Gruesome killing poses another test for U.S. Muslims

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The crime was so brutal, shocking and rife with the worst possible stereotypes about their faith that some U.S. Muslims thought the initial reports were a hoax.

The crime was so brutal, shocking and rife with the worst possible stereotypes about their faith that some U.S. Muslims thought the initial reports were a hoax.

The harsh reality of what happened in an affluent suburb of Buffalo, N.Y. – the beheading of 37- year-old Aasiya Hassan and arrest of her estranged husband in the killing – is another crucible for American Muslims.

Here was a couple that appeared to be the picture of assimilation and tolerance, co-founders of a television network that aspired to improve the image of Muslims in a post 9-11 world.

Now, as Muzzammil “Mo” Hassan faces second-degree murder charges, those American Muslims who have spoken out are once again explaining that their faith abhors such horrible acts, and they are using the tragedy as a rallying cry against domestic violence.

The killing and its aftermath raise hard questions for Muslims – about gender issues, about distinctions between cultural and religious practices, and about differing interpretations of Islamic texts regarding the treatment of women.

“Muslims don’t want to talk about this for good reason,” said Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur, a Muslim author and activist. “There is so much negativity about Muslims, and it sort of perpetuates it. The right wing is going to run with it and misuse it. But we’ve got to shine a light on this issue so we can transform it.”

There is evidence of movement in that direction in the 10 days since the Hassan slaying. In an open letter to American Muslim leaders, Imam Mohamed Hagmagid Ali of Sterling, Va., vice president of the Islamic Society of North America, said “violence against women is real and cannot be ignored.”

He urged that imams and community leaders never second guess a woman in danger, and said women seeking divorces because of physical abuse should not be viewed as bringing shame to their families.

Muslim women’s advocates consider the statement significant after years of indifference in a community that has seen only recent progress – for example, the opening of shelters for battered Muslim women in a few major cities.

“This is a horrible tragedy, but it gives us a window,” said Abdul-Ghafur, editor of the anthology “Living Islam Out Loud: American Muslim Women Speak.” “The next time a woman comes to her imam and says, ‘He hit me,’ the reply might not be, ‘Be patient, sister, is there something you did, sister? Is there something you can do?’ The chances are greater the imam will say, ‘This is unacceptable.’”

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