Written by Chelby Daigle
Published in News
A recent CBC Fifth Estate episode about polygamy among Muslim Canadians and its accompanying article has sparked online debate among Muslims.
You can watch the documentary online below.
Most of the discussion centres around how best to address the abuses of Muslim family law raised.
But there are also questions being raised about how CBC handled this topic in the context of rising Islamophobia in Canada and deciding to release this episode with the second anniversary of the Quebec Mosque Shooting on January 29th fast approaching.
It’s not surprising that Islamophobic groups who were already up in arms over the fact that Jawed Anwar registered the name “Islamic Party of Ontario” with Elections Ontario are now demanding that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak out against polygamy, framing the issue of polygamy as part of the dreaded “Sharia Law Takeover” of Canada. And this is all a great way to distract us from seriously discussing hatred against Muslims in this country.
Frankly, I think a documentary discussing the reality of polygamy among Muslim Canadians and exploring all its implications on our lives is long overdue.
I just wish it had been handled more responsibly.
The whole going undercover with Imam Aly Hindy was just ridiculously sensationalist. He’s been on the record as someone who conducts polygamous marriages for over a decade. Check out this interview by Toronto Star reporter Noor Javed from 2008 where Imam Hindy discusses officiating over polygamous marriages. I would have preferred to see CBC just do a straightforward interview with Imam Hindy about performing polygamous marriages; he’s never been all that camera shy. And then the documentary would have had more time to explore other far more pressing issues related to this topic. I still think Noor Javed’s article, despite being 10 years old, is a better exploration of the issue and the negative impact its having on Muslim women’s lives.
The Nazim Baksh’s article accompanying the CBC documentary is also strange as it frames the issue of polygamy in the context of #MeToo. But #MeToo is about issues of sexual violence, exploitation and harassment from men in positions of authority and influence. More and more Muslims are speaking out about sexual abuse and exploitation, sometimes in the form of secret polygamous marriages, from religious and community leaders-For example, Muslim Canadian Najwa Zebian’s #MeToo post that went viral and got her sued!-that’s all part of Muslim Canadians’#MeToo moment.
But the type of polygamy explored in this CBC documentary doesn’t fall into the #MeToo category. It is about the rights of women and children in Muslim Family Law, and as the 10 year old article by Noor Javed demonstrates, we’ve been publicly discussing this issue for some time now.
I’ve been working with researchers to explore the polygamy situation for a series on MuslimLink.ca to be released in the Spring inshallah (hopefully). It will explore many of the issues raised in this documentary but also some that the documentary left out, with potentially serious consequences. Because of my concern about what this CBC documentary left out I am going to give my own reflection about the documentary and the article that accompanies it based on my own research and lived experience with loved ones impacted by polygamy.
I should also share that when I first converted to Islam, back when I was younger and skinnier, I was frequently approached by men to be a second wife so what I discuss is also informed by those experiences.
The Mental Health Impact of Polygamy on First Wives
I would love to just watch a documentary about Zaib trying to figure out whether or not to stay married to her husband of over 20 years after he just calls her up to tell her he’s taken a second wife. There is so much to unpack here, including the challenges facing families where the husband has to leave Canada in order to find work, which is Zaib’s husband’s situation. The reality is that often men who live abroad are taking second wives so they have the Canadian first wife then the other wife in the US or in Dubai, or in Saudi Arabia or in Oman or in Singapore, etc