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Aqsa's last days

Father, teenager had tried to reconcile, friends say

Natalie Alcoba , National Post

Published: Saturday, December 15, 2007

The night before Aqsa Parvez died, she danced to Indian music under the loving gaze of a Muslim family she had adopted as her own.

The rebellious teenager did not see eye to eye with her parents, so she moved in with a Mississauga family, and last Sunday happily took part in a birthday celebration for the youngest of six Tahir daughters. Everyone complimented Aqsa on her outfit --a pink skirt she had borrowed from one of the sisters, Amal Tahir, and her own matching pink top. "Tell Amal to teach me a couple of steps," the mother, Lubna, recalled Aqsa asking.

"What I saw in that kid was that she was just asking for acceptance," Lubna Tahir said. "She wanted to be like a young celebrity. Want to do everything, be in everyone's eye. Want to be popular. Want to be loved one."

Police say that the next morning, on a visit back to her family's Mississauga home to pick up clothes, 16-year-old Aqsa was strangled to death by her father, 57. She will be buried today.

Friends from Aqsa's high school said the girl had been fighting with her family about her refusal to wear a hijab and other traditional Islamic clothes. They say she "wanted to dress normally," so she would take off the head scarf at school and make sure to put it back on before she went home.

The suggestion that her death was the tragic end to repeated culture clashes between a traditional Muslim family and their rebellious Westernized daughter has generated a fierce debate.

Canadian Imams have denounced the murder as un-Islamic, but underscored the importance of a hijab by saying that children who shunned it could make some parents feel like failures. Other observers say the discussion should centre around domestic violence, which affects all communities.

Muhammad Parvez, a taxi driver who immigrated from Rawalpindi, Pakistan, prior to his family making the move about seven years ago, remains in jail on a charge of murder. Police said a man called 911 on Monday morning to say he had killed his daughter.

Aqsa died in hospital several hours later. Waqas Parvez, who picked his sister up at a bus stop that morning and took her home, is charged with obstructing police. He was released on $10,000 bail yesterday.

Mr. Parvez was licensed as a sole taxi operator, which meant he owned his own cab but paid dues to a dispatch brokerage.

He worked for a short period of time for Golden Taxi, before moving to rival Blue & White Taxi. As an independent operator, there was little contact between Mr. Parvez and other cab drivers or dispatch company officials. Several fellow cab drivers and officials at both companies say they know next to nothing about the man or his family.

The Tahirs describe Aqsa as a girl who embraced her faith by praying five times a day, like a good Muslim, while also trying to emulate the "gangsta" style she admired in rap videos. She knew who she wanted to be one day -- a famous fashion designer -- but struggled, like most teens, to fit in. Aqsa's three brothers and four older sisters were more reserved than she, which made her sometimes feel misunderstood.

The Tahirs say that days after she moved in with them, Mr. and Ms. Parvez came over, and both families had a two hour meeting with Aqsa.

Her mother cried. Mr. Parvez calmly implored his daughter in Punjabi to tell him why she left and what he could do to bring her home. Aqsa barely spoke, except to say that she "just wanted change," according to Ms. Tahir. Privately Aqsa told her that she wanted "to get more out of life".

Mr. Parvez appeared to be relieved that his daughter was safe, said Ms. Tahir, and not alone on the street. He was content to see Aqsa living in a household that resembled his own, said Ms. Tahir, and told her to stay as long as she needed to. Aqsa asked if she could bring items from her house back, and he said they would arrange that "together."

"That's how he left," said Ms. Tahir, an immigration and paralegal consultant who immigrated from Pakistan 10 years ago.

But Aqsa, it seemed, was still searching for independence.

A few days after that first meeting, over coffee in Tim Hortons, Aqsa told her father that she wanted to live on her own, she wanted to go to school in the mornings and work in the evenings. Mr. Parvez offered to let her take over the basement. Aqsa said she would think about it.

"She was satisfied, she was relaxed that somehow her parents understood that this is what she wanted to do, and they didn't push her to come home," said Ms. Tahir, who wanted to be an impartial third party to broker peace.

She pressed Aqsa many times to tell her why she had run away. The girl claimed repeatedly that she had never been abused. When one Imam suggested at a press conference this week that boy issues may have been behind Aqsa's family troubles, the Tahir women, who were in the audience, raised their voices in protest.

Aqsa did not have a boyfriend, said Ms. Tahir, who expressed dismay at the "rumours" in the press, including speculation that it was conflict over wearing the hijab that triggered the alleged murder.

The Tahirs did not know of any dispute over Aqsa wearing a hijab and said that the older Parvez sisters did not always wear the head scarf.

Aqsa's Applewood Heights Secondary School friends said she started removing her hijab in September, which was also when she ran away from home the first time and to a women's shelter.

Amal Tahir said Aqsa still periodically wore the hijab, and sometimes other students picked on her.

"They didn't accept her as easily as they did when she changed her appearance. I told her, if someone doesn't like you for the way you are inside, the way you dress won't influence them," said Amal, who knew Aqsa through her older sister, Irim.

Aqsa sparred with her father about skipping classes, admitted Amal, but she never thought the girl feared Mr. Parvez.

In the two weeks they lived in the same house, Amal and Aqsa bonded -- and the older girl learned that Aqsa liked to call the shots.

"She was a dominant personality," Amal said. She wanted to be the centre of attention, loved posing for pictures, gossiping about boys and experimenting with her appearance. "Typical teen stuff," Ms. Tahir said.

Privately, Aqsa appeared to be lonely. She was her own best friend, and Amal overheard her talking to herself often. "I talked with her a lot during these two weeks because I completely felt this is my responsibility," Ms. Tahir said. "And I felt so bad when things had happened this way. I kind of felt guilty, maybe I could have done something different. And then I felt peace. She must be more happy with God, but this is not the way it should be."



- Rajinder Singh Atwal stabbed his 17-year-old daughter, Amandeep, 17 times after he discovered she was dating a boy he disapproved of. Atwal was convicted of second-degree murder in British Columbia in March, 2005. He automatically received a life sentence of 25 years in prison.

-A devout Muslim's strict religious beliefs drove him to murder his favourite daughter when he found her "secret" boyfriend in her bedroom, a jury in the U.K. heard in February, 2002, the Manchester Evening News reported. Faqir Mohammed, a father of 10 children, stabbed the 24-year-old student in the head after finding the man when he came home unexpectedly. His original target was the boyfriend, student Bilal Amin, but he escaped by jumping from the bedroom window. The father chased him, but when his daughter tried to stop him, he took hold of her and stabbed her repeatedly, reports stated. "According to the law it was not right, but according to religion it was right," he told detectives.

-Hina Saleem, 21, was found buried in the backyard of her family's home in Italy. Four men, including her father and uncle, were accused of premeditated murder and hiding the body, lawyer Carlo Bonardi was quoted as saying in an Associated Press story in August, 2006.

Ms. Saleem's mother, Bushra Begun Saleem, told AP her daughter was disobedient -- often out late without saying where she was or when she was coming home. She also said she did not forgive her husband for his alleged participation in the killing.

-A Kurdish immigrant in Sweden, who killed his daughter because he did not like her modern way of life, pleaded guilty to the murder in March, 2002. Rahmi Sahindal said he had not planned the killing but lost his temper when he came across his daughter, Fadime, while she was paying a secret visit to her mother and sisters in January. He gunned her down at point-blank range before their eyes. Fadime, 26, had fled the family home to escape from her father and other male relatives who did not want her to mix freely in Swedish society. Sahindal was trying to arrange a marriage for her in Turkey and threatened her when he found out she had been dating a Swedish man.

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