Thus if men would remember the duties they are to perform in being heads, some would not stand a tip-toe as they do, thinking themselves Lords & Rulers…
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.
Whenever people hear that I’ve come back from Saudi, I’m usually greeted with a raised eyebrow, an uncomfortable side glance or a “really? Saudi?” I thought I’d shed some light on my experience there, culturally, not just spiritually.
Firstly, the strictness people associate with Saudi Arabia is relatively accurate, but this is fundamentally due to a strictness in cultural lifestyle. Additionally, what we in the West may consider to be “strict” is the norm for them. More and more often, I find myself talking to people who condemn the lack of freedom in their dress code; it’s conflicting, because on the one hand, it’s completely irrational to dispute another country’s cultural values when you don’t live there yourself. However, the lack of freedom for women is a growing concern within the East, especially in Saudi Arabia with more women desperately seeking freedom, independence and the desire to become something greater than a daughter, wife and mother. While it’s not exactly desirable being covered from head to toe in black garments in 35 degree heat, it respects the religious values of the kingdom, especially with it being an Islamic country.
Furthermore, it’s also imperative to understand the differentiation between orthodox Muslims and liberal Muslims: the latter of which is increasingly growing in the East. Once girls get their first period, they’re required to ‘veil’ – wear a burqa and niqab (face veil). As this necessity doesn’t extend to all Muslim countries and is not obligatory within Islam, it therefore becomes a cultural aspect of living in Saudi Arabia for the orthodox. Whilst some see the burqa as oppressive, other see it as liberating. This conflict is also very evident with Saudi women. Hearing stories of women’s experiences in Saudi, I’ve come to understand that women breaking the moulds set to confine them to their gender. The age of stay-at-home wives and daughters is slowly coming to an end as young members of the Saudi royal family are seen to be wearing jeans and dresses instead of the traditional burqa. Maybe we’ll see a drastic increase in western clothing becoming a prominent part of Saudi culture in a few years.
Finally, whilst on my travels I noticed the undeniable amount of wealth Arabs are born into. From families of seven travelling in first class on flights around the world to hands and necks adorned with gold, it’s clear that the rich, have a good life out there. Yet, when you pass a shopping centre and turn onto a side road, slums slowly come into view with children sitting outside, begging for money whilst the elders take refuge in the shade. They’re not wealthy enough to afford a fan, or pay electricity bills. This paradox of extreme wealth juxtaposed with extreme deprivation within metres of each other brings to light just how little is being done for the people of Saudi, 15% of which live in poverty. Since the assassination of King Faisal, a King who had great ideas for Saudi in his plans to liberate the country and introduce more freedom and independence as well as financial reform designed to help the people, the country has digressed. The royal family live with an abundance of wealth at their fingertips: the people’s money. Instead of projecting this wealth onto poorer parts of the country, helping eradicate poverty and poor living standards for those who can afford very little, the royal family are seen to be travelling across the world, to their villas in Spain and Cannes or apartments in central London.
My love for Makkah and Medina stems from a spiritual enlightening I gained whilst on my pilgrimage. My love cannot extend to Saudi Arabia as a whole, simply because of the explicit inequality which is grossly overlooked by the country’s wealth as a whole. The people’s money is not being used effectively. Women are awfully restricted in that they still cannot drive; if they don’t hold a valid driving license, they cannot vote. They’re required to travel with a chaperone. They cannot take part in criminal proceedings as they’re considered forgetful and too emotional. Saudi has a long way to go to achieve gender equality and freedom; something which may never be achieved, predominately due to Wahhabi sects exercising their beliefs on how one should live their lives as a true Muslim. It’s the 21st century, but it appears Saudi are still centuries behind.