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Local imams tackling domestic abuse

December 13, 2007
RECORD STAFF; With files from The Canadian Press


Domestic violence will be the topic of sermons and talks at local mosques in the next few days.

It comes in reaction to the murder this week of a Mississauga teenager, whose death may have been the result of a culture clash with her father.

Friends of Aqsa Parvez, who was killed Monday night, have said the teenager did not want to wear a head scarf or dress in loose-fitting clothes the way many Muslim women do.

Parvez's father, Muhammad Parvez, 57, is charged with murder. He was led away from a Brampton courtroom in handcuffs yesterday after a judge denied him bail.

One of his sons, Waqas Parvez, 26, is charged with obstructing police .

Abdul Mannan Syed, imam at the mosque in Waterloo, said he doesn't know details about Aqsa's death but plans to dedicate part of his weekly sermon tomorrow to domestic abuse.

Syed said he occasionally preaches about how Muslim parents who are new to Canada should handle disputes with their children.

"Love is the best policy," he said in an interview yesterday. "You should not be harsh to them."

Syed said he doesn't believe domestic violence is common in the Muslim community he serves.

"Still I have to remind them that whatever extent you go, you cannot take the law in your hand," Syed said.

"Child abuse cannot be tolerated."

Syed said Islam teaches that the Prophet Muhammad was once angry with a slave girl, but his fear of God kept him from beating her.

"That attitude tells you you are not allowed, Islamically, to beat our children or abuse them," Syed said.

Some Muslims argue that a verse in the Qur'an (4:34) condones wife beating. But Syed said scholars believe this is a mistranslation.

Imams are quick to point to another Qur'anic verse (2:256) that says there is to be no compulsion in religious matters.

You can't force someone to take faith into his or her heart, said Abdul Raouf Kabbar, imam at the Islamic Centre of Cambridge.

"Usually, those who put on the hijab because the parents want (them) to do it, when they have freedom to take off the hijab, right away they take it off."

It doesn't make sense for a woman to wear a hijab if she hasn't taken Islam into her heart, he added.

A woman can wear a hijab but still interact inappropriately with men, he said.

"That is the duty of parents -- to plant this religion in the heart and in the mind of the kids. Otherwise we will just have outward practices."

Kabbar said he often dedicates his Friday sermons to parenting issues because he gets calls from frustrated parents who say their children don't listen to them.

Kabbar tells parents to spend time with their kids, explain the benefits of following Islam and encourage their children in the faith.

"In the end it's up to these kids to decide if they want (Islam) or not," said Kabbar, father of two young girls.

Parents and children have a duty toward? each other, he said.

"If I want my kids to respect me, I have to respect them, too."

Usman Patel, imam of the Jamai Umar-Al-Farooq mosque, also in Cambridge, said Muslims are about to celebrate a major holy day so his sermon tomorrow will be on that topic. But he hopes to address domestic violence during a talk on Sunday.

Patel stressed that the details of Aqsa Parvez's death aren't yet known. But Islam doesn't condone harming a woman to force her to wear the hijab, he said.
"You can explain (to) them nicely or maybe you can show your anger. But killing somebody -- definitely, certainly is not allowed."

Shahina Siddiqui, president of the Winnipeg-based Islamic Social Services Association, said domestic violence is a problem that cuts across social classes and faith groups.

"It's a human issue," said Siddiqui, who wrote a booklet for imams who deal with domestic abuse. "All communities are dealing with it."

But Muslim communities must work on developing social supports, she said, including mediators for children and parents.

"The issue is a young Canadian girl lost her life. Where were we? Why didn't we pick up the signs? Where was the help for the young girl?"

In a handwritten letter placed on a tribute at Parvez's school in Mississauga, friend Humza Imran said on Halloween of this year her friends were so concerned about her treatment at home they escorted the girl to her doorstep.

"You were so worried. . . so we all walked you home,'' Imran wrote.

The friend goes on to write that the Parvez family "seemed like nice people,'' but that Aqsa's relationship with them was clearly deteriorating.

"The last few days, I noticed there was something going on in your life, but I didn't take serious notice of it."I have really strong feelings against your dad.''

In another letter, a friend named Shianie wrote that she had gone to police to tell them about Aqsa's home life.

The girl's friends maintain she frequently clashed with her family because she chose to wear slim-fitting, western-style clothing and didn't want to cover her dark hair with the traditional hijab head scarf.

Outside court yesterday, Sean Muhammed Parvez, another brother of Aqsa's, told reporters he wasn't sure what exactly led to his sister's death.

"We don't know so far, we are upset,'' he said, adding that his mother was "sick'' because of the ordeal.

Defence lawyer Joseph Ciraco told reporters outside the family is distraught.

"It's clearly a tragedy,'' he said. "You've got a sister that's gone and a father and brother in jail.''

Ciraco added that Parvez has a heart condition and will have to see a doctor before his next court date, which will be on Jan. 29 via video link.


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