This e-mail with the pushy subject line was unlike any other I had received. “My friend, who lives in Sweden, wants to get married to a Swedish woman,” it began in Latinized Urdu. “But this marriage will be a fake marriage.” Tahir, the sender, explained that his friend was already married to a woman in Pakistan but wanted to marry a Swedish woman to obtain Swedish citizenship. Tahir’s friend wanted him to deliver fake Pakistani divorce papers by forging both his and his wife’s signatures. Oblivious to the forgery, the Swedes would allow Tahir’s friend to marry, putting the secret bigamist on a path to Swedish citizenship and all that it offered. I doubted that either of the women were privy to the elaborate scheme.
It was Tahir’s heedlessly narrow question at the end that surprised me the most: “If I forge the signatures on the divorce papers, will that really mean my friend will be divorced from his wife?” It was this small, rather arcane detail about God’s view of the marital bond that nagged his conscience — not the various international and domestic laws and criminal codes that he would break. “Would you do me a favor and resolve this problem?”
In the end, Shahan Mufti drafts two letters to send to this errant guidance-seeker… and sends neither.
I should know enough about Internet comments by now to not be surprised by the ones on this article. They, too, don’t quite get what’s going on, though not quite as much in the extreme as the original commenters looking for a mufti to answer their questions:
Pretty simple, it seems to me. You are a ‘Mufti’ in name only. Why be bound by the arcane strictures of a medieval belief system.
This is a classic case of ‘exhaustion through intellectual masturbation’ ! First, you need not be a ‘mufti’ just because your ancestors were, even if they, out of some grandiose view of themselves, adopted the name of their profession as their last name…. So grow up, and acknowledge yourself for what you are – an unintended recipient of a missive that is easily dispatched in this day and age of Internet.
Don’t act like you’re a mufti. You don’t need to answer their questions.
This is the kind of mismatch I was constantly shuffling out of my dataset because it’s too subtle to hang a paper on. What’s being missed here is a nuance of careful reading, of the sort an Advanced Placement test preparer might use to trip you up. “Does Shahan Mufti believe he is an actual mufti?” No. At no point in the article does he say “I was so worried I was an actual mufti and I am asking you what to do in a newspaper because I didn’t know what to do!!!!1″ And yet a handful of Times commenters responded as if he was earnestly treating his response as if he took on the title of Mufti (and responded directly to the author, as the Internet, bless it and its little ways, lets us do). Rather, he carefully seems to say he was compelled to respond to one email, because it’s of particular concern to any human being seeing another human being putting him or herself in the way of trouble.
It’s the kind of response I feel like I often see among fundamentalists who don’t want you to dance, or hysterical parents trying to ban violent video games: it mistakes the symbolic thought-exercise of a piece of art for an actual behavior.
This is why we hate the comments: they’re a constant reminder of the failure of our educational systems, from fundamental digital navigation skills up through an appreciation of the subtleties of literature.
(On another note: I think Mufti came to the wrong conclusion about how people found him; not sure about the effectiveness of being at the top of the second page of results. I wonder what his actual email address is? mufti@gmail? Something easy to typo? dialamufti?)