. One recent study, in Syria
, found that 25% of the married women surveyed said that they had been beaten by their husbands.
One study found that half of Palestinian women have been the victims of domestic violence.
A WHO study in Babol
[an Iranian city] found that within the previous year 15.0% of wives had been physically abused, 42.4% had been sexually abused and 81.5% had been psychologically abused (to various degrees) by their husbands, blaming low income, young age, unemployment and low education.
A 1987 study conducted by the Women's Division and another study by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in 1996 suggested that domestic violence takes place in approximately 80 percent of the households in the country.
In Pakistan, domestic violence occurs in forms of beatings, sexual violence or torture, mutilation, acid attacks and burning the victim alive.
According to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in 2002, over 90% of married women surveyed in that country reported being kicked, slapped, beaten or sexually abused when husbands were dissatisfied by their cooking or cleaning, or when the women had ‘failed’ to bear a child or had given birth to a girl instead of a boy.
Clearly this is a problem that cuts across cultural, religious and national lines.
Unfortunately, the Muslim community has been sleeping on this issue. Depsite efforts to bring the problem to light, and to pressure imams to address the issue from the minbar (the Muslim equivalent of the pulpit), despite the work of some dedicated activists who have opened shelters specifically catering to the needs of Muslim women (such as Baitul Salam in Atlanta and Al-Nisaa center in California), or to provide legal assistance (such as the Muslim Womens Legal Defense Fund), most of the community has it's head stuck in the sand.
Many Muslim women who face violence at home are told to be patient with this trial. Or they may find themselves being asked to consider what they can do to avoid provoking their husband. Sometimes they are outright blamed for their husband's behavior. Or told that he is only doing his Islamic duty.
Fortunately, the shocking murder of Aasiya -- a crime committed by a man many in the community saw not only as a leader, but as a exemplar, standing up for Islam at a time when the community feels under seige -- the brutality of how she was killed, the betrayal of what we all thought we knew of this man and the values he stood for, has jolted the community awake.
Pretty much every Muslim organization has come out with a statement against domestic violence. For those of us who have been trying to get them to take this problem seriously for years, it is bittersweet that the lethargy has finally been broken. Let us hope that once the furor over the catalytic event has died down, the will to change our society does not.