Aasiya Zubair Hassan was an architect and business woman of Pakistani origin, resident in the United States, motivated to contribute to the end of cultural stereotypes about Muslims and to a better coexistence in post-9-11 American society. For this reason, together with her husband Muzzamil Hassan, she decided to found Bridges TV in 2004, a satellite channel to connect the life of Muslim communities with American society.
The couple had been married for 9 years and had two children. But the reality between Aasiya and Muzzamil was not exactly that of an ideal marriage, as of those in novels and TV series. Aasiya Zubair lived between her career, community activism, the TV channel and the spiral of domestic violence. On February 12, 2009 her body was found beheaded in New York State, after his own husband informed the police where to find it.
Prosecutors argued that Hassan was abusing his wife and planned to attack her in a Bridges TV hallway. He was arrested in 2009 after he entered a police station in the city of Buffalo, in the state of New York, and told officers that his wife was dead. Muzzamil was found guilty and sentenced on February 7, 2011 to 25 years to life in prison.
In February 2010, and while Hassan was waiting to be sentenced, American Muslim women began the Purple Hijab Day, that since 2011 has become international, commemorated in Canada, England and Libya. It is a day of remembrance and support for victims of domestic violence and femicide, but it is more than that: it is a struggle to eradicate violence against women in Muslim communities and to challenge the patriarchal religious narratives that support it.
The date is commemorated each year between the 12th and the 16th of the month with different activities such as prevention talks, vigils, community education days, and cyberactivism through social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. It is a tradition to wear the hijab or Islamic headscarf in purple, but it is also possible to wear any purple garment.
Prevention of domestic violence is just as important as denouncing misogynistic narratives that enable it, because as Amina Wadud says:“To define religion is to have power in it.” One of the most widespread and disastrous stereotypes that exists about Islam is that which holds that religion legitimizes violence against women and authorizes husbands to punish their wives and dispose of the lives of the women in their households.
While these prejudices are held by voices outside of Islam and part of the narrative of Islamophobia, it is no less true that there are some currents within Islam that encourage men to punish their wives and for many Muslim men these interpretations are believed to be an almost un-appealable form of justification for the abuses they commit against women.
Memory is important when it comes to counting women. Not only because our presence has been historically invisible, but also because language that erases our lives still exists. Every act of violence that has a woman as a target is treated as an isolated event and the victim as anonymous. “A woman was found dead” is the recurring headlines in the news of the world. The reality is that we women do not appear dead, we are murdered. And, although society treats us as serialized and replaceable elements, our unique subjectivity is summed up in our names. Speaking our names is to make visible our struggles, hopes, and pains.
“Aasiya Zubair, a career woman, community’s value and mother was murdered by Muzzamil Hassan” and almost 10 years later there is still outrage and sadness because every day somewhere in the world, another Aaziya adds her name to the list.
The International Purple Hijab Day is an initiative started by Muslim women, but it does not belong only to them. It belongs to all women and everyone who is in the side of women rights. It is a day of activism and memory, an opportunity to find new ways to end gender violence in a context of its acceleration and increase in all parts of the world, because no civilization has the exclusive privilege of misogyny.
Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is a specialist in training and community outreach in Gender, Communication and Interculturality. She’s also a learning and social projects designer and a qualitative researcher; an awarded activist for women’s rights who too does independent scholarship in Religion, Gender and Social Discourses. Nomadic writer. A woman with stories and geographies, lover of books, cats and spicy Chai.
Images: Daily News (NY) and The Huff Post