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Beheading spurs discussion on domestic violence

The tragic death of Aasiya Hassan of Orchard Park is now known around the world.

And it is her story that may finally help other domestic violence victims get the assistance they need.

"This has really raised the profile of this issue," said Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America. "This is where God is bringing something good out of something terrible."

Mattson, a professor of Islamic studies and Christian-Muslim relations at Hartford Seminary, spoke Saturday evening to more than 150 people during a symposium on domestic violence in Masjid An-Noor, the mosque on Heim Road in Getzville.

While Hassan's beheading, allegedly at the hands of her husband, has gained worldwide attention, it also has raised awareness among the nation's Muslim leaders about the need to help counter domestic violence.

Mattson, and other speakers, encouraged people to recognize the warning signs of abuse and seek help through the resources and agencies available in the community.

"We need to identify how as a whole community -- not just the Islamic community -- what we can do to make sure those who are abused in their homes know where to get help," Mattson said.

Mattson also talked about how Muslims are coping with this tragedy. Even though Muslim leaders have denounced any type of violence and domestic abuse, there still is a feeling that a stigma is attached to their community because of what happened in Orchard Park.

"We are not responsible for preventing all of these things, but we are responsible to work with those agencies to make sure all the members of our community understand their rights," Mattson said, "and absolutely make sure our religion is never used to justify this."

Faizan Haq, president of the Pakistani American Association of Western New York, helped organize Saturday's event, attended by a few of Aasiya Hassan's family members.

"Aasiya was brutally taken from her family and the community," he said, "and we must collectively honor her memory by educating and empowering people on the issue of domestic violence."

Hassan was stabbed several times before being beheaded on Feb. 12 in Orchard Park. Her husband, Muzzammil Hassan, has been charged with second-degree murder in the killing.

Since the gruesome slaying, more details have come out about how police were called to the couple's Orchard Park home more than a dozen times for domestic problems over the past 2 1/2 years.

"Our goal is to educate in order to prevent," said Salma Abugideiri, co-director of the Peaceful Families Project, based in northern Virginia. "Prevention requires education and understanding of the issue."

Abugideiri and Susan Sizemore, executive director of the Commission on the Status of Women in Erie County, were among the others speaking Saturday about domestic violence.

The abuse starts subtly, Abugideiri said. "A lot of us put up with it, tolerate it," Abugideiri said. "We don't ever recognize it as abuse."

Abugideiri talked about parents being aware of what they're teaching their children about the issue, and being mindful not to place blame on the victims in these situations.

"We need to create a climate where women can come forward," Abugideiri said.

The event was sponsored by the Pakistani American Association of Western New York, the Islamic Society of Niagara Frontier, the Western New York Chapter of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee and the Resource and Help Against Marital Abuse, a Muslim women's group.

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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