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This was written by Safiya, and originally appeared at Outlines.
This week the programme is set in the U.K
Regular viewers and/or readers of these reviews may have noticed that this programme is a tad fond of sweeping generalisations.
The first words spoken by Armani Zain are:
“Tonight I’m exploring a world right on my doorstep, Asian Muslim women.” (Note: by Asian, she means Pakistani/Indian/Bangladeshi)
Holy marginalisation, Batman! While many U.K. Muslims are ethnically Asian, there are also large Somali, Arab, Bosnian, Turkish and–of course–convert communities, amongst many others. But we’re not going to get to hear about them tonight. We are not going to get to see them either. What follows is Asians only.
Zain informs us that Asian and Arab Muslims don’t really mix and have little in common. Which again is a overgeneralisation. First, the Asian community is not homogeneous and has many divides. Second, as people begin to prioritise their Islamic identity, Muslims are now more likely to meet and socialise along the lines of beliefs or adherences within Islam.
Fashion is again a key focus of the programme. A fashion shoot at Asian Magazine is shown, followed by a guide to the shalwar kalmeez.
Next, three Asian Muslimahs show how Primark clothes can be worn Islamically. It was interesting that they felt the hijab added to their style and was something they were proud to wear, as they saw it as showing a Muslim identity.
Speed dating for Pakistani Muslims is the next stop, which brings up the topic of marriage. An alcohol-free diner is shown as another venue where male and female Muslims can meet without attracting attention. I think Zain misses the point here. Finding a halal place to socialise in an alcohol-sodden country is difficult for Muslims, and it’s likely that the diner is viewed more as a meeting place for friends than a place to meet the opposite sex.
In the diner, Zain interviews Kia Abdullah, a British Bangladeshi writer, whose debut novel attracted attention for its gritty subject matter and sex scenes. Talk of ‘breaking taboos’ and ‘pushing boundaries’ abounds. I wonder, why is it that everyone else gets to have firm beliefs and ideas, but for Muslim women these beliefs mean they are caged creatures that have to fight for their freedom?
Next interviewee is The Sun’s (right-wing newspaper not fit for lining a cat litter tray) TV columnist, Anila Baig. Baig was employed by The Sun in a blaze of publicity as their hijab-wearing Muslim columnist. She had not previously worn the hijab in her professional career and about a year later, she took it off. Some accused her of using the hijab as a gimmick. When Zain asks her why she stopped wearing it, Baig stated that she felt there were more important things she could be doing and goes on to state that more Muslims in the U.K. wear the hijab than in Pakistan. Then follows a discussion of whether hijab-wearing is imitating Arab culture, with Anila stating that Pakistanis view Arabs as being closer to the faith due to the lack of language barrier, a concept Zain is uncomfortable with, viewing this a prejudice.
However, while being an Arab doesn’t make you a better Muslim, the fluency in Arabic (by which I mean Fus Ha), certainly is very beneficial for a Muslim and is a strong requirement for Islamic scholarship and therefore it’s important not to confuse the two.
Back to fashion: after visiting an Asian fashion emporium, Zain attends an abaya-themed fashion show.
Following this, Zain interviews two British Asian Muslims who wear abayas to ask why they wear a dress that is viewed as traditionally Arab. They explain that they view the abaya as more modest and showing an Islamic identity, whereas by wearing a shalwar kalmeez, they are stating that they are Pakistani first.
They seem quite content with their choice, but Zain follows this with a woe-laden piece to camera positing that being a British Muslim, means being torn in three directions, being British, being Muslim and Pakistani culture.
Personally, I find the only direction I’m torn in is between the pie shop and the chippy, but I’m obviously not a ‘real’ British Muslim, so what would I know?
Now it’s dress-up time and this week, Zain dons a shalwar kalmeez to attend an exclusive gathering of Pakistani Women. This takes place at the home of Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, the High Commissioner of Pakistan in the U.K. After a quick tour of Dr. Lodhi’s wardrobe, Zain asks what she thinks about the wearing of the hijab as a political statement, to which Dr. Lodhi replies that the wearing of hijab is a personal choice and that an emphasized religious identity is not something that automatically leads to extremism.
At the gathering, there is much talk of fashion. One woman states that she finds niqabi wearers “scary” and that “these women shouldn’t be allowed to decide the Islamic platform for everyone else.” I find that statement outrageous and even more so, that it is left unchallenged. I guess some prejudices are more acceptable then others.