Faryal Makhdoom: The Stigmatisation of Daughters-in-law in Asian Societies

Current Affairs

The current Khan saga will have most in hysterics over the mundane situation which has been awfully propelled into the media limelight. A bitter dispute between a wife and her in-laws has made headlines across eager tabloids, and most people think very little of the conflict. However, for Asian and Muslim women, this saga stands for much more than just a family dispute: it stands for the treatment of women across society by their in-laws, and the particular stigma associated with a daughter-in-law standing up against her husband’s parents.

Faryal Makhdoom, wife to boxer Amir Khan, has come forward on social media revealing the psychological and physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her in-laws. The details are, of course, readily available on The Sun, The Mirror and naturally, The Daily (hate) Mail, so I won’t go on about that aspect of this whole situation. However, I do want to address the fundamental issue that has arisen out of this dispute; the treatment of daughters-in-law in Asian families.

Firstly, Amir Khan’s parents took to Geo News¹ to publicly condemn Faryal’s dress code, claiming that was the subject of conflict in their family. His mother claims she wanted Faryal to adopt a scarf, typically worn in Islam by some women to cover up, as she was unhappy with her daughter-in-law’s Western dress code. This in itself is problematic for many reasons. There is nowhere in the Qur’an that says women have to dress in accordance to their in-laws. Secondly, as much as I appreciate that some can interpret Faryal’s dress code as not entirely in accordance with Islamic wishes, no one has a right to dictate what a woman can and cannot wear. A woman is perfectly entitled to wear a dress if she wants to. Attempting to exercise this kind of control over a daughter-in-law cannot and should not be accepted.

Many people, especially those in the Islamic community, claim Faryal’s refusal to adhere to her in-laws’ conditions are rebellious and disrespectful. This attitude of utter disregard for a woman’s plea for awareness is the exact reason why our culture and religion is given a bad name, because, by condemning Faryal Makhdoom as a Western, disrespectful daughter-in-law, we ultimately ignoring her in favour of very old cultural customs which cannot be applied to present day society. Furthermore, I’m baffled at the men who comment on this like they have any idea what is expected of a woman once she leaves her own parents for her husband’s. If anything, the comments made by some men on social media regarding this have come across as incessantly misogynist in nature and sexist. If a man was condemned to a strict adherence to cultural, and ultimately backward, norms, they’d refute them in a heartbeat. In our culture, men tend to prefer exercising control over women, and Faryal’s outburst on social media has exposed us to this harsh reality. The extent of this control extends to physical violence in many cultures, including beating and forcing wives to take part in household chores.

I’d be a hypocrite if I said I didn’t condone Faryal’s decision to take this to social media. In fact, I wholeheartedly support this. How else are we to understand the plight of women as they enter their husband’s households and are subjected to emotional and physical abuse? Of course a daughter-in-law should show nothing but kindness and respect to her in-laws, but the same kindness should be reciprocated: it’s not a one way street. Fundamentally, people cannot dictate and control their daughter-in-laws. That era is long over. Women should not be silenced into obedience and they certainly should not be forced into living under strict rules of in-laws. Women have no legal or religious duty to look after their in-laws, although it is culturally appreciated and desired.

For as long as I remember, I’ve known women to have an inferior title enforced upon them, simply because of their gender. Everything Faryal says is second-guessed and then compared to the plight of her in-laws who are elderly, and thus, assumed correct. A woman cannot be ridiculed for standing up against abuse. It’s interesting that people attack her for appearing fake, commenting on her undergoing plastic surgery and insulting her appearance before making a judgement on how right she was to come out in public and shame those who abused her.

Women are not bound by law into subservience to their husband’s family. And we most certainly will not be silenced by or into patriarchal dominance.

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