Muzzammil Hassan, the owner and CEO of Bridges TV has been arrested for beheading his wife, Aasiya Zubair.
Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajaiun, indeed everything belongs to Allah (God) and to Him we will return.
This is the news of the year that has once again damaged not only the Muslim image in American society, but it has also damaged our trust and the hope that we place in American Muslim leadership.
It’s been five days now that my family along with the rest of the 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 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 American Muslim community, desperate for its own English channel in the United States, said yes to the call and collected millions of dollars and handed it over to him. I personally know people who collected fifty thousand or more in a day or two for this cause. It was not Hassan, the donors but trusted the organizations standing behind him.
Muzzammil Hassan put that money in his personal pocket and moved into a huge property with stables and horses. Nobody was there to question that how much money was spent on the actual project and how much was spent on his new but lavish lifestyle. None of our organizations bothered to look into it and inform their members of any concerns.
I was mostly in Pakistan in that period. After resigning from NBC News, I went to Pakistan for a couple of years. I was working as General Manager of The City Channel of ARY Digital in 2004, when I heard about the Bridges TV. I thought it must be a project of Islamic Broadcasting Network or Sound Vision Foundation. But I was surprised to hear that none of our longtime organizations were part of this channel and nobody knew the owner for long time.
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.
This support was so overwhelming that he was presented with awards too. Now the pictures of award ceremonies are coming back to haunt us and some of them are already posted on anti-Muslim blogs after the murder of Ms. Zubair. One of the headlines reads: Bridges TV CEO Arrested for Beheading Wife Received Award from … [name of a prominent national American Muslim Organization].
Bridges TV’s website requests to respect family’s privacy. In this case, unfortunately, this request cannot be honored. There is no privacy for people who promote themselves as leaders of the community and take people’s money on the promise of investing it in the community projects.
This murder might not have cost us as much if Muzzammil was just an ordinary Muslim. Instead, unfortunately, he was a trusted and respected member of the American Muslim community.
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. The Obama administration is going through the same process. Whenever it is not done properly it causes trouble and embarrassment as we have recently witnessed in the case of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
It’s always better to be safe than be sorry. It’s important for the American Muslim organizations to improve themselves on this ground too. We have no option but to live up to this standard.
As my heart goes out to Aasiya’s family and children, I recognize this not only as their personal loss, but as a huge loss for our American Muslim Community at large: A loss of a project needed now more than ever before; a loss of financial resources that can never be collected again with the same trust and passion; and a loss of respect for an American Islamic channel and the intentions behind it.
May Allah forgive us for our shortcomings. May He grant us patience and replace the loss with something better and beneficial, amen.