Amir Khan’s wife Faryal wishes with all her heart she had held her tongue a fortnight ago. ‘It is getting crazy,’ she says. ‘We all look stupid.’ Which is about the most measured thing she has said in recent weeks.
By ‘it’ she means the unholy row with her in-laws that began when she accused them of bullying and her ‘evil sister-in-law’ of hitting her in an astonishing social media rant.
Amir’s parents, who recently moved out of the home they once shared with their son and his wife in Bolton, denied the allegations in a television interview. Instead, they insisted their daughter-in-law was a ‘very evil’ woman who had brought shame on the family with her un-Islamic dress and determination to drive a wedge between them and their son.
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Amir Khan’s wife Faryal (right) wishes with all her heart she had held her tongue a fortnight ago
Amir’s mother Falak sobbed, his father Shah despaired. And Faryal? Well, let’s just say insults were soon being tossed around like the confetti at her wedding in 2013. So much so that, last week, Amir, 30, intervened pleading with his wife and family to end their ‘childish’ public feud: ‘This is getting to the point where they will lose a son and a husband,’ he warned on Twitter.
Faryal, 25, sighs wearily and shakes her head. ‘For Amir this is really hard because it’s the love of his life and the mother of his child fighting with his mum, dad and siblings. Obviously he’s not happy.
‘He said: “You should have controlled yourself.” But this was an anger that’s built up over the years. I’m not just blaming the mum and dad, I’m blaming the siblings. [Amir has an older married sister Tabinda, a brother Haroon and a younger sister Mariyah.]
‘They have been so unkind. I was in Pakistan with Amir’s family when his brother tweeted: ‘Michael Jackson isn’t dead. He lives with us.’ He was trying to say I’d had plastic surgery.’ Her pretty forehead wrinkles unhappily. ‘I was pregnant with our daughter, who’s now two, at the time. Can you imagine what it was like being in the same house with him when he was saying that?
She has been engaged in a row with her in-laws (pictured) that began when she accused them of bullying and her ‘evil sister-in-law’ of hitting her in an astonishing social media rant
‘I’ve never had plastic surgery. I’ve got fillers in my cheeks and my lips. My husband has never stopped me. He’s always been supportive but he wouldn’t confront his brother. He said: “Let it go. We have to be the bigger ones.”’
Haroon, meanwhile, recently posted on Twitter: ‘The world knows how good the Khan family is #saynomore’.
But, says Faryal, she has had to bite her lip too often in recent years. Because the subtext to this very public row is not only the control of Amir but of his fortune. With his film star looks and powerful punch, the former light welterweight world champion has amassed an estimated £30 million since he won a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics in Athens at the age of 17.
His father, Shah, was there beside him, triumphant. After all, it was he who introduced his son to boxing, supported and encouraged him.
In the messages, Faryal wrote: ‘Don’t get your sons married if you’re going to abuse and bully the wife’
He also, as a cursory search of Amir’s businesses reveals, became director of many of his son’s companies.
‘Amir has been under his family’s influence for so many years, which I understand because he started making money at such a young age,’ says Faryal. She is rightly proud of that, as a part-time model with a successful cosmetic company, she helps to support herself rather than expecting Amir to foot every bill.
‘Amir trusted his father but it became too much. He didn’t feel free to make a decision that he didn’t run past his father first because . . .’ She pauses, searching for the right words.
While her husband is a ‘modern’ Muslim, he also holds dear the traditions of his faith. To disrespect his parents goes against the grain.
Amir is heartily generous not just to his parents but to his extended family, including aunts, uncles and anyone from his parents’ village in Pakistan. Indeed, so close-knit is that village that members of Amir’s family rarely marry outside it.
Enter Faryal, a proud Muslim but also a gutsy, independent woman from New York. ‘Every single one of them is married to a cousin or a relative,’ she says. ‘Amir’s sister is married to a relative from the village. Amir’s brother’s marriage was arranged with a relative from the same village.
‘But Amir picked me because he fell in love with me. I was the first outsider, and asking me to marry him was the first big decision he made for himself. I think there was jealousy. He sent me so many gifts.
Faryal (pictured) is a proud Muslim but also a gutsy, independent woman from New York
‘I believe they couldn’t accept Amir had found someone who might take him away from them.
‘Two weeks before my wedding, I was asked to sign a pre-nup. In our culture, to ask a bride to do that is very disrespectful. One of his team gave it to me when Amir was in the training camp.
‘I signed it because I wanted to prove I didn’t want the money. I wanted Amir. He is the love of my life. When I was pregnant, Amir cancelled the pre-nup.
‘It was his choice but it made me happy because it showed he loved me.’ She twists the wedding band on her finger. ‘People have said: “Why have you made this so public?” But they don’t know how many times we’ve sat down and tried talking with his family.
‘I tried to be patient, but recently things got really bad.’
She’s referring to the nasty social media posts following her catwalk debut, when she modelled traditional wedding dresses at the Asiana Bridal Show Birmingham.
An internet troll commented that it ‘should be called dogwalk’ after Amir posted a photograph saying how proud he was of his wife. Instead of condemning the attack, Amir’s sister Mariyah endorsed it with sniggering emoticons.
Mariyah has apparently responded to Faryal’s claims in internet postings of her own, including a selfie with the words: ‘Do I look like I can beat someone up?’ She also wrote: ‘Love how some people have to go on social media and make up lies to get some support.’
Amir has been a target, too, Faryal says: ‘Then Amir innocently posted a picture of the house he was buying his parents in Bolton. He was so proud to be able to do that for them, but one of his siblings wrote a sarcastic message to him.’ Her nostrils flare in anger.
‘Amir has given a lot to his family and should be appreciated. I thought: “It’s time to speak up.” ’
Faryal is more reasoned, less fiery in the flesh than the unseemly exchange with her in-laws would suggest. When we meet she has been supporting her husband at a charity supper in Washington (where he’s raised £100,000 for victims of Aleppo), wearing a rather eye-catching gold embroidered cropped top slashed at the shoulders.
She said: ‘It’s not just the parents. I wonder if the older daughter [Tabinda] was filling the parents’ heads. She lived a block away in Bolton, but was always in our house’
It’s this sort of revealing outfit that her in-laws claim led to the row. The Khans believe women should cover their arms and legs.
Again, Faryal shakes her head. ‘I grew up wearing Western dress apart from on religious holidays. My husband likes me to be dressed up. He likes me to wear make-up.
‘He’s in the public eye. He wants a hot girl next to him, not a girl who’s just simple. The first time his parents came to my house in New York to ask my parents for my hand, I was wearing a sleeveless dress. If they didn’t like the way I dressed, why didn’t they address it then?
‘It’s not just the parents. I wonder if the older daughter [Tabinda] was filling the parents’ heads. She lived a block away in Bolton, but was always in our house.
‘She was very controlling and I remember her saying once: “You’re supposed to live with Amir but at any excuse all you do is f*** off to your mum’s in New York.”
‘I said: “You’re the last one to talk. You’re married but you’re always here at your mum’s house.”
‘She grabbed my hair and slapped my head. I was eight months’ pregnant. I told Amir but he didn’t believe me because he couldn’t believe me.’
Tears stream down her cheeks. ‘This isn’t about whether or not I bare myself,’ she says. ‘It was about not accepting your son’s wife and I was so lonely and scared.’
Which is why Faryal has agreed to this, her first in-depth interview since this extraordinarily public row exploded.
When many women marry into a traditional Muslim family, they don’t just move in with their husband but often with his unmarried sisters, brothers and parents, too.
‘When rivalries develop it is the bride rather than the family who is all too often cast aside,’ says Faryal.
‘So many girls have come up to me in Bolton and said they are single mothers now because their husband’s family told their sons to divorce them. Bolton is very, very backward. Compared to New York it’s a small village.
‘This isn’t about religion. I know very religious families who are very sophisticated. It’s about a lack of education.
‘I feel I have to stand up for those young women and say: “You’re not alone.” I have been very lucky because my husband has supported me but, believe me, Amir’s mother tried to make him divorce me.’
She said: ‘This isn’t about religion. I know very religious families who are very sophisticated. It’s about a lack of education’
According to Faryal, she was three months pregnant when Amir’s family first asked her mother to fly from New York and take her daughter home.
‘When my mum arrived, she begged Amir’s mum. Divorce is such a shameful thing for a girl in my culture. She even touched Amir’s mum’s feet [a gesture of deep respect and self-abasement]. Then she asked Amir: “Do you want me to take her?” He said no.
‘He was stuck in the middle but supported me. I’ve put up with so much emotional abuse. I will fight for Amir for ever and I will be with him for ever.’
There are, of course, two sides to every story, and the Khans have fiercely denied much of what Faryal has said in recent weeks.
In an interview, they insisted they have treated her ‘like our own daughter’ and accused her of causing the rift by dressing inappropriately. Shah said: ‘Faryal was adopting a dress code which in the Islamic faith was not acceptable. All this started with the issue of dressing.’
Shah has insisted that many of Faryal’s claims are ‘fabricated’, saying in a statement: ‘I, nor my family, have anything to justify to anyone for what Faryal has falsely accused my family of doing.’
Amir however, has jumped to his wife’s defence on Twitter: ‘I have supported my wife and that’s right because she was in the right. Since I’ve been married I’ve seen how my family and siblings have treated her. It wasn’t fair.’
Not fair? If Faryal’s account is anything to go by, it’s nothing short of shameful. They met five years ago in New York at a party and, soon, fell head-over-heels in love.
Indeed, so besotted was Amir with his ‘Pakistani Princess’ from a family of wealthy New York Muslims (her father has a £7 million fortune from property investments) that he asked for her hand in marriage within months.
They married 18 months later in a ceremony hosted by her parents for 250 guests at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, followed by a celebration for 3,800 people in Manchester.
After their honeymoon, Faryal and Amir returned to the home he shared with his family in Bolton.
‘The problems began on day one,’ she says. ‘We had two separate houses on the property so I went out shopping for food. Amir’s mother asked to look at my receipt.
‘She said: “Why have you spent £100 on breakfast? Why can’t you have breakfast here?” I said: “OK,” but then she said: “Why can’t you cook for your husband?” Every single thing I did was wrong.
Khan, pictured with his mother, father and brother Haroon in a photo posted on Mariyah’s Instagram account, has demanded his family and wife stop the public bickering
‘She’d complain to Amir: “She didn’t wear this today. She didn’t cook that today. She’s lazy. Why does she sit in the house by herself? Why doesn’t she come here?”
‘Amir would speak to me and I’d say: “I’ll try harder,” but when I sat in their house no one talked to me.
‘I remember soon after we had our daughter, Amir was going to Qatar for three weeks. I packed our bags, thinking: “We’re going to have so much fun as a family.” But Amir’s dad was like: “Why does she need to go everywhere with you? It’s like she’s your shadow.” ’
Relations went from bad to worse as the months passed. So much so that, earlier this year, Amir sat down with his family.
‘He said: “My wife is my wife and my parents are my parents. I’ll support both of you but give my wife space and have your own space.”
‘I think becoming a father changed my husband. He protected me a lot more because I was the mother of his child. His sense of responsibility grew and he started getting on top of his businesses. He began to open his eyes. That’s when they started being distant with Amir, which has really hurt him.
‘He said: “I looked after my parents. Why am I being treated like this?” They couldn’t deal with him wanting to be his own person and make his own decisions.’
Faryal’s distress is palpable. After the fundraiser, she will fly with their daughter to San Francisco where Amir will train for his next fight in April. This is the first time his father has not travelled with him.
‘This time I’ll be at the training camp supporting my husband so I don’t know how his father will feel about that. As to whether or not he will continue as Amir’s manager, we’ll have to see at the next fight.
‘There is, though, one thing I can be sure about: when we return to Bolton I am determined to raise awareness for young Muslim women. I would be a disgraced single mother with a two-year-old daughter if my husband hadn’t supported me.
‘It was wrong the way they treated me — very wrong.’