When you left a bad marriage, sania khan said some members of his muslim community from South Asia made him feel that had “failed in life”.
Through TikTok, he found support and comfort in strangers, until her ex came back and killed her.
This article contains details that may be disturbing to some readers.
Their bags were packed. I was ready to be free.
July 21 was to be the day Sania Khan, 29, left Chicago and the trauma of a relationship gone wrong to start a new chapter alone in her native Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Instead, he returned home that day in a coffin.
3 days before, Cops had found Khan unresponsive near the front door of the Chicago building she previously shared with her husband, Raheel Ahmad, 36 years old.
She had a gunshot wound to the back of her head and was pronounced dead on the spot.
Before the police arrived Ahmad had taken his own life with a shot.
According to police reports obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, the couple was “going through a divorce” and Ahmad, who had moved to another state while estranged from Khan, had traveled some 1,100 kilometers back to his old home “to save the marriage”.
The murder and subsequent suicide was the tragic final chapter in the life of Khan, a young Pakistani-American photographer who had recently found recognition on the social network TikTok as a voice for women struggling with marital trauma and the stigma of divorce in the South Asian community.
“I gave everything for you”
Her death shocked her friends and resonated with her fans and other South Asian women who say they have felt pressure to stay in unhealthy relationships to keep up appearances.
“She said turning 29 would be her year and a fresh start,” said BriAnna Williams, a friend from college. She “she was so excited.”
For her friends, she was a joy to be around: authentic, positive, and selfless almost to the extreme.
“She was someone who gave everything for you,” recalled Mehru Sheikh, 31, who called Khan her best friend.
“Even when she was going through really tough times in her life, she was the first to call you and ask how your day was going,” she added.
On Instagram, where he first built a public platform, Khan described his passion for photography with a bio line that read: “I help people fall in love with themselves and others in front of the camera”.
Khan photographed weddings, maternity photo shoots, baby shower and other milestones in a person’s life, often for high-paying clients, but also for many of their female friends.
“Behind the camera is where she came to life,” Sheikh said. “She had the ability to make people feel comfortable on camera, to capture pure emotion and joy.”
Meanwhile, she was looking for the same kind of joy in her own life. After dating Ahmad for about 5 years, they got married in June 2021 and moved to Chicago.
“They had a great Pakistani wedding, fabulous,” a childhood friend recalled. “But the marriage was built on a foundation of lies and manipulation.”
Khan’s friends claim that Ahmad had long-standing mental health problems. The couple had mainly kept a long distance relationship before marriage, which, according to her friends, probably obscured the extent of their incompatibility.
The problems came to a head last December when Khan told a friend that Ahmad was having a mental health crisis and that she felt insecure.
The BBC was unable to reach the Ahmad family for comment.
Members of the Khan family declined, through Sania’s friends, to speak for this article.
A dozen murders-suicides occur in the US each week, of which two-thirds involve intimate partners, according to the Violence Policy Center.
Mental illness and relationship problems are often identified among the top risk factors for women facing abuse from their partners.
Domestic violence experts say that women are at higher risk of being killed by an intimate partner when they are leaving the relationship.
The December episode convinced Khan, who until then had kept details of the relationship private, to open up about her unhappy marriage, her friends said.
They said Khan spoke about the fights in their marriage, telling them that her husband did not sleep and often acted strangely, that he refused their pleas to seek help or go to therapy, and that he felt his health problems mentally they had become a burden to her.
But the friends allege that while they told Khan to leave her husband, others advised her to stay with him.
The fear of what they will say
Williams, 26, recalled her old friend breaking down when they last saw each other in Chicago in May.
“She told me that divorce was considered shameful and that she felt extremely lonely,” Williams told the BBC. She further recounted how Khan used the phrase “what will people say?”, Or in Urdu and Hindi, log kya kahenge.
The daughter of a divorced couple herself, she said she had witnessed firsthand the stigma that some South Asian communities attach to women who leave their marriages.
“There’s a lot of cultural pressure around the affected family and how it’s seen in the outside world,” said Neha Gill, executive director of Apna Ghar, a Chicago-based organization that offers services on culturally sensitive issues to predominantly South American women. Asia facing domestic violence.
Many South Asian communities continue to see women as inferior and in need of control, Gill said, adding: “Cultures are very collective, so it’s about prioritizing family or community over safety and security. welfare of a person”.
But with the support of her friends, Khan filed for divorce and got a hearing in August to finalize the separation.
She also filed a restraining order and changed the locks on her doors, her friends said.
And he started sharing his story on TikTok, where she described herself as “the black sheep” in her community.
One of his posts says: “Going through a divorce as a South Asian woman sometimes feels like you have failed in life”.
“My family members told me that if I left my husband I would let Shaytan (the devil in Arabic) ‘win’, that I dress like a prostitute and that if I go back to my hometown they will kill each other,” says another.
Another college friend, Naty, 28, who asked that her last name not be published, vividly remembers the first time Khan went viral on the platform.
“He called me on the phone non-stop; she told me ‘this is what i need to do: talk about my relationship and be a leader for women leaving their toxic marriages’”.
With each post, Khan found comfort and strength, even as he “received backlash” for airing the breakup of his marriage, according to Naty.
An entrenched culture
At the time of his death, more than 20,000 people followed her on TikTok.
Bisma Parvez, 35, a Pakistani-American Muslim, was one of them.
“Memory, [después] from the first video of hers that I saw, I just prayed for her,” she said.
“Women in these situations are told to have know (patience in Arabic) and, in an abusive relationship, patience is not the answer.”
Parvez mourned Khan’s death on TikTok, one of many videos shared about her on the platform.
The debate has only expanded since then.
Apna Ghar, the Chicago domestic violence organization, said it plans to host a virtual panel discussion to commemorate Khan in late August a month after his death.
And amid outpourings of affection from friends and followers on social media, Khan’s former high school classmates created a scholarship in his name.
“Everyone is very discreet, but social media helps you realize that this is a global problem,” Parvez said.
“We always tell women to protect themselves, but it is also important to raise sons who respect women. That teaching begins in the home and every home has to make that change.”
It may interest you:
* He left his wife on their wedding day because she danced to a provocative song at the party
* Shall I divorce or continue with my marriage? A mathematical equation helps you decide
* The golden rules for dealing with divorce
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