Edinburgh Muslim woman was forced to marry cousin as family feared she would become 'too western'

A young Muslim woman from Edinburgh who was forced to marry her cousin because her family feared she would become “too western” has spoken out about her ordeal.

Tuesday, 16th July 2019, 8:49 am
Nyla Khan
Nyla Khan

Nyla Khan escaped her arranged marriage after running away. But over a decade later, she says her “fight” is never over.

Nyla was taken to Pakistan on holiday at just 17-years-old and told she had to agree to the marriage after bringing “shame on her family”.

She told BBC Scotland’s The Nine how she was promised to a cousin from a young age as part of her strict upbringing in Scotland.

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She told the BBC: “My parents were very paranoid about me becoming western. They think they are protecting you.”

Nyla, now 30 and living in Edinburgh, recalled waking up during the ill-fated holiday to find her whole family in the room.

She recalled: “They started saying ‘you have sinned’, ‘you need to marry your cousin now’.

“I kept saying no, from the morning until tea time. And they were still at it. And I gave in, just wanting them to shut up, just wanting them to be quiet.”

The teenager stayed for five weeks then returned home – without her husband, who was to follow later. The pair were married under Islamic law. A couple of months later she ran away to stay with a friend, before returning home a year later “broken and in tears”.

She said: “For that year I was in survival mode. I felt sad when I went home. I cried. I have loving parents who just wanted their daughter back.”

Her parents were relieved she was home and “worked through the difficult times” putting “love before religion”.

But not everyone welcomed Nyla with open arms. She got abuse from her friends and was even called a “slut”. She said: “I went against the norm and for that I suffered extreme loss.

"Some friends, people I had known since primary school, told me they couldn’t support me in my decision.”

Nyla eventually divorced at 21 and moved out of home to study at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. She plans to become a life coach.

She said: “I believe my parents are also victims of their culture. A woman has a right to choose. You can’t hide misogyny behind culture or religion.”

After doing a talk on arranged marriage and speaking out on the BBC Nyla hopes to become a role model for young Muslim women and campaign on the issue.

“Arranged marriage is a form of abuse. We need to educate young women about their rights. That it’s possible to get up and get out, and live your own life. All young women should know that right.”