Monday, February 23rd, 2009
By Mona Eltahawy
KUALA LUMPUR – Aasiya Hassan was probably beheaded by her husband in Buffalo, NY, just hours before Malaysian Muslim women’s group Sisters in Islam brought us together Feb. 13 – 17 for the launch of Musawah, a global movement for justice and equality in Muslim families.
Justice and equality were 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. Muzzamil 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 television 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 “honor 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 complained to police that fellow singer and boyfriend Chris Brown beat her up. They forget that Scott Peterson murdered his pregnant wife.
Violent men who aren’t Muslim? Who knew!
The only abusive man I’ve known was my ex-husband, a Floridian with German-Irish roots who converted to Islam to marry me but never practiced the religion. The day when I called the police to complain that he had thrown me out of our home and taken my car keys and credit card was the most humiliating in my life.
In Washington State, where we lived, my complaint had to be filed under domestic abuse and my shame was compounded when the officer who took down my report explained my rights to me as if I were a mail order bride shipped over to America into a life of abuse.
Meanwhile, a host of U.S. Muslim organizations – mostly all led by men of course – swore up and down Islam was innocent of Ms. Hassan’s murder and that it was JUST another case of domestic violence. Domestic violence being the more mundane crime, they determined, with a keen eye on the demonization of Muslims.
I would take them more seriously had they fought violence against women with the same vehemence they fight to preserve the image of the “community.” At Musawah, I heard horror stories from Muslim women activists from the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand whose work to help abused women was hampered by their community’s denial, which often fed on anti-Muslim bigotry in their respective countries.
That same “community” has been frighteningly silent about the way some religious leaders use a controversial verse in the Quran to justify beating women. It’s hard to fight a man who beats you. How do you take on God too?
Just last month in Australia a video surfaced of an imam saying there was no such thing as marital rape and advising men how to beat wives without bruising them. Type Muslim+woman+beating into an online search engine and you get a monster’s parade of what I call “YouTube imams” explaining how to beat a woman according to “Islamic teaching.”
Exhibit A – an imam, standing on a pulpit no less, telling his congregation that according to “Islamic teaching” there are three types of women for whom nothing but a beating work. I’m proud to say I scored two out of three.
Muslim denial over the abysmal status of women is deeper even than the one over the use of Islam to justify radical violence. Centuries of male-dominated and misogynistic interpretations of Islam are strangling us. We’re told on the one hand that God says men can beat us and yet when we complain and demand our God-given right to a divorce we’re told that’s a man’s prerogative.
And when we complain publicly, as I am now, we’re told we’ve abandoned our faith and that we’re giving ammunition to the Islam haters.
Which is why Muswah – Arabic for equality – was such a godsend to those of us who choose to remain Muslim and refuse to hand our religion over to the YouTube imams.
Muslim scholar Amina Wadud, author of “Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam” and long a hero of mine since she led 100 of us in the first public mixed-gender Friday prayer in New York in 2005, reminded us that Prophet Mohammed never hit a woman.
She took apart that controversial verse used to justify violence against women and said we must confront those “YouTube imams” with photographs of battered women to make them see how their words impact women’s day to day lives.
“Islam can be a source of empowerment, not a source of oppression and discrimination,” Musawah project director Zainah Anwar said at the opening ceremony. “For there to be justice in the 21st century, there must be equality…these values must be at the core of what it means to be Muslim today.”
The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks sensitized Muslims to what our imams said about violence in the name of Islam. Now, in honor of Aasiya Hassan, if a religious leader justifies violence against women we must walk out, complain and push for his removal.
Wrigley’s chewing gum suspended their contract with Chris Brown. Let’s start naming and shaming the violent men among us and boycotting their businesses.
If we must choose between the community and the sister, the sister must always win.
Copyright 2009 Mona Eltahawy