Bano Shahdady threw away her Burka, only to be killed by her husband disguised in a Burka
March 7, 2014
By John Goddard
TORONTO—When her baby got a heart transplant at Sick Children’s Hospital, Bano Shahdady threw away her burqa.
At twenty years old, after years of religious training, she also decided to return to public high school. With help from her son’s doctors and a social worker, she arranged to rent an apartment to leave her parents and husband.
It was there, two weeks after she moved in, that police found her strangled to death, her son left alone with the body for 15 hours, murdered by a man hiding his identity behind a burka.
On Wednesday, the husband Abdul Malik Rustam was sentenced to life in prison for the murder with no chance of parole for 17 years.
“A woman has an absolute right to end any relationship,” Judge John McMahon of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice told the court. He said that Rustam planned the attack, disguised himself in a burqa to gain access to the apartment, and justified his actions to police. The judge also said that the victim’s father forgave Rustam and pleaded for mercy in court on his behalf, without once mentioning the loss of his daughter.
The facts, as the judge outlined them, pointed to an “honour killing,” a crime distinct from other murders because its motive is to cleanse perceived family dishonour caused by a wife’s or daughter’s behaviour. “Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate… ‘honour killings,’” says the federal Discover Canada guide issued to new immigrants.
But the judge never said the two key words.
“Man gets life sentence for murdering wife,” read the Toronto Star’s headline, relegating the crime to a domestic abuse case.
The Toronto Sun went with, “Man who wore ‘burka’ sentenced in estranged wife’s killing.” Not a single other Canadian news outlet reported the story.
Bano Shahdady deserves better. Not only did she fight her attacker — by clawing at him and surviving his strangulation attempts for a full 30 minutes — but she also fought the Islamist social ideology that had kept her a vassal in her own home.
This is the story nobody else will tell.
Eleven days after Bano’s death in July 2011, a relative and a family friend, both of them men, spent two hours telling it to me. Both asked that their names not be used, saying that they could not officially speak for the family. Further information comes from an “agreed statement of facts” that Judge McMahon read aloud at the sentencing.
When she was 18 months old, Bano came to Toronto from Pakistan with her parents, the relative said. They settled in Scarborough, where her father joined the Islamist movement Tabligi Jamaat, meaning “Proselytizing Group.” He took a religious title, calling himself Mullah Abdul Ghafoor.
“She was very bright,” the relative said of Bano. “I remember her reading a thick Harry Potter book. She said, ‘Go to any page and read the first two sentences and I will tell you the rest.’ I thought she was bluffing. I went to page 20 and read the first two lines, and she told me the rest.”
When Bano was 13 or 14, her father pulled her out of her Canadian school and enrolled her in a Muslim religious school in Karachi, Pakistan. When she turned 17, he arranged for her to marry her first cousin, an illiterate tailor, who was 25. Almost right away, Bano got pregnant and quit school. She returned to Canada to have the baby at a Canadian hospital.
“When she came back she was completely indoctrinated and completely covered,” the relative said. “You could not see her face. She wasn’t allowed to talk.”
In August 2009 Bano’s son was born with a heart defect and a few months later underwent a transplant.
“It was very emotional,” the relative recalled. “We were all waiting in the waiting room when the doctor said the heart was coming. The government sent a plane to Arizona, got the heart, returned to Pearson, and a helicopter was bringing it to Sick Kids’.
“I was crying,” he said. “Here was a Muslim family that believed that Muslims are supreme, and everybody else will go to hell because they are not Muslim, and some Christians in Arizona are giving them their child’s heart.
“They phoned to see if everything was all right,” he said. “In the Muslim world, nobody gives a heart to anybody.”
After the operation, Bano visibly changed.
Throws Burka and Hijab
“She opened up,” the relative said. “She threw away her burqa. For a while she wore the hijab, then she threw away the hijab. She joined Facebook and organized a website called Balouch Entertainment. She was openly showing her reaction against the mullahs and fanaticism.”
In March 2011 husband Abdul Malik Rustam arrived in Canada as a landed immigrant and saw his son for the first time. He moved in with Bano and the boy in Bano’s parents’ basement. By then, the relative said, Bano wanted to move out.
“She said she wanted a divorce,” Judge McMahon said picking up the story.
Bano went on social assistance and on July 1, 2011, rented an apartment on Eglinton Ave. E. After fixing it up, she moved in.
Two weeks later, on July 22, shortly after 1 a.m., Rustam arrived at her building “planning to cause her harm,” the judge said. “Security video showed him dressed in a full burqa, only his eyes showing, and wearing female white wedge shoes.”
Rustam got off at the sixth floor. Still wearing the burqa, he tilted up the security camera pointing at his estranged wife’s door and knocked. Bano let him in. Within minutes the downstairs neighbour, who was awake texting, heard furniture scraping the floor and muffled screams, as though the screamer had a hand over the mouth. After 30 minutes the noises stopped.
The autopsy showed cuts and bruises around the face, neck, clavicle and upper back. Whether Rustam strangled her with a scarf, or a soft belt, or while wearing gloves, or with his bare hands could not determined. He left the body on the bathroom floor and his two-year-old son screaming in the living room. The strangulation had taken place in front of him. On his way out Rustam broke a heel and had to carry the shoes, still wearing the burka. “He did not panic,” the judge said.
Morning prayers in Mosque after Midnight Murder
Rustam went home to his in-laws’ basement. At 4:30 a.m. he got up with his father-in-law to attend morning prayers at the mosque, then went to work. When somebody asked why his face was badly scratched, he said he got into a fight with “some black guy.”
Later that day, when his brother asked about the scratches, Rustam replied, “I finished her by the throat.” The brother understood. At about 5 p.m., more than 15 hours after the murder, the in-laws rescued the boy and Rustam went to the police at 43 Division.
“He said he killed his wife and had justification for his actions,” the judge said without elaborating. Police charged Rustam with first-degree murder. Ten days before the trial, the judge accepted a guilty plea to second-degree murder of the young woman who once delighted in Harry Potter stories.