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Many in community grapple with addressing domestic violence, after murder of Sania Khan by Alpharetta-based former partner
As community members mourn and process the recent tragedy, local leaders seek ways to address domestic violence
On Sunday, July 24th, over two dozen community members gathered in Johns Creek at Masjid Jafar to process what had happened just six days earlier - the death of two people whom many in the area had known personally - 29 -year old Sania Khan and 36-year old Raheel Ahmed.
On July 18th, Chicago Police reported they found the body of a woman with a gunshot wound to her head in an apartment. She was pronounced dead at the scene. The man in the apartment also suffered from gunshot wounds and died later at Northwestern Hospital. Investigations into the case are ongoing, but the Cook County’s medical examiner’s office has listed Khan’s death as a homicide and Ahmed’s as a suicide. According to news reports, the couple had separated and Ahmed had driven up from Alpharetta to Chicago to see Khan.
The tragedy has sparked a discussion in some parts of the community around domestic violence - an issue that has never been easy to address and even now, says Imam Arshad Anwar, continues to be a challenge.
Anwar is the resident imam at Masjid Jafar and helped organize the event on Sunday. He says that getting people to talk about the conditions that can lead to life threatening violence isn’t easy. “It's always been a struggle.”
Around 30 women showed up to the gathering at the masjid, said Anwar. Representatives from Raksha, a local South Asian organization that supports survivors of violence, and Noor Family Services (NFS), a legal support organization for survivors, shared information about resources out there for the community. “There were conservative Muslim women…there were more liberal Muslim women…it wasn't like it was just one type of crowd,” said Anwar.
But he was disappointed there weren’t more men in attendance. “Obviously the people that are impacted the most are going to show up and talk about it. But the people that can intervene more often than not, are the men, who can talk to their friends and brothers and neighbors, etc. There's a lot of work to be done. A lot of work to be done.”
Chama Ibrahim, executive director of NFS, says the web of family and community ties survivors are in - and views about divorce - can often make it difficult for them to get the support they need within their social structures. Organizations like Raksha and NFS provide much needed support- everything from legal services to helping placing survivors in safe, anonymous shelters.
Aparna Bhattacharya, executive director of Raksha, has been working to address domestic violence in the South Asian community in the Atlanta area for over two decades. She said, "I am grateful that Imam Arshad not only made space for this conversation but also started a dialogue on social media so that it was accessible to many community members who might not feel safe talking about this in public."
The community's role - said Aparna - is key. "Part of what we talked about was the role community has in the pressure to keep up appearances and not talk about divorce and abuse." She said attendees also discussed how violence impacts children who live in an abusive home. "I hope that we can collectively come up with ways to help our community break generational patterns of violence and create pathways of healing for all of us."'
Imam Anwar said he listened intently to what he was hearing on Sunday - and he took notes. He wants to incorporate what he learned from community members into future programming and khutbas, or sermons, at the masjid. "We want to do something impactful."
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Ms. Ibrahim plans to reach out to other imams in the community to suggest they talk about domestic violence in their Friday khutbas. “Some do, some don’t,” she said. “As a nonprofit, we want to talk about it, we want to bring it to the community. We want people to know there is an agency that provides free services. We don't want anyone to suffer in silence.”
Anwar agrees that education and advocacy is critical - but he also wants to focus on intervention. "We need to have more emphasis on intervention resources, getting people out, and then standing behind people when they leave abusive relationships.”
Resources for Survivors of Violence
24-hour National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)24-hour
Georgia Crisis & Access Line (GCAL): at 1-800-715-4225
Georgia Statewide Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-33-HAVEN (42836)
Noor Family Services: (470) 589-7751
Raksha: (1 866) 725-7423
More resources here.