The short film His Other Wife, based on the bestselling novel of the same name, is an unflinching look at the side-lined experience of a divorced Muslim woman and the prejudice and pressures she faces from friends and family.
With divorce rates climbing both outside and within Muslim communities, being a divorcee can be an isolating experience that a growing number of people will relate to. His Other Wife, based on the novel of the same name by award-winning author Umm Zakiyyah, follows Aliyah, a recently divorced Muslim single mother, as she navigates coparenting, prejudice and pressure to remarry.
Her self-satisfied friend Deanna is a marriage counsellor who outright blames Aliyah for not having managed to keep her marriage together, insinuating that this must have happened because of personal failings and be an indictment of her character. Deanna runs marriage workshops with her husband and states in an interview about her new book How You Can Keep Him All to Yourself on the chat show Journeys with Noor, “Only people without a proper understanding of God and the sanctity of marriage face serious problems like divorce and infidelity. So they have to look within themselves for the solutions.” The interviewer responds to this saying, “Wow – that’s a very provocative statement. Are you saying that marital problems are only experienced by bad people?” Not surprisingly, Deanna has some lessons to learn as the story progresses, and may find that things are not as simple as she thinks they are.
This prejudice and judgement is not restricted to Aliyah’s opinionated friend Deanna though, who Aliyah nevertheless admires, saying she’s “a successful marriage counsellor with a supportive husband. They’re like the perfect power couple.”. Instead of receiving community support in a time of need and hardship, Aliyah has to contend with stigma and suspicion even from the women in her Quran circle, with aspersions cast on her faith and her character due to her failed marriage.
The music, by director Khalil Ismail, Drea D Nur and Alkebulaun, captures and underlines the emotions that run through the film as Aliyah navigates coparenting, judgemental friends, and pressures to remarry from friends and relatives. Symbolically, the final song and rap, entitled Superheroine, is about Mariam, the mother of Jesus, the most saintly and venerated of single mothers.
His Other Wife calls for a more nuanced understanding of divorced people, with respect for their grieving process, feelings of failure and issues they may still be trying to process from a failed relationship. Advocating a more compassionate approach, this short film brings up interesting questions about how divorcees and single-parents might be integrated into Muslim communities more effectively, without feeling stigmatised or pressured to remarry too quickly, and demands some communal soul-searching concerning where such judgemental attitudes might come from to begin with.
Internationally acclaimed novelist Umm Zakiyyah, also known as Ruby Moore, is the author of more than twenty-five books, including the If I should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, Reverencing the Wombs that Broke You, and The Abuse of Forgiveness. Born in Long Island, New York she is the daughter of Muslim converts.