Outlines Review: Women in Black BBC2

I wrote a big long review of this and Worpress ate it. This has never happened to me before and frankly, it’s just not cool. I’m already having to write this in IE as for some reason WP isn’t working properly in Firefox.

Here is a summary of my previous review.

The programmes starts by saying that Muslim women now comprise 10% of the world’s population. Yet they are seen by many as “Shapeless blobs in black”. Anyway this programmes aims to challenge that view by going, where else but, underneath the veil. Who would have guessed that under veil exploration would become more popular then undersea exploration, but with added exoticism.

Arab and Muslim are not interchangeable. Consult any dictionary for proof. Yet throughout this programme the terms are mixed and matched with little apparent thought to actual definition of either.

When the presenter (an Arab Yemeni raised in the UK) changes from jeans and a t-shirt into a black abaya and shayla half way through her flight to Yemen, she describes it as something many Muslim women do. Maybe so, yet many more have the same concept of modest clothing whether they are in Anchorage or Ankhara.

So the programme continues with showing how Yemeni women live, with a strong emphasis on how they shop and party. The male female segregation is presented as an Islamic act, despite that behaviours surrounding this segregation are often far from Islamic in intention and practice.

Irritation of a milder form, when the presenter describes sugaring as a must for Muslim women, although it is actually a practice of Arab (and Desi) women, regardless of religion.

If this programme marketed itself as an insight into the lives of Arab women, I would have no complaint. However, it is specifically presented as an ‘under the veil’ (groan) look at Muslim women, yet sadly Islam barely makes a cameo appearance. This is typified by a lingering shot of a niqabi woman drinking a glass of juice, which clearly shows her face. Such a shot is extremely intrusive and disrespectful of that women’s beliefs and boundaries. If a programme cannot respect these boundaries, how can it describe not only the beliefs that create them, but the people who hold those beliefs?

Just like many women, Muslim women like to look good, they like to have fun with their friends, they have hobbies and just like every woman, Muslim women are more then their pastimes. Is that so hard to understand?


20 Responses

  1. Salaam. Great points! Especially about the cultural stuff; personally, I’ve never “sugared” in my life.

  2. Asalamu Walaikum Sis,
    This stuffs have been bothering me quite a bit lately and I have participated in a few discussions, but haven’t completely wrapped my head around why I am so concerned about how other people define “their” Islam. I think this is another example of where my American jilhaliya baggage comes into my deen. Ferrr instance–I feel very irritated watching the Women in Black and how Islam is being presented. Then I have this little internal voice–that I believe comes from my jilhaliya–that tells me I shouldn’t judge, to each their own, can’t we all get along, blah, blah…
    When actually, I am coming to understand that I should HATE the way Islam is misrepresented, abused, diluted, distorted, etc. I know many Muslims are sensitive to this idea of “Hating” on each other, but again, I think that stems from jilhaliya. I don’t hate the sisters in the documentary, but I certainly hate the way they misrepresent their cultural stuffs as Islam. It should be a show about “Arabs” and not “Muslims” as it is not highlighting Islam at all, like you said.
    Love and Peace,
    ~Brooke…Keeping it modest in the AK, lol!

  3. Salaam Alaikum,

    Thank you for the comments ladies!

    Brooke – I struggle with the same issues. Insha Allah I will write more about this very soon.

  4. Salaam, Umm Badier. I gotta agree: this stuff is being misrepresented as Islam and as “sugar and spice and everything nice” that Muslim women are supposed to be made of.

  5. Salaam ‘Alaikum

    Just keep in mind that in the end, we don’t know what the women in the documentary said and didn’t say. I mean, you know what you see, but you have to remember how heavily and creatively tv programs, particularly on Muslims, are edited. That said, there is a lot of ignorance here. Not merely people saying that their culture is Islam, which a lot of Western Muslims say about it, but people openly saying they put their culture above Islam, even though they pray, read Qur’an, yadda yadda. OR there are people who don’t think that their culture conflicts with Islam, and see them as two separate concepts (something Western Muslims have an issue with — IF i was to believe ISCAIRNAMASPAC’s conference programs at any rate, har har). Of course, the problem comes when they don’t see the conflict between them (women in hijab dancing in front of men at weddings, and so on).

  6. Amani zain is an embarrassment towards the Yemeni race. Even though she is one her self .why the hell does she makes fun of Arabs. Her parent’s obviously never brought her up in a respectful manner.
    As well as this the way she talks about the Yemeni abbayas is insulting. They are made to be plain and cover up. IT IS NOT A FASHION STATEMENT. She should get this through her thick head.

    What’s sooo interesting Amani zain? .You’re just being pathetic. REMEMBER you are an arab your self.

    these episodes are stupid, pathetic and irrelevant. AND you are acting brainless.

  7. Hi Crystal,

    While I appreciate your feedback, your comment sails very close to the boundaries of what I would usually publish. Constructive criticism is one thing, but no one should be called an embarrassment to their race and ditto to your other insults. There’s enough to critique in the programme without throwing names about.

  8. so i take it your not an arab

  9. No I’m not. However, I’m 100% that even if I was, my response to you would have been exactly the same.

  10. As a muslim convert I have to say that I have not seen very much in this programme that is ‘Islamic’. I agree that alot of muslims in the world confuse Islam with tradition, and as a convert I’m happy that I don’t have that issue.

    In last nights episode, the presenter was clearly showing muslims in Eqypt that were in a bar, dancing, smoking and drinking alcohol. My arguement is that if these people (men and women) were true muslims, they wouldn’t be worried about being on camera and being caught by their families, they would be petrified about the punishment that Allah will inflict on them on the day of judgement. Putting on a hijab and abaya in public and then committing these dreadful sins in private has to be one of the strongest examples of ‘hypocrites’.

    I appreciate that I am in a country where I am free to practice whichever religion I choose, but what’s the point in doing something unless you put your whole heart and sole into it??? I pray that Allah guides these lost people before it’s too late.

  11. i enjoy watching women in black, as a young muslim it helps me be proud to be muslim. Iam only 15 years old and i enjoy fashion, watching the programme has given me great ideas for wearing my hijab and styles especially from the egypt programme has given me great tips to wear my clothes in a very stylish and fashionable muslim way thank you Amani bring more.

  12. p.s on reading the comments about the programme it is visible that the critiques are either converts or non muslims and the ones who are muslim are probably old and therefore set in their ways. i hope i dont upset you poor small minded people but obviously you do not realise how important it is for us young muslims growing up in a westernised society where many of my friends are from all cultures which i dont feel i should have to dress like an old woman and that i can wear my hijab and be fashionable with my friends. Amani Zein has picked up on her issues as growing up and has admitted how she has felt and its people like the critiques above which keeps the muslims out of almost everything. nearly everything these days on tv are about india and their fashion and muslims are only the do wrongs or terrorists a change of publicity is exactly what is needed. maybe its about time women had fashion tips and ideas from other muslim countries. i agree the programme showed girls in a night club but she only showed what was there so why shouldnt it be shown.

  13. I have read your comments with some interest. I cant see why, when Islam is so widely interpreted by Muslims all over the world, that you find fault with Amani Zane’s perspective.

    If there are Muslims in Egypt acting in a way that doesnt suit you, is it your place to judge them or if their approach be shown on TV?

    I have found this series most interesting and well presented. I did not think the purpose of the series was to represent Islam or be Islamic, but to see how SOME Muslims from a range of middle east countries approach fashion.

    What did you want from this program? Go and make one yourself!

  14. Salaam Alaikum,

    You see, I thought the purpose of this programme was to show what life as a Muslim woman was really like, not how some upper class Arab women like to shop.

    Brizzle – Actually, while Muslims are not a monolith, interpretation of Islam is not that varied. All over the world you will find Muslims praying five times a day in exactly the same manner, reading the same Qur’an, attending the same Friday Prayers.

    While Armani Zain’s programme is meant to be a light hearted look, I feel it is a wasted opportunity. The biggest misconceptions about Muslims are concerning what Muslims actually believe. When there are many people who do not even believe that Muslims worship the same God as Jews and Christians, I don’t feel that telling them about hair removal is a massive priority. Another major problem concerning the portrayal of Muslims is that culture is often confused with religion, which is major trap this programme falls into.

    A telephone is not a vegetable, likewise drinking alcohol is not Islamic, pointing that out is not being judgemental, it’s being factual.

    Amira – So if Muslim women were seen as fashionable, all our problems would be solved. Is that really what you think?

    You don’t get it do you? I don’t want to have to pretend to be something and someone I’m not to be accepted. I don’t want to pretend that fashion and society are more important then what Allah The Almighty has laid down in the Qur’an. There is mass fearmongering against Muslims because people do not know Islam or what Muslims believe.

    Wearing fashionable hijab might make it feel easier to wear, but it won’t keep it on your head, because fashionable or not there will always be people who want to remove it. Geert Wilders didn’t produce ‘fitnah’ because Muslim women are unfashionable.

    It’s the “poor small minded people” (and that is no way to speak about your brothers and sisters in Islam) who you have to thank for the fact you can still wear your hijab, that there are increasing prayer faciliites, mosques and legislation to protect you from discrimination.

  15. I remember at 15 having a very limited view of what “old” was. Even recently I was chastised by an “elder” for thinking someone must be very old as I thought they must be at least over 60! LOL at myself. You know Amira, many converts are told by non-Muslims that they converted so young (early twenties) that they surely could not have known what they were getting into and have made a rash an unwise mistake–do you agree with them? Getting older and wiser has benefits, alhumdiallah.
    Why shouldn’t Muslims be shown drinking, flirting, dancing, etc? Because we should cover our own sins and the sins of others. The attitude “They do it, so why not show it” is only a dangerous step away from “They do it, why shouldn’t I?”
    I especially like this comment about making one yerself–that is exactly what sisters are doing with the WWW, masha Allah. I converted a little over ten years ago after being so impressed with the websites of Muslim sisters and teens all over the world, may Allah reward them ameen.
    Of course, Zain is being exploited by non-Muslim producers. Did anyone else cringe at her admittal that she wanted to be an actress–well someone found a way to use her. Who would want to produce a factual, well-thought look at Muslim Women that would play in mainstream markets? That just doesn’t sell. Documentaries are boring and obscure to mainstream society. Even here in the US a show was produced by public television that seemed as if it may have been well-thought, but it was subsequently pulled, so we can’t be sure how “good” of an expose it was.
    Keeping the focus on wiser.
    Love and Peace,

  16. I would really like to join this discussion if I may.

    I am both heartened and dismayed by some of the very passionate reactions to Amani Zain’s presentation of life as a Muslim woman in Women in Black. And I note that the focus of criticism appears to revolve largely around the religious aspect – how it is to be a MUSLIM woman, rather than, for example, a WOMAN of Islam. This is an emphasis I find intriguing, since I confess, I am not Muslim, in fact I don’t have a religion at all, I’m an aethist, and therefore find myself relating primarily to the Women in Black series, and to presenter Amani, as a woman rather than anything else. From this position it opens up a subject and a world to me, and thus, to a degree, demystifies it for me. I embrace this. And to be fair, I sense that I am intended to be more the target audience for this series than the average Muslim woman, which might go some way to answering those comments that suggest the series is ‘lightweight’. At any rate, I have really enjoyed it – and if it hadn’t been made and shown, then I wouldn’t have had the opportunity of engaging in this debate with you all, and I appreciate that.

  17. There’s one thing that all muslims should remember, whether they are old or young, male or female, from whichever part of the world you were born or live; Islam is a religion and a way of life. Fashion has nothing to do with religion, but if you want to confuse the two then I have to say it is possible to look good and keep yourself covered. I became a muslim when I was 24 (which I certainly don’t consider old). I still wore fashionable clothes and am currently an executive in an international company. Obviously I don’t come to work in an Abaya, I wear professional clothes that ‘hijab’; and I don’t look like an old woman.

    I hope that as you grow (inshallah) you have the courage to be your own person and not necessarily ‘fall in with the crowd’.

  18. Salaam Alaikum MMB – I’m not exactly sure who your comment is aimed at. Reading through it, I guess it’s aimed at Amira, right?

  19. Wa alikum salem Safiya. Appologies, yes my wishes were guided towards Amira.

    Whilst I don’t agree with some of the things the people on the show were doing, I am happy that the ‘TV world’ have given some decent airtime to Islam and have ‘tried’ to show Islam in a possitive light. Remember, to the non-muslim viewers, seeing that muslims in other countries are quite similar to them in their actions may go some way towards easing hostilities slightly.

    Also, does anyone know if the series has ended? I noticed it’s not scheduled for next week.


  20. assalamalaikum
    i have been experiencing the same issues as you ladies, i shall keep u informed about them.

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