From American Muslim to Sister Wives, Mormons to Muslims, reality TV appears to be both a hindrance and a help to often misunderstood faiths.
Like recess chatter at an elementary school, reality TV may get the facts right, but sometimes misses the point entirely.
Like, multiple wives, for example.
Think back to all of the serious romantic relationships you’ve had in your life. Let’s say it’s three, for example.
Now, think about if you had had to marry all three of those people.
“In Islam, there are no flings,” said Mazhar Choudry, one of three young Muslim men who set up shop at the Perth public library on Saturday, June 23 as part of a national tour to answer questions about Islam.
Armaghan Chaudhry admitted that the multiple marriage question “does come up a lot” and when asked, he smiles shyly and says “How do I answer a question like that?”
Chaudhry himself is happily married and is quick to point out that he does not want to marry again, and that Islam is the only religion that places a limit on the number of wives a man can have.
“It’s not possible for a regular person like me to marry more than one person,” Chaudhry said. “There are a certain number of conditions you have to meet. To be just is most important,” especially in making sure that the wives have the same size house, same time apportioned to them and their children, and same money. And, just as importantly, if the husband wants to marry another wife, he needs the permission of his current wife (or wives).
One condition for a man taking another wife in Islam would be if the first wife was unable to bear children.
“I don’t know anybody, ever, who has multiple wives,” said Chaudhry.
Other questions are frequently asked about the Prophet Mohammad himself, the founder of Islam. He himself had several wives, and some commentators, like Muslim Canadian author and broadcaster Irshad Manji, have pointed out that his youngest wife, Aisha, was, by varying accounts, between the ages of nine and 13 when she was married to Mohammad.
But even her, according to the men, God is in the details – so to speak.
“The marriage and living together are two different things,” said Choudry, who explained that there was indeed an agreement for Aisha to marry Mohammad, but that “they don’t have sexual intercourse before marriage. It’s a cultural thing. The agreement came before they were married.”
Choudry also points out that Mohammad and Aisha “were only living together later on when she was older” when her father thought the time appropriate.
Chaudhry likened it to his own marriage, when he got his marriage license in July from the City of Vaughan, but did not get married until the end of August.
The duo also pointed to Karen Armstrong’s book Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, in which “she said it (Muhammad marrying Aisha) does not surprise me,” and that marrying girls in their early teens was not even unusual in Western culture a few hundred years ago.
In Scene I, Act ii of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, first published in 1597, Capulet is speaking to Paris, and Capulet is hesitant for his daughter to marry since “She hath not seen the change of fourteen years, Let two more summers wither in their pride/ Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.” To which the potential suitor Paris responds, “Younger than she are happy mother’s made.”
“It is amazing how quickly it is forgotten in our Western culture,” said Choudry. “(But now) the culture has changed totally.”
Choudry pointed out that in Islam, by placing a cap on the number of wives a man can have, and the conditions under which it can happen “gives women more rights.”
Interestingly, while Chaudhry and Choudry are not on a proselytizing mission, seeking souls for Allah, like the Mormons on their missions, they were knocking on doors, but not to convert or save souls, but to answer questions, and let people know about last week’s information session.
“Eighty per cent of the time, we have people asking questions at the door,” said Chaudhry. “Every time we come here (to Perth) it is very good, it is pretty awesome. It’s been open doors. People have been very nice.”
In fact, the trio plans to return to Perth in September.