Faryal Makhdoom is a young model and activist as well as the wife of two time World Boxing Association Champion, Amir Khan.
Very recently, Faryal announced via Snapchat that it was time to break the silence surrounding the abuse she and her husband had suffered at the hands of Amir’s mother and sister. She let followers know that Amir is an amazing husband and son and has done everything to support his family, even in the face of the abuse.
In the several Snapchats detailing what had happened in the family, Faryal accused her mother-in-law of demanding that Amir file for divorce while Faryal was nine months pregnant with their first child. The accusations even go as far as stating that Amir’s mother and sister physically assaulted Faryal when her husband was not home. This very public airing of family drama caused an outpouring of support for Faryal on social media, which is a change, as she usually gets peppered with trolls and cyber-bullying on her Instagram page.
Conjectures of family conflict in the Khan family have been rife for several years now. Therefore, Faryal’s revelations are essentially confirmation of the gossip and widespread speculation.
Most of Amir’s family members are working with him or for him in some capacity while others are just outright dependent on him financially. The fact is, Amir Khan is the golden egg laying goose for his family. He has made no secret of the fact that his father takes care of his finances. Therefore, it’s almost expected that a wife in any shape or form could be an inconvenience, especially if she wises him up about just how much sponging his family is doing. Added to this is Faryal’s American-Muslim background which is in large contrast to the British-Muslim background shared by her in-laws. Generally speaking, British-Muslims with South Asian roots (like Amir’s family) tend to be less liberal than their American counterparts. The North of England where Amir and Faryal live is a particularly regressive diaspora of South Asians.
Faryal’s story encompasses all the negative stereotypes of South Asian families, including an abusive mother-in-law, violent sisters-in-law, and a jealous, underachieving brother-in-law. She has actually evidenced some of her claims of abuse through screenshots of text and Twitter messages.
Faryal’s public family feud might be providing a dose of gossip and social media drama, however, it is more important than it might seem. I feel it reveals many layers of issues still plaguing South Asian communities and families. And, in many ways, her exposé is the perfect example of the Muslim, British, South Asian marriage problem. The sheer number of women and girls (and some men) empathizing with her and drawing similarities while disclosing their own woes is evidence that there is a real issue at hand.
I ask myself, as I am sure many others do, how and why tribulations such as physical violence, bullying, and threats of divorce would still be a part of society now — in 2016, let alone, the life of a multi-millionaire?
Surely, we are civilized, refined, educated, second, third, and even fourth generation British Muslims. Why is this regressive, antiquated mentality still around?
Unfortunately, one of the answers to this is women. It breaks my heart to acknowledge this, but more often than not, it is women who break women down. It is frequently women who oppress the other important women in their lives. I can only hope they unwittingly let their insecurities, jealousy, prejudices, and cultural retrogression cloud their better judgment. However, it may well be as calculated and malice as it often seems, and, if so, then we truly have a long way to go as a society.
Why is this regressive, antiquated mentality still around?
The mother-in-law, daughter-in-law dilemma is nothing new and has plagued a whole world worth of women. It transcends cultures, continents, and religions. Arguably, it presents itself in differing forms, wherever it is found. But at its core, the issues are often all the same, just dressed up differently.
The fact is: two very different women (mother and daughter-in-law) are often thrown together because of their common interest in one man. The battle that ensues is one for the attention, affection, and commitment of this one man. I believe this issue is more pronounced in the South Asian community, but perhaps that’s my only experience of it, where the matriarch mother-in-law essentially owns her son and all that belongs to him. The encroachment (in the mother-in-law’s opinion) on her power, by a naïve, inexperienced, seductress will not be tolerated or endured. If the daughter-in-law won’t conform to the demands of her in laws, she will either be emotionally destroyed, excluded, or worse, divorced.
The South Asian mother-in-law is possibly at the top of the overbearing mother-in-law leader board. She inherently feels that the daughter-in-law owes her a lifelong, eternal debt now that she, the mother-in-law, has bestowed upon an undeserving girl her most valuable possession. It is now the job of of this unworthy girl to be her everlasting slave. You may think I am being over dramatic, however, my choice of words is actually mild in comparison to the narratives I have been privy to. My own grandmother didn’t mince her words when informing my mother of her “place.” My own experience of a ‘nearly’ mother-in-law is not too far away from what I describe.
I believe their mentality stems from the South Asian sub-continent, from a time when girls were seen as commodities, burdens, and less human — thus, less valuable than men. We may have left the mother land behind and our immediate surroundings don’t breed such perceptions, but the platitudes of gender inequality are yet to be fully drained from some of our minds. There are residues of this thinking even in the most liberal South Asian minds.
In my experience, another fundamental contributing factor to this dilemma is ‘Eldest Son Syndrome.’ Amir Khan is the eldest son in his family. To those less familiar with the South Asian community, this fact translates into an expectation from parents of a lifelong commitment and unspoken pledge from their son.
He is expected to be the flag-bearer of the family, often the financial provider, and, in some cases, a father figure. My father is the eldest son in his family, therefore, I am all too familiar with what this role entails. This eldest son is expected to often forgo his responsibilities as a father and husband to maintain his status as a good son and brother. Emotionally manipulated and blackmailed, he has to obey the wishes of his family (mainly mother); he is threatened with curses, his mother not “forgiving him, her breast milk” (this is a Pakistani concept), being cut off from the family, etc. You get the picture. They will make him feel like crap about his existence if he doesn’t comply. I, myself, have witnessed men manipulated into divorcing their wives at the ultimatums of their mothers. I think mothers and daughters-in-law who have loving and understanding relationships might always be a rarity. But what I do believe is that we can work towards a society where we leave behind degenerating notions of gender inequality, bullying, and violence.
There are conflicting opinions on Faryal’s disclosures, complete with opposing camps. Some people claim there are two sides to every story or she may well be exaggerating, even lying. Another popular opinion and that of my own mother: “Regardless of what’s happening within the family, Faryal shouldn’t have broken her silence and taken to social media the way she has.” My mother’s comment didn’t disappoint or surprise me. Despite being a fairly liberal Muslim, my mother still has the residues of the South Asian subcontinent mentality I mentioned earlier.
The concept that men and especially women need to suffer in silence when it comes to family issues is almost a perquisite for identifying as South Asian. Revealing injustices that you or people you know are suffering is perfidious and shame-worthy. There are hundreds of messages of support under Faryal’s Instagram pictures with numerous girls claiming to be in her exact position. Therefore, her coming forward with the issues she’s having with her in-laws not only humanizes her, but potentially provides support and confidence to women in her position. They can now ask themselves why they should suffer in silence. And whose respect they are maintaining by doing so.
Faryal shared a screenshot of her sister-in-law threatening to “destroy” her if she didn’t stop sharing her truths on social media. If the accusations of abuse, violence, and threats of divorce are true, why should Faryal stay quiet? It is high time we lift the lid on these taboos and disarm the fear of shame and disgrace because, let’s be honest, the only thing disgraceful about Faryal disclosing her issues with her in-laws is that it took this long for her to do it.
We no longer live in rural South Asian villages, women are not commodities and or slaves, and no, a man is not doing a girl a favor by marrying her. These thought patterns need to be eradicated from our culture. Such ideas should not be allowed to exist in a society where women are proven to be surpassing men in every way. The onus is on us as a society; we need to empty the power these notions once had in a land that is alien to you and I. We need to realize that destroying a daughter-in-law is destroying the core of our society. We can’t expect broken women to produce strong men or women, so let’s stop this breaking and start building each other up.
I can’t say I have ever found Faryal inspirational and I would be lying if I said I suddenly find her that now. What I do find her to be is brave. Perhaps inadvertently, nonetheless, Faryal has sparked a meaningful conversation, a conversation that is well overdue. A conversation that quietly takes place between women all the time, in whispers and in sobs, while screaming and crying; a conversation about women oppressing women. This oppression needs to stop.