Although different cultures have different perspectives on arranged marriages, most people aren’t too happy with it. After all, to some, it’s akin to having your freedom taken away. While some relationships do work out, others can end badly. Regretfully for this young Afghan-Australian woman, her marriage ended with her murder.
Ruqia Haidari, then 20 was allegedly forced to marry Uber driver and abattoir worker Mohammad Ali Halimi for $15,000 dowry by her mother. Two months after her marriage, she was murdered by her husband with a kitchen knife. Ruqia’s mother, Sakina Muhammad Jan (45) was later arrested on the charge of causing another person to enter a forced marriage.
Last Wednesday (8th December), Mrs. Muhammad Jan attended her first court hearing via a video link. She pleaded not guilty to the charge. During the hearing, multiple witnesses came forth to give their testimony about the alleged forced marriage.
According to Ruqia’s friends, the young woman felt that her family was taking her future away. Her high school friend, Maryiam Khan shared that Ruqia was very unhappy about her marriage with Halimi. According to Maryiam, Ruqia felt he was too old. However, she did not share her feelings as she thought it would upset her mother.
Maryiam also stated that on Ruqia’s henna night, Mrs. Muhammad Jan had instructed her to tell Ruqia to smile, otherwise her mother would hit her. “(Ruqia) didn’t say anything, she just put on a fake smile and she had tears in her eyes,” she said. After her wedding, Ruqia moved to Perth to be with her husband. The next time Maryiam saw her friend was at her wedding. Ruqia had confided to her that she didn’t want to return to her husband. She had also shared that sentiment with her mother, but was allegedly told, “Don’t come back to us, we will only take back your dead body.”
Several people within the Shepparton’s Afghan community had approached Mrs. Muhammad Jan, hoping to change her mind. One of them was the community leader, Zahra Haydar-Big. She explained that Ruqia had been engaged before to a local Afghan boy at 16. The arrangement fell through two years later. “Ruqia told me that she didn’t want another arranged marriage, she wanted to wait until she was at least 27 or 28 years old to get married,” Zahra stated. But six months later, she was engaged to Halimi.
According to Zahra, Ruqia was upset by the arrangement, but did not want to ruin her mother’s reputation. In an effort to help, Zahra spoke to Mrs. Muhammad Jan. She urged Ruqia’s mother to wait until Ruqia had attended university. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Mrs. Muhammad Jan supposedly told Zahra that Halimi was pushing them to do the wedding. “I am under pressure from the boy,” she allegedly said. When asked if the family knew Halimi well enough to trust him, Ruqia’s mother reportedly said, “Whatever happens, we are going to blame (Shukria Muqadas)“. Shukira was the matchmaker who had paired the two.
Shukira was also a family friend and neighbour who knew members from both families. She had apparently arranged the marriage at Halimi’s sister’s request. However, she had never met the man. Ruqia’s first meeting with Halimi only lasted for half an hour before Halimi agreed to wed her. Although she was initially happy, Ruqia started becoming distant with Halimi. Shukira mentioned that Ruqia had told her she was being forced to marry by her mother and sisters. Shukira supposedly tried to call it off, but when it seemed the marriage would continue, she helped arrange it.
Witnesses had told the court that outsiders did not interfere in family affairs as it was frowned upon. For that reason, many suspected Ruqia had not asked for help. Maryiam also mentioned that it was a source of pride for Afghan families to marry their girls young.
Ruqia had supposedly contacted the Australian Federal Police’s human trafficking team three months before her wedding. She allegedly informed them that she was being threatened and coerced by her family into a forced marriage with Perth man Mohammad Ali Halimi. However, the then 20-year-old ended up going through with the marriage in November 2019.
Six weeks after the wedding, Halimi murdered Ruqia by slitting her throat with a kitchen knife twice. They had previously been arguing over Ruqia’s repeated rejections to Halimi’s request to consummate their marriage. Halimi had supposedly phoned Ruqia’s brother after committing the murder to tell him: “If you’re a man, come and get your sister’s dead body.” Halimi later turned himself in and was sentenced to life in prison earlier this year.
Forced marriage is considered a form of slavery in Australia and is a criminal offence. So far, no one has ever been convicted of the offence in Australia.
Mrs. Muhammad Jan is scheduled to appear in Melbourne’s County Court on 19th January 2022 to determine her case. If found guilty, she will be the first person in Australia to be convicted of forced marriage.