On December 20th, 23-year-old model Sahar Daftary died as a result of a fall from the 12th story of an apartment building in Greater Manchester (inna lillahi wa inna illaihi raji’un). May Allah have mercy on her soul. The death of this former Face of Asia has spurred many speculations in British media as to the cause of her death – was it suicide, or an accident?
Media reports inform us that Daftary was believed to have committed suicide as a result of splitting up with husband Rashid Jamil. However, her family has stated that Daftary would never commit suicide and thus have introduced suspicions of an accident.
According to news reports, Daftary met Jamil at a fashion show. They later married. However, the marriage was limited to a religious ceremony and was never registered in the U.K., thus leaving the marriage unrecognized under British law. Eventually, Daftary discovered that her husband had actually been married three times before and was still married to his third wife. This left Daftary extremely upset. In fact, it seems that she had been pregnant and had a miscarriage as a result of the revelation. This is being presented as the reason for Daftary’s supposed suicide.
Overall, the many pieces written about the tragedy seem to depict the story of a young beautiful Muslim woman victimized by a cruel, controlling Muslim man. Now, don’t get me wrong. From all accounts Jamil seems like an unsavoury and skeezy character. From the Mail Online:
Sahar’s family, originally from Afghanistan, but now based in Brentford, West London, describe him as a ‘controlling’ figure, who was unable to get over Sahar after she left him.
Additionally, this from his ex-wife:
My marriage to him was like a roller-coaster ride. I was constantly under pressure. I was constantly unhappy.
‘He didn’t want responsibility, he just wanted to be carefree. He wanted the “chase” and once he’d finished the chase, he’d move on to the next woman. He was on a power trip.
‘He always had two women on the go. Two girls turned up at my house, knocking on the door claiming they were pregnant. They said he’d promised to marry them, to divorce and leave me.
‘He would cover his tracks by saying there was nothing going on and that they were lying. I believed him, but I stopped believing him when Narhisa had her son. He supported her and left us for her.’
So, yes, I cannot sympathize with the man. However, I also cannot ignore the underlying discourse: helpless Muslim woman the victim of polygamous Muslim man. The constant references to the couple’s Muslim ceremony, as well as Jamil’s former Muslim ceremony marriages, place the blame for Daftary’s death on Jamil’s polygamy and bring Islam into the picture. In fact, this Times Online article makes the link between Muslim marriages laws in the U.K. and this particular tragedy.
At this point, I do not want it to seem like I am trivializing the real problem of polygamous marriages in which wives are deceived. Personally, polygamy makes me very uncomfortable and is not something I can condone. However, that all the articles focused on this aspect of Daftary’s life and tried to imply a link between her death and polygamy creates an unnecessary hysteria and fear of the tradition of polygamy in many Muslim communities. The fatalism being associated with the practice perpetuates the stereotype that Muslim women are somehow more vulnerable to abuse from their partners than are non-Muslim women as a result of this practice.
The consistent reference to his polygamy makes it seem as if only Muslim men are capable of such deceptions. Jamil is a man who cheated on the women in his life. He is a serial cheater. And those men exist in all cultures and religions, as our many North American talk shows can attest to (watch a few episodes of Dr. Phil and this will become painfully apparent). By consistently referring to his Muslim marriages the articles send a very strong and damaging message that because of the allowance of polygamy in Islam, Muslim men are more likely to deceive the women in their lives. And this deception can have a deadly impact on victimized Muslim women.
Additionally, among speculations that Daftary committed suicide because of her husband’s other marriages are statements about her being upset about a sexually explicit video of Daftary’s being released on the internet. Considering the police have said this video is not relevant to their investigation, the mentioning of the video appears gratuitous and sensationalist. In some pieces a sentence about the video is mentioned without any explanation of its relevancy to the tragedy. It simply comes across as disgusting.
Daftary was a young woman who had a difficult past year and who was indeed mistreated by the man she loved. The cause of her death is not clear and for the media to make connections between Jamil’s actions and her death is premature. Especially the links being implied between certain Muslim traditions and her death. At this point, it may be best for the media to focus on her successes and accomplishments as a woman and a model as opposed to her difficult times. It would be best to let her rest in peace and not use her death to create more fear of Muslims.