York Region’s Muslim community is in mourning the death of a Mississauga teen allegedly slain over her refusal to wear the hijab.
Sixteen-year-old Aqsa Parvez died Tuesday, allegedly strangled to death by her father, after refusing to wear the hijab, a head scarf worn by women in some middle-eastern cultures. Newmarket Mosque spokesperson Ansar Ahmed called Ms Parvez’s death a senseless and tragic incident.
“This is the type of tragedy that shakes you to your very core as a person, as a parent and as a Muslim,” he said. “The fact that the wearing of a hijab … appears to have been the catalyst for this violence is what is so disturbing.”
He also said that if the girl’s death was the result of a dispute over the hijab, the killer’s logic is truly flawed.
“Whether or not a woman prays five times a day or whether she chooses to cover her hair is a voluntary act of worship,” Mr. Ahmed said. “It’s ludicrous for this father to have thought that he could compel his teenage daughter to cover her hair. Acts of faith, whatever they may be, have to come from within; they cannot be imposed on anyone. If they are, they are not true acts of faith.”
Markham resident Ibrahim Hayani echoed many of Mr. Ahmed’s sentiments.
An overwhelming majority of the Muslim population in the region is shaken and upset by the tragedy apparently committed under the guise of faith, the Ryerson economics and political science professor said.
In fact, Mr. Hayani said, religion likely had little to do with the incident, contrary to reports in other media.
“When it comes to this incident, it had nothing to do with Islam,” he said. “It’s an insult to Islam to say the religion had anything to do with it.”
Instead, Mr. Hayani said that various cultural customs were likely to blame as many despotic nations twist religion as a method of manipulating their citizens and propping up their often totalitarian and patriarchal regimes.
Aqsa Parvez,16, led a double life, preferring to assimilate with Western culture and dress while attending Applewood Heights Secondary School, where she was a grade 11 student. Parvez had been staying with a friend for the past week because of tensions at home. When she went home on Monday to collect her belongings, her dad’s disapproval turned violent.
Her father, 57-year-old taxi driver Muhammad Parvez, allegedly called police and claimed to have killed his daughter. He has been charged with attempted murder. Aqsa’s brother, 26-year-old Waqas Parvez, has also been charged with obstructing police.
Perhaps in other countries the noncompliance of the rigid rules of Islamic dress is viewed as shaming their family.
But here in Canada, where freedom of thought and dress is prevalent, many young Muslim women are in a difficult spot, trying to balance their family’s beliefs with the prevalent culture of their schoolmates.
“The real shame is that a young woman had to die for not wearing a hijab,” says Farzana Wahidy, 23, an international student from Kabul, Afghanistan. Wahidy doesn’t wear a hijab when in Canada because she’s not forced to wear one here, she says.
The way people think about wearing a hijab is viewed more in terms of culturally than religiously in my country,” says Wahidy, who is currently studying photojournalism at Loyalist College in Belleville, Ont. “For sure, they’d kill me if I didn’t wear a hijab in Afghanistan. You cannot go out without one.
“People will follow you, shout at you and even stone you if you tried to walk down the street without a hijab. Because of the culture, because of their husbands, because of their fathers. They’re forced to wear them.”
She’s right. It is cultural. And if we’re going to succeed in assimilating Muslims into North American culture, we’d better start on the parents.
For example, certainly other people knew about the problems this girl was having at home – after all, she was staying at someone else’s house. Where were these concerned citizens while she was hiding? Why was she permitted to go home alone to pick up her clothing?
As for the girl herself, were there no friends to counsel her to wear the dumb veil when leaving home and to take it off once she got to school? Teenage girls have been getting around their parents’ rules for years. “I’m just going to the library,” is a favorite ruse. Her “friends” can think about how they might have helped. At least one did something positive by taking her in when “tensions” arose at home.
The best thing you can say about the father and his unruly son is that they are control freak nut-jobs hiding behind a religion. But if the Muslim community is going to take responsibility for its children, it needs to start with educating the first-generation parents. And it needs to perform due diligence before the fact, not hand-wringing after the child is dead.
The way they’re doing it now leaves huge gaps into which their crocodile tears flow. Instead, give us some reports on teenage girls who have been rescued from the fate of Aqsa Parvez by other Muslims. At least then this supposed sorrow would be credible.
Now, after the funeral, let’s see if the Muslim community bands together to protect its other women and children.
Or will this story just drop through the memory hole until the next murder, which will be followed by the usual hand-wringing and denial?
Hat tip: Jens