Muslims on The People’s Court

I was watching the People’s Court the other day (yes, I love court shows!) and I saw something that was mildly disturbing. The plaintiff was a non-Muslim woman. The defendant was a Palestinian descent Muslim man. The defendant had a witness with him who was in hijab. (She was also Palestinian descent).

The case: The defendant was married to the plaintiff. While she was at work he was texting and calling his hijabi witness, sending little love messages in Arabic to her throughout the day. Basically, he was cheating on his wife with the hijabi witness. He was also ordering excessive amounts of pornography while his wife was at work. (He did not work, his wife was supporting both of them). So, the defendant was being sued for the porn he ordered and for the phone bill he racked up while texting his hijabi witness. Rightfully so, the non-Muslim wife was upset. She said it was against Islam for the defendant to watch pornography. She also talked about the behavior of the hijabi witness. She said it was inappropriate for the hijabi witness, as a Muslim women, to talk to men let alone a married man. (The judge asked the non-Muslim plaintiff, ‘They can’t talk to men?’ to which she replied ‘No, that’s how it is in their culture’). As the non-Muslim wife was telling her side of the story, she admonished the hijabi witness by saying to her “the religion is about more than just covering.” 

When it was time for the defendant to speak, he was pretty nonchalant about the entire case. He even defended his watching of pornography by saying, “Everyone watches it.” (Which elicited laughs from the audience). Eventually the plaintiff won the case. As is common on The People’s court, the audience members standing outside on the show’s plaza were asked questions about the case. Instead of asking them the usual questions about who should win, Harvey Levin (the show’s host and legal reporter) chose to ask the audience (all non-Muslims) whether “Muslim people are allowed to cheat.” (Sigh). One man replied, “No, the Muslim people can’t do that.” (Who exactly are ‘the Muslim people?’)

After the case concluded, in-court reporter Curt Chaplin spoke to both parties in the hallway. The defendant’s hijabi witness said she was bothered by the fact that their religion was continually brought up during the course of the case and said that their actions were their actions- it had nothing to do with the religion. When it was time for the plaintiff to speak she said she had a message for Palestinian [read: Muslim] guys: Don’t come to this country and try to take advantage of women. This is America and we have laws here!  The cameras cut to Harvey Levin outside. He briefly said something about a document presented during the case being like the Bible in this country. (WTH?)

Aside from the aforementioned, what I found disturbing was this: the plaintiff kept bringing up the religion and cultural background of the defendant and his witness.  Unfortunately, instead of chastising the plaintiff for doing so,  the judge followed the plaintiff’s lead, asking the plaintiff questions about the religion and cultural norms of the defendant and witness rather allowing both parties to speak for themselves. I’ve watched Judge Marilyn Milian off and on for several years now and she is usually pretty good at preventing a defendant or plaintiff from constantly referencing a person’s religious, cultural, racial, national or sexual background.  It was sad that she failed to do so in this case. In fact, at times it seemed like Judge Milian even fed into the stereotypes. For example, at one point the defendant was trying to talk over her and she said something like, “I’m the one in charge here. In this courtroom you’re the one who has to listen to me.” (I hope you caught the subtext here).

Yes, in the larger scheme of things, this case and this particular representation of Muslims is nothing major. I just have problems when the same ole tired stereotypes are being perpetuated (especially on television.)  More importantly, I’m bothered by the way in which American Muslims are exoticized and “othered” vis-a-vis “regular” or “normal” non-Muslim Americans. We can’t simply exist as people or individuals. We are always a group.  Everything Muslims do is examined through the lens of our religion and we are inextricably bound to our identity as Muslims. Talk about unfair! (Yes, I am Muslim but am a lot other things too). Again, as evidenced by this case, there are Muslims who behave badly. Clearly, the defendant in this case and his witness were flawed individuals who made some poor choices. Did they make those choices because of their religion or because human beings can be selfish and inconsiderate? I long for the day when we can make some progress on this front. Just forgive me if I’m not very optimistic about it…

BTW: I tried to search for a youtube clip of this case on The People’s Court but was unable to find it.

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8 responses to “Muslims on The People’s Court

  1. I am not defending anyone but these questions go to credibilty. Defendants comment about everyone watching pornography is a minor attempt at avoiding the truth. If he had said that the plaintiff is correct about men and women mixing then judge may have seen him as honest but he may have had to admit that this was his 2nd wife . The hijabi standing next to him as the other women makes me wonder what the Defendant and Plaintiff’s relationship was really about. Judge Judy would have asked, she came from NYC family court and has seen it all that’s for sure. He was doomed from the beginning. In all fairness to the Judge many men try to talk down to her because she is a hispanic women and she lets them know it ain’t happening here. Finally, until SOME muslims stop acting like they are holy bECAUSE they wear the wears , they will be held to that standard. I treat everyone the same, I know there would not be a halah or Kosher section of the prison if what you wear determined your pity. The defendant was what some in Brooklyn call a fake a $$ muslim. No one knows if he makes salat but everyone can see how he acts including watching pornography. I sure hope he makes salat.

  2. Have you seen this episode of People’s Court? I didn’t go into complete detail but the hijabi witness admitted she was talking to the defendant and that she knew he was married. And it doesn’t sound like the hijabi witness was his 2nd wife either. No one denied it when the judge said he was cheating on his wife the hijabi witness. As shameful as their behavior may be, the bottom line is that the case has nothing to do with their religion. (The plaintiff was the one who kept bringing up the religious backgrounds of the defendant and his witness). When has someone Jewish or Christian been asked about whether their religion (or culture) permits them to behave in the way that they did? When has their religion been used to measure their credibility? And when has Judge Milian allowed a defendant or plaintiff to constantly reference the person’s cultural or religious background in a case? Whether we (as Muslims) have a certain expectation of people because of what they wear is neither here nor there for me.

    The bigger issue for me is not whether these people behaved appropriately or within the bounds of Islam. The point is that EVERYTHING a Muslim person does is linked to their identity as a Muslim or to their religion. We are human beings who can be as good or evil as the next person and it’s unfair to expect us to behave in the best manner all the time. Furthermore, when we do behave badly, why can’t it be because we’re human beings who are flawed? Last time I checked none of us were perfect. The other issue I have is the way in which Muslims are “othered” and “exoticized” on this show and others. Again, it all goes back to the way that we are bound by our religious affiliation/identity and other groups of people are not. It’s as if we’re one dimensional…

  3. Yes! I saw this episode a few weeks ago and it was so crazy!

    The ex-wife did incessantly reference what “they are supposed to do in their religion.” For instance she made a grand point of talking about how the girl was all covered up and about the father kicking her out. As if being covered means that someone is a nun. I’m not justifying the girls behavior but

    Did you suspect that the man and girl (she seemed quite young) were NOW married-but not underneath state law? They were something about the way them seemed to be-that just reminded me that they were very familiar with each other-the way that he defended her. Who knows?

    This is a strange thing that people do to Muslims. They treat us like walking religious texts rather than as human beings. This is really apparent when it is a woman who used to be married to or “get with” a Muslim guy. His failings become evidence for the perceived hypocrisy of all Muslims.

  4. As salaam alaikum Samira,

    Yay, someone else saw it too! It don’t know if it was just me but didn’t it seem like the soon to be ex-wife was using “what they’re supposed to in their religion” as a way not only to insult them but to appear morally superior to them? I thought it was especially true when she talked about the hijabi and how there’s more to the religion than covering up. The way she said it was kind of catty. Granted, she has every right to be upset. I’d be pissed if I was working to support my husband and he’s at home chatting it up with women and ordering porn. I just didn’t like how she kept bringing up their religion and culture during the case.

    I think they were married (or least dating.) Did you notice them holding hands when they were leaving court house? I figured they kept their relationship hush-hush because his divorce with the ex-wife was pending.

    Walking religious texts? Exactly! The sad part is sometimes it seems like we expect perfection from each other too. Yes, we have IDEALS we strive towards but many of us are struggling to even do the basics.

  5. I missed this episode, thank God 😛
    But seriously – wth? Why was the hijabi even there, did she have any valuable testimony to offer? The whole thing sounds weird – I’m especially annoyed about two muslims allowing a non-muslim to speak for them about THEIR religion, especially when they were doing a poor job of representing it to begin with.

    What also amazes me is that “muslims aren’t allowed to cheat.” Umm, isn’t adultery considered unlawful for most people, all religions and atheists included?

    Why does an entire religion have to get judged based on the acts of its members? It’s like saying every apple is bad because you came across a rotten one.

  6. Asalaamu alaikum.

    Didn’t see the episode, but agreeing with you JM. And really, if his wife wants to talk about what his religion expects of him, maybe she should consider that he probably had no business being married to *her* to begin with. Pleeze, you married a man who wasn’t practicing his religion much if at all to begin with or he wouldn’t have dated and married *you*, but now you’re gonna talk about what he isn’t living up to???

  7. Perhaps when they were together, the ex husband constantly talked about religion and how great islam was? It wouldn’t be the first time a muslim man married a non muslim, hyped up islam to her, and then was a total dog. I see it all the time among american women applying for visas for their muslim husbands and fiances.

    Of course, that’s only speculation on my part. I wonder if I’ll be able to catch it in re runs.

    If you want to see really really bad, look for the Christina’s Court episode about an iranian mom suing her daughter. It goes on and on and on about how awful life is in Iran, how the mom escaped to give her daughters a better life and now the daughter is betraying her by being a hoochy on myspace. Granted, the mother did escape from an abusive marriage (which we all know only happen in muslim countries and never anywhere else), but her story was constantly interlaced with pictures of women in chadors scurrying through the street, lots of poor people and beggers and general dowdiness. Cuz every woman in Iran wears chador and is downtrodden.

  8. asa
    yet another reason to celebrate not having a television!

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