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Muslim girls living in Canada can reject hijab, leaders say


With a report from The Canadian Press

December 14, 2007

When she was 11 years old, Zeeshan Bazmi's daughter sat down with her father and told him she felt uncomfortable wearing a hijab to her Mississauga school, where most of her female classmates let their tresses hang free.

Mr. Bazmi - who considers himself a "devout follower of Islam" - said he and his wife were disappointed.

"We didn't like it, we didn't want her to drop it," he said.

These tensions emerged four years ago, but have recently been on Mr. Bazmi's mind in the days following the death of Mississauga teen Aqsa Parvez.

Ms. Parvez died Monday evening from "neck compression," said police. Her father, Muhammad Parvez, has been charged with murder.

Friends of the slain girl said she and her father often clashed over her reluctance to wear the hijab and adhere to traditional Pakistani notions of decency.

Mr. Bazmi said he had been proud of his daughter for wearing her hijab from a young age and following Islamic code, which he said is tied closely to Pakistani culture.

"But she didn't want to wear it, so she stopped," he said.

And that was that.

Mr. Bazmi's daughter is now 15 and she and her two younger sisters have decided not to wear the hijab, against their father's will.

While Mr. Bazmi hopes they will one day wear the religious head scarf again, he said he can't do much and sees little point in using force.

"We want the religion to come from within," he said.

Mr. Bazmi arrived in Canada in 1975 when he was 19. His father started the Pakistan Canada Amity Forum about 15 to 20 years ago and also helped launch a Pakistani community centre in Mississauga.

After arriving in Canada, he said his parents, like many Pakistanis, were uncomfortable with the "less modest" style of dress worn by Canadian youth. He said many parents go overboard in adhering to religious doctrine.

"Just because they're afraid their kid might go to the extreme, they are extra strict on them," he said.

Ms. Parvez's friends have said she would often wear her hijab and long, loose clothing on the bus ride to school, but then change into more slim-fitting styles at school and expose her hair.

"When they come over here and they go to school and there's nobody telling them, 'No, you cannot do this' during the day, but when they go home they hear it. And I think that makes it really difficult," he said.

Mr. Bazmi said his wife has never worn a hijab herself, but said "it is [his] hope she will one day start wearing one."

Although women who wear hijabs occupy higher positions in Islam, according to religious teachings, the choice is ultimately up to the woman, said Sheik Alaa El-Sayyed, imam at Mississauga's Islamic Society of North America.

He and other Muslim leaders appeared at a news conference at the Islamic Centre of Canada in Mississauga yesterday and said Ms. Parvez's death was not connected to their faith.

"The bottom line is, it's a domestic-violence issue," he said. "We, as Muslims, are Canadians and we should be dealt with just like everyone else."

Ms. Parvez's funeral has been rescheduled for tomorrow afternoon.



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