by Racialicious special correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie, originally published at Muslimah Media Watch
I usually avoid MTV because of its basic lack of programming that interests me. This weekend, however, I happened to catch an episode of True Life, which chronicles people in different walks of life going through different life experiences. The episode I happened to catch was entitled “I’m Having an Arranged Marriage.”
I can’t find the episode summary on MTV’s website, but the summary goes like this: MTV follows three people on their journeys through arranged marriage. The show follows Najwa, a Pakistani-American Muslim woman; Rohit, an Indian man living in America (who I believe is Hindu, but I couldn’t get a definitive statement from the show); and Arwa, another Pakistani-American Muslim woman. All these people have college educations; Arwa is currently in law school.
The show first follows Najwa as she goes to pick up her fiancé Zeeshan at the airport. Najwa and Zeeshan are engaged but have not married yet; this visit will be the third time Najwa has seen Zeeshan, even though they talk frequently over the phone. Meanwhile, Arwa goes to several dates set up by her friends and family in hopes of finding someone to marry, even attending a conference that attracts other professional Pakistani-Americans. Her mother keeps bothering Arwa about her arbitrary deadline: announce an engagement by the end of the year. That’s some serious pressure.
Both girls do not wear hejab, and at first glance, you wouldn’t even be aware that they were more conservative, family-oriented women. I’m big on not judging a book by its cover, so I was kind of pleased about this. Both women talked about how they thought they’d find their own husbands (rather than being set up by people in their community), but are willing to try their family’s traditions.
What I really appreciated is the fact that the show highlighted these women’s experiences as their choice: Arwa mentions that she tried to find her own husband, but she’s okay with her parents trying to find him for her, too. Often, the words “arranged marriage” conjure images of veiled women who have no say in who their parents choose for them, and a lot of people think that arranged marriages trap women and are loveless. There’s also this idea that any Muslim man is a good Muslim man, and all a girl has to do is find a Muslim guy—any Muslim guy—and marry him. Muslim marriages—whether arranged or not—work just like other people’s: compatibility is key!
This episode refuted a lot of those ideas, likening arranged marriages to something as simple as just getting set up by your friend who thinks she has a friend you’d like. The idea that one size fits all is also not applicable here: Arwa met three different guys, and rejected two of them (unfortunately, the one she liked didn’t call). Najwa, after realizing that she had different priorities than Zeeshan, ended the engagement herself. At the end of the episode, Rohit was the only one who actually got married! Arwa went back to law school (if I remember right, she was on summer break during the show’s taping) and Najwa’s family continued to look for a match for her.
While the reality of arranged marriages is different for everyone (personally, I think I could do a better job of picking out a husband for myself than my parents; some families prefer to rely on social networks, some families let their children find their own mates, sometimes arranged marriages turn out badly, sometimes love matches turn out badly) and MTV’s portrayal really only illustrates how arranged marriages work within the U.S., I was pleased to see none of the gimmicky stereotypes. My only real complaint is that it would have been nice to see a Muslim man getting set up. On the whole, not bad, MTV.