How Lack of Accountability Led to Rise of a Monster

Zerqa Abid wrote a very important post that highlighted some of the issues and concerns that I have with accountability in our Muslim communities. How could we have allowed someone like Muzzammil Hassan, a Muslim man of questionable moral character with legal documentation of a history of abuse, to rise to such a position of leadership?

It’s been five days now that my family along with the whole American Muslim community has been in shock. The fact that Muzzammil was married to my first cousin before marrying the victim still horrifies us. Ms. Zubair was his third wife. Both of his earlier wives filed divorce on the same grounds of severe domestic violence and abuses.

My cousin lived with him for only a year. Yet, it took her several years to get rid of the fear of living with a man in marriage. He was known as violent and abusive in the community. He had nothing to do with Islam. He had changed his name from Syed Muzzammil Hassan to Mo Steve Hassan. He had no background of community service or involvement in the Mosque or in any other organization. Neither his character and nor his faith were sound. In addition, he had no background or expertise in TV production or media.

But it did not matter. Even with this bad reputation, horrible background and lack of experience in media market, he still got the stage at the most reputable American Muslim conventions. Our leaders and established organizations did not bother to vet him. No questions or flags were raised about him. He was introduced at these conventions with huge respect and the Muslim community was told to give him generous funds for Bridges TV.

The surprise was changed into shock and worry when I learned that Bridges TV was owned and operated by the same Muzzammil Hassan who I knew as a serious criminal. To me domestic violence is a serious crime and a person’s character must be judged by the way he deals with his family. At my return, I warned some community leaders, but the response was not encouraging. People told me that his personal life may be messed up, but he is doing a good job so we should support him no matter what.

The Vice President of Islamic Society of North America, Imam Mohamed Hagmagid Ali, has posted an open letter on ISNA’s website. He writes, “Our community needs to take strong stand against abusive spouses and we should not make it easy for them to remarry if they chose a path of abusive behavior.”

What about making community leadership easy for them, Imam?

Shouldn’t Islamic organizations also take responsibility of vetting new comers before presenting them on the stage? Common people rely on organizational leadership and judgment.
Vetting of community leader has been established since the time of Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) and is now in practice within the conscious communities all over the world….

Clearly, this is a rare case that has ignited the nation’s imagination. It is fodder for Islamaphobes and Muslims throughout the country are scrambling trying to deal with the PR damage. While I do not feel that I have to go around apologizing for every wrong action a Muslim does, I decided to write about this case because it brings to light some underlying issues that are poorly addressed in our community. There is little accountability in our communities. Every media report reminds us that Muzzammil was a respected and influential member of the Muslim community. This is why it is absolutely imperative that we not shield abusers and turn a blind eye when we see something funky go on even with the most promising and prized leaders.

My friend recounted in horror about a case a few years back in the Bay Area where a South Asian Muslim man had beaten his wife so badly that she had to be hospitalized. Both of us were hurt and angered when we found out that a number of people in the community came out to support the abuser. It is this type of backwards thinking that not only infects immigrant communities, but it is prevalent in convert communities where the jailhouse Islam and criminal culture is prevalent. Sometimes communities will give shelter to convicted sexual offenders and violent criminals. On rare occasions those communities get raided by the FBI. Before we lend some material support, let alone marry off some hapless new convert sister to sketchy Muslim man, do we do any background and criminal reports? And women, when you are marrying someone who has been divorced, has it ever occurred to you to have an honest and upfront conversation with the ex-wife? Do you think you can do it better than she did? Or are you afraid that you may hear something you don’t want to hear? Why didn’t Aasiya’s family contact the first two wives? Why did everyone fail to look into the divorce cases?

I’ve heard cases where a Muslim leader used his wife’s work, treated her poorly, was booted out of one community to only cross the country and set up shop somewhere else. On several occasions I’ve heard stories from the mouths of women that really shocked me. Too often the women refuse to identify the leaders who abuse their power in an effort to not backbite. Often these stories are dismissed as gossip. Our Muslim communities need to start listening to women a lot more. A large part of it lies in what Tariq Nelson calls “the culture of denial pretense,” the one where we are always trying to cover up our bad deeds and our brothers’ (but not so much the sisters’).

11 thoughts on “How Lack of Accountability Led to Rise of a Monster

  1. Pingback: A Collection of Statements Concerning the Murder of Aasiya Hassan — Updated « Muslimah Media Watch

  2. All patriarchal religions share the ownership view of women. To the extent that they have granted women any rights at all, it is a measure of how far they have departed from their original doctrine.


  3. Pingback: How Lack of Accountability Led to Rise of a Monster « The Writer Formally Known as “Just Another Angry Black Muslim Woman?” « Ginny’s Thoughts & Things

  4. Assalaamualaikum-

    I think this question from your posts, haunts me:
    “How could we have allowed someone like Muzzammil Hassan, a Muslim man of questionable moral character with legal documentation of a history of abuse, to rise to such a position of leadership?”

    For me this is what happens when a community becomes more concerned with presenting a false and artificial public face to a society that is hostile to them w/o caring about the more vulnerable members of the particular community. In fact it is usually the vulnerable members who are all too willingly sacrificed in these communal uplift efforts.

    Although-I am not meaning to use this example to deflect from this particular situation- I am reminded of work on Jewish women who were victims of domestic violence. Because there was a stereotype that emasculated Jewish men (thus asserting that Jewish men were Incapable of violence) & because of a need to always present the community as strong & united, these Jewish women were not supported when they spoke out against their abusers.

    I think in the terms of Muslims we are reluctant to do a dual critique-one that combats anti-Muslim sentiments and one that also understands that we can’t turn a blind eye to the sexism that is within our communities. The problem is that this is difficult work and most people don’t want to take it on because of fear of being exiled and rebuked.

    For some reason we think that the external struggle is more important than dealing with the internal threats that ultimately undermine our families and which essentially erodes us from within.


  5. I totally agree with Zerqa’s view.. about “the accountability of the community” enhancing the social image of the abuser by saying his behavior was a personal issue.. it starts with domestic abuse and escalates to domestic violence. The community is an accomplice by its effort to ignore or look the other way. Hopefully this time it should bring them to understand and clarify what is the community role and redefine community responsibility in marital disputes/ abuse and violence.


  6. I think we need to start talking about the cultural aspects of this tragedy as well. The increase domestic violence rate from some parts of the world and the “divorce”stigmatism which causes many women to remain in toxic relationships due to the societal backlash. People are pointing out
    that this man wasn’t a practicing Muslims etc… but lets be real here, domestic violence is happening in our community amongst practicing and and non-practicing men.

    We need to talk about it. My question is why when things like this happen, our women feel more compelled to go to the police and not the local Imam/leader? I have the answer, because they will do nothing- just lip service and often times encourage the women to go back to their brutal husbands. The sad thing is even in some cultures the family will encourage their abused daughter to stick with their husbands through thick and thin because they do not want to bear the stigmatism that comes along with divorce. I have seen this with my own eyes and I am sure some of you as well. It happened here in Houston. A lady was murdered by her husband-stabbed numerous times.

    What can you do about this? Write about it.

    Give seminars about domestic violence prevention, we need more organizations in our communities to intervene and help women.


  7. I’m constantly asking why did we embrace Mr. Hassan with his bad reputation of “severe domestic violence”? Why? It’s definitly “the culture of denial pretense”. Why was he at our conventions?


  8. I am with Karema,

    but will add the caveat, that abuse like this is a problem in the larger society as well. It won’t be something that changes over night, though.

    The Idea that the Muslim community just point black should not ignore/condone this type of activity comes with changing the mind-set/culture of silence of large net-works of people.

    There definitely should be efforts to make younger people understand the dynamics of the problem and protest against the status quo, Because this will ensure that things get better over time. Perhaps more specialized training for Mosque leaders would help too.

    Nonetheless I’m not sure this is something the Muslim community should go it alone with. It seems like the perfect issue upon which to initiate some inter-faith efforts


  9. I agree that a multi-faith coalition effort in parallel with individual faith community efforts is a strong approach.

    I also feel strongly that individuals – not just event organizers – are collectively responsible for vetting speakers,etc. I have not attended events where I was morally in opposition to the positions, statements, or actions of certain artists or speakers.

    Indeed, demonstrations outside of events where questionable personalities were on stage brought some chenges around.


  10. Pingback: Dealing with Things Islamicly, What Does That Mean Exactly? « Ginny's Thoughts & Things

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