Aasiya Hassan endured years of violence and controlling behavior from her husband while keeping up the facade of a stable marriage
By Sandra Tan, Gene Warner and Fred O. Williams
The lives of Muzzammil and Aasiya Hassan were quite different from their public image in the local Muslim and broadcast communities.
In the public eye, they were a dynamic couple, building their — actually her — dream of a Muslim-lifestyle TV channel in the United States.
But police reports compiled for much of their marriage tell another story:
Their home life was a nightmare. Aasiya was repeatedly subjected to controlling and sometimes violent acts by her ambitious but troubled husband.
To protect herself, she went to the police in two states. Yet for years she stopped short of pressing charges — thus preserving Muzzammil’s reputation and the venture they built together.
On Feb. 6, she filed for divorce and obtained an order of protection, barring him from their home in Orchard Park. A week later, she lay dead in their television offices — stabbed and decapitated. Muzzammil was charged with her murder.
“I think of Aasiya as a martyr,” said Faizan Haq, a local professor who helped launch Bridges TV, the station in Orchard Park that the Hassans started in 2004. “She has given her life to protect the image of American Muslims. And as an American Muslim community, we owe it to her not to let this happen again.”
The Hassans were well-known to local police, both in Orchard Park and Texas, where Muzzammil has family. Police were called to their Orchard Park home more than a dozen times for domestic issues dating back 2z years. And in 2006, Aasiya told police that the abuse had been going on “for about the last six years.”
The abuse, according to police reports, ranged from restrictive control to outbursts of violence, including a black eye and fat lip.
At various times, Aasiya accused her husband of physically preventing her from calling the police, abandoning her vehicle in Clarence so she couldn’t flee and pouring water on her to keep her from sleeping.
A nationwide debate has begun among Muslim leaders and women’s advocates about what role religion and culture may have played in this awful killing.
That debate continues.
While it’s clear that Aasiya sought some protection from police and confided in some close friends about the abuse, it seems that publicly she kept up the illusion of a stable marriage.
The problem for Aasiya may have been that, by outing her abuser, she also would have destroyed the reputation of her husband and business partner and threatened her dream of a vibrant Bridges TV cable network dedicated to American Muslims.
Muzzammil saw his own ambitions crumbling. The station was losing money. Aasiya had recently filed for divorce and obtained an order of protection that forced him out of their Big Tree Road home, for at least the second time.
“I think he saw it as losing everything, . . . going back to square one, and he snapped,” said one of his longtime friends and schoolmates from Rochester.
Hassan went to Orchard Park Police the evening of Feb. 12 to report his wife’s death, and he was soon charged. His defense attorney said he has not confessed.
But police believe they have enough evidence. They say that, with his money, family and entrepreneurial legacy at risk, Muzzammil destroyed both their lives—and betrayed legions of local and national supporters who believed in a station that could heal cultural divisions in post-9/11 America.
Friends and associates portray Muzzammil S. “Mo” Hassan, 44, as a man with two natures. Smart and ambitious, he was highly successful in school and in business, winning the respect that comes with achievement.
But his educational and career successes may have helped conceal his dark and violent tendencies. His private life was deeply troubled. He’d had a difficult relationship with his father, and people who knew him said his angry and sometimes violent attempts to control his relationships helped end his two previous marriages.
Born in Pakistan, Muzzammil immigrated to the United States to attend the University of Rochester, where he graduated in 1985. He worked in sales for Procter & Gamble, then for Clorox in Oakland, Calif.
While there, he met his first wife, an American-born woman with whom he had two children, now 17 and 18. When that marriage dissolved, he returned to Rochester.
“He got very sick after that — I think he was depressed,” said Muhammad Shafiq, a counselor at the Rochester Islamic Center who counseled Muzzammil. “There’s a sort of stigma in our culture when you get divorced.”
He went on to earn a master’s degree in business administration at the Simon Graduate School of Business at the University of Rochester. He graduated with honors in 1996 and joined Kodak.
Muzzammil married again, this time to a Pakistani woman named Sadia, according to a friend of the couple. But that marriage lasted just 13 months, and he was prone to angry outbursts.
“She was quite terrified,” said a friend of hers who asked not to be identified. “One time he threw a glass at her that hit the wall and smashed.”
Muzzammil apparently had demons. He needed anti-depressants and sleeping pills to get by, said a longtime friend from his college days.
Shortly after word of Muzzammil’s explosive temperament reached Sadia’s relatives and friends, the couple separated. They divorced after Muzzammil joined M&T Bank and relocated to Western New York in 1998.
Two years later, he e-mailed friends that he had married Aasiya in their native Pakistan.
“He said that he was lucky to have met her, an architect,” the former college friend said.
By all accounts, Aasiya Z. Hassan
came from a prominent, well-educated family in Karachi. Unlike Muzzammil, she was close with her parents. She grew into an accomplished horsewoman and finished college in Pakistan with a degree in architecture.
After marrying Muzzammil, she came to the United States and operated a 7-Eleven franchise in Orchard Park while her husband continued to work at M&T. She had no other family in this country.
Aasiya was pregnant with her first child when, on a trip to Detroit shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, she mused to her husband that this country could use a television station that would give people greater insight into the American Muslim community and culture.
Muzzammil seized upon the idea and publicly gave his wife the credit for being the inspiration behind Bridges TV. Over the next few years, Muzzammil and others worked tirelessly out of the couple’s basement in Orchard Park to come up with a successful business model and recruit investors and subscribers.
In 2004, Bridges TV made its official launch. The following year, it moved out of the Hassans’ basement and into studios on Thorn Avenue in Orchard Park.
Muzzammil was Bridges’ chief executive and fundraiser. He gave up a promising career at M&T, where he grew the bank’s online mortgage business from $2 million in 1998 to more than $350 million in 2003, according to his own bio.
Aasiya, though, was the heart and soul of the network, the embodiment of the station’s core values, according to colleagues at the station.
Unlike Muzzammil, a largely secular person who rarely showed up at the mosque and was obsessed with financial matters, Aasiya lived the best tenets of her faith and worshipped regularly.
Hassan Shibly, a former producer at Bridges, said Aasiya was the peacemaker when conflicts arose among the employees. She was also a devoted mother. Unlike her husband, who had many business associates but few close friends, Aasiya was loved by everyone.
“Aasiya was a passionate person, very ethical, with dreams that she wanted to make things happen,” said Haq, who teaches at the University at Buffalo and Buffalo State College and who worked closely with the Hassans during the early years of Bridges TV.
That was in contrast to Muzzammil, whom Haq described as shrewd and manipulative in his dealings.
Never more so than with his wife.
Orchard Park police records obtained by The News catalog a terrifying story of abuse at the Hassan home and at work.
Police served three separate orders of protection on Muzzammil, on Feb. 6, 2009, in March 2008 and March 2007.
He was accused of taking her passport, then telling officers that he threw it “over the falls” in December 2006.
He was accused of abandoning her car at a Clarence dealership on New Year’s Day 2007, “so that she could not leave the residence following a domestic dispute,” a state police spokeswoman said.
He was further accused of grabbing the phone from her as she tried to call police, then driving away and stranding her at work in June 2007.
Aasiya told police in March 2007 that she was “accidentally struck in the nose” during a fight between Muzzammil and his teenage son from his previous marriage. The next day, she informed officers that her husband had punched her intentionally but she was afraid to say so.
Aasiya told police that her husband kept her awake late at night to discuss marital issues when she wanted to go to sleep.
“Physically tries to keep me awake by pouring water, shaking me, removing the pillows, and in event of me trying to go to a motel to stay, physically blocks me,” she wrote in a signed statement in December 2006. “Refuses to allow me to get sleep in any other part of the house.”
Despite these complaints, though, police say they could not act further because she wouldn’t press charges.
The law, however, in some cases permits police to pursue a case against an abuser even when the victim does not cooperate.
Among all the domestic-incident calls answered by Orchard Park police in the past 2z years, two incidents in August 2006 may best explain why authorities couldn’t do more to help.
On Aug. 29 that year, police responded to a 5:15 p. m. call at Bridges TV, where Aasiya reported that her husband had punched her in the face, leaving her with a black left eye and a fat lip.
The next day, she told police that he had stopped her from leaving their Big Tree Road home by knocking her down and dragging her up the driveway by her hands.
After consulting with the Erie County district attorney’s office, the police prepared charges against Muzzammil for unlawful imprisonment, attempted assault and harassment.
On three separate occasions in the next few months, police talked with her about coming in to sign the complaints. But Aasiya canceled one meeting, refused to come in for another and wouldn’t sign the papers the third time because she didn’t want him arrested.
“On two incidents specifically, I remember the charges sitting here, waiting to be signed,” Orchard Park Assistant Police Chief Ted Gura said. “If she had signed, we would have arrested him in a heartbeat.”
There also were problems in Texas. In July 2007, while visiting her husband’s family in Flower Mound, Texas, Aasiya walked into a police station to report an abusive incident from the previous week.
During a minor argument with her husband, she said, Muzzammil violently squeezed her arms and insisted she apologize. She refused.
He later pushed her into the bedroom, sat on her chest and pinned her down with enough force to leave bruises on her arms and legs, saying he’d force her to listen to him.
Flower Mound police attempted to charge Muzzammil with felony assault and violating an order of protection. Police subsequently tried for weeks to reconnect with Aasiya in person and over the phone, both in Texas and New York. They never heard from her again, said Lt. Wess Griffin of the Flower Mound police.
“I can’t think of another [domestic violence] instance where we couldn’t contact the victim or perpetrator,” Griffin said.
Not everyone was blind to the abuse.
In 2006, Aasiya joined UB’s Executive MBA program, an intensive, two-year weekend program for 26 students. The class worked in teams and grew very close over time. According to classmates, even the program’s assistant dean knew of Aasiya’s abusive situation and tried to intervene.
But Aasiya was willing to accept only so much help.
“We all knew what was going on,” said classmate Bryan Carr, who works for The Buffalo News. “I’ve seen her with bruises . . . She had a shiner one day.”
During the first few classes, Muzzammil came with his wife and sat in the back of the room, making no attempt to talk to anyone.”
“He would sit there and watch like he was her guard or something,” Carr said.
Other classmates said Aasiya needed help distinguishing between cultural Pakistani norms regarding a woman’s place and what was clearly a “severe pattern” of abuse.
At one point, Aasiya was so fearful of her husband absconding with her children that she gave her children’s passports to a classmate for safekeeping, Carr said.
Aasiya’s parents currently have temporary custody of the couple’s 6- year-old son and 4-year-old daughter.
She seemed determined not to seek the assistance of the local Muslim community, which has from time to time exerted social pressure on husbands to reform their ways.
“If only Aasiya would have made noise,” said Haq, who helped launch Bridges and teaches Islamic courses at UB and Buffalo State College. “Just a little whisper would have done it.”
But he and others also acknowledge that the local Muslim community was a major financial backer of Bridges TV. Investments in the financially struggling network likely would have been withheld if Muzzammil became tagged as an abuser.
“She was afraid she would cause Bridges TV to fail,” Haq speculated, referring to the station’s noble mission. “But the problem with this is, the right thing in the wrong hands is wrong. I don’t care about Bridges TV if it cannot protect a woman.”
Bridges TV is still operating as part of premium pay cable packages. Staff members said they plan to continue the station to honor Aasiya’s vision. However, they said, the venture remains underfunded and needs to counteract the negative publicity stemming from the crime.
And while others dwell on the gruesome beheading, advocates for abused women point out that the method of killing isn’t the point.
“To me, it’s the same [as a shooting or stabbing death],” said Laura Grube, coordinator for Child & Family Services Haven House. “We had an abuser who thought his wife had no right to leave him. And if she was going to leave him, he was going to punish her with death.”
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