Buffalo's Muslims Battle Stereotype After Murder When Muzzamil "Mo" Hassan killed his wife two years ago, journalists and others jumped to the conclusion that the death might be an honor killing. But it wasn't — and the Muslim community wanted to make sure others knew the truth.
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Buffalo's Muslims Battle Stereotype After Murder

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Buffalo's Muslims Battle Stereotype After Murder

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Buffalo's Muslims Battle Stereotype After Murder

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

But NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports from Buffalo, the Hassan case is really about domestic violence and it forced an entire community to reckon with stereotypes.

DINA TEMPLE: A decade ago, you'd be hard pressed to find a more high-profile Muslim couple in western New York than Mo and Aasiya Hassan. They lived in Orchard Park, a wealthy suburb just outside of Buffalo. And everyone knew them because they owned the local 7-Eleven. Then in 2004, the Hassans started Bridges TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV STATION ID)

U: One America, many faces. Call it a melting pot, a mosaic or a tapestry...

TEMPLE: So when Mo Hassan, the man who was supposed to be Buffalo's friendly face of Islam, murdered his wife, it stunned a community.

TEMPLE: It's not only that he killed his wife, the way he killed her is despicable.

TEMPLE: That's one of the leaders of the Muslim community in Buffalo, Dr. Khalid Qazi. He looks like Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird."

TEMPLE: Nobody in the community can get their arms around that notion that he would not only kill her, he would stab her 40, 50 and perhaps 60 times and then decapitate her. There's absolutely no stomach for that.

TEMPLE: Because she was Muslim, because of the way she was killed, and because Aasiya Hassan had filed for divorce just days before the murder, the media assumed that the killing was sanctioned by Islam.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CLIP)

U: A brutal crime in Buffalo, New York. A Pakistani-born man is accused of beheading his wife, and there's speculation it may be a so-called honor killing.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GLENN BECK PROGRAM ")

TEMPLE: All right. This guy started a Muslim-American cable TV network to challenge stereotypes about his faith. You know, apparently, we're just too stupid. We just all think that all Muslims are bad.

TEMPLE: In fact, the Muslim community was being stereotyped. Dr. Qazi said news of the murder was everywhere.

TEMPLE: So there is this constant reminder of this monster who we all tried to project and help to establish a lifestyle television channel to show who we are and what we stand for and then we get this.

TEMPLE: Buffalo's Muslim community had already had its share of these kinds of stories. There were suspicions after the 911 attacks. And then, to make matters worse, a year after 911, six young Muslims from the Lackawanna community, just outside of Buffalo, were arrested and pleaded guilty to training at an al-Qaeda camp. Against that backdrop, stereotyping was easy. This had to be an honor killing, except it wasn't.

TEMPLE: This is not an honor killing from my understanding.

TEMPLE: Remla Parthasarathy is an instructor at the Social Justice Clinic at the University of Buffalo Law School.

TEMPLE: Honor killings are something that is sanctioned and approved by extended family. That wasn't the case here. Religious leaders in the Muslim community came out and denounced it. And they said it wasn't an honor killing, and I respect that.

TEMPLE: In fact, when Aasiya's horrified family returned from Pakistan for her burial two years ago, it became very clear that this was a domestic violence case. Mo and Aasiya Hassan were not particularly religious. In fact, no one could recall ever seeing Mo Hassan at the mosque. As time went on, community leaders were presented with a stark choice: either allow others to stereotype the community or move aggressively to redefine the killing.

SIEGEL: Domestic abuse had been an issue in the community all along. But according to Kathy Jamil, she's the principal of a local Islamic school, no one wanted to admit it.

TEMPLE: When this happened, everyone wanted to respond because it became very real for them, even though domestic violence happens. And I think a lot of that was really because now, Islam was under attack.

TEMPLE: Suzanne Tomkins is a professor at University at Buffalo.

TEMPLE: The local Muslim community has really engaged in hosting a number of events: trainings for imams, trainings for the community, bringing in national and other speakers to talk about this issue. And I think we're starting to see a great deal more collaboration.

TEMPLE: Tomkins says it's part of Aasiya Hassan's legacy.

TEMPLE: I don't see that ending. I see this as sort of a beginning.

TEMPLE: Kathy Jamil, she's the school principal, said she wanted to come along. So we went crunching through deep snow in the Muslim section of the cemetery.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRUNCHING SNOW)

TEMPLE: So there are little tips of tombstones that we can just see here peeking out of the snow.

TEMPLE: Yeah.

TEMPLE: A man who worked at the cemetery got a shovel and a map and helped us find the gravesite.

TEMPLE: So no marker, no stick, no nothing.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SHOVEL)

TEMPLE: Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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