Islamic leaders rose to the defence of their religion Thursday as the Muslim community continued to grieve the death of a 16-year-old girl— and deny suggestions that her slaying should in any way be interpreted as a reflection on their faith.
Islam condemns violence and teaches adherents not to force their beliefs upon others, Sheik Alaa El-Sayyed, imam at Mississauga's Islamic Society of North America, told a news conference in the suburban city west of Toronto that was once home to Aqsa Parvez.
The high school student, who died late Monday in hospital, was embroiled in a long-standing dispute with her family over her apparent reluctance to wear the hijab, the traditional Muslim headscarf, her school friends say.
Police were summoned to her home after a man called 911 to say he'd killed his daughter.
Parvez's father Muhammad, a taxi driver in Mississauga, is in custody and charged with murder. He has not yet entered a plea.
Police have also charged his 26-year-old son, Waqas, with obstructing police in connection with his sister's death. He will appear in a Toronto-area court on Friday for a bail hearing.
"The bottom line is, it's a domestic violence issue," El-Sayyed said.
"We, as Muslims, are Canadians and we should be dealt with just like everyone else. We have rights, duties… pros and cons just like all other human beings."
Autopsy results released Wednesday found Parvez died of "neck compression."
Heated public debate
The tragedy has underscored a controversial and heated public debate about women's rights within Canada's Islamic communities, and inflamed existing tensions already strained by what Muslim leaders say is ignorance and misunderstanding in Canadian society.
Women ultimately have the choice of whether or not they want to wear a hijab, but Islam teaches that such women occupy a more advanced position within the religion, El-Sayyed said.
"When I look at a woman who is covered, I look at her as a soul, a person, a mentality— not a physical or sexual object," he said.
Muslim women who wear veils might not "look pretty," but their modest dress protects them, he added.
Mohammad Iqbal Alnadvi, a marriage counsellor and religious expert at the Al-Fatah Islamic Centre in Oakville, said he believes it's important for parents in Muslim families to give their daughters a choice when it comes to decisions of dress.
"My daughter, she's going into Grade 11, and she's taking the hijab," Alnadvi said.
"I never asked her to take the hijab, but I developed a mentality in her to choose— it is her choice."
Meanwhile, students and friends at Applewood Heights Secondary School were expressing outrage at the intense media attention generated by the death of their friend.
"This is not about religion," said one student, standing near the school and clad in a hijab, who refused to give her name.
Aqsa is to be buried Saturday in a funeral expected to draw more than 1,000 friends and family members touched by her story.