Outlines Review: Women in Black episode 4

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. Firstly the Asian community is not homogenous and has many divides. Secondly as people begin to prioritise their Islamic identity, Muslims are now more likely to meet and socialise along the lines of beliefs or adherence’s 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 Khalmeez.

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. Something that can difficult for Muslims in a alcohol sodden country, is to find a halal place to socialise and it’s likely that the diner is viewed more as a meeting place for friends, then a place to meet the opposite sex.

In the diner, Zain interviews Kia Abdullah, a British Bangladeshi writer, who’s debut novel attracted attention for it’s 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. Anila 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, Anila 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, then in Pakistan. Then follows a discussion of weather 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 abaya 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 Khalmeez, 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 Khalmeez 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 UK. 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 emphasised 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.






7 Responses

  1. I didn’t really like that episode. That diner that she said was a place for meeting ‘without attracting attention’ is called Tinseltown and is probably the most popular hang-out for young Muslims in London. It’s hardly unknown!! And yes it’s more of a place to hang out with friends (they do the most amazing milkshakes!). I managed to get a short interview with one of the women from the Primark shopping trip, you might find it interesting: http://hijabstyle.blogspot.com/2008/05/interview-with-sajida-madni.html

  2. Salaam Alaikum,

    Jazak Allahu Khayran for your comment and for the link!

    I think it’s quite clear now what the programme wants to portray:
    1)Muslim women are super duper fashionable
    2)Muslim women are constantly having to fight or challenge various constraints.

    It’s just such a missed opportunity.

  3. I’d just like to take a moment to thank you for taking the time to write about these episodes.

    I love reading your thoughts on the issues, and I appreciate the time it must take. I wish it was a series I could watch.

  4. Hi Safiya!

    I’ve been reading with great interest your reviews of this series. I wish we could get it here in Moz, but we don’t get BBC with our cable package (however we *do* get AlJazeera English, which I quite like).

    Anyhooooow, I was wondering what your take is on the current case in France with the annulled marriage due to “proven lack of virginity”. There hasn’t been much about it in the news here, but I imagine in the UK it is likely figuring quite prominently in the headlines.

    Also, another question. You say in the comment above (and also in more words in your analyses of the BBC series) that the main points of the program – 1) fashionable muslim women, and 2) muslim women constantly having to fight/challenge multiple constraints – are a missed opportunity. I agree. What I would like to know is: If you were directing the series, what would you want to make as the main points??

    Hope you are well!!

  5. Salaam Alaikum,

    Molly – (not long now til your big trip? Masha Allah) Thanks for your words. The reviews are indeed time consuming to write, but then I do tend to meander some what

    Ali – I heard about the French case. I know anullment is allowed in cases of deception, so I can see why it has been permitted legally, but personally I think it’s rather sad. Pre marital sex is viewed as sinful in Islam, but there is also the concept of repentence wiping out sins and that once you have repented, you should avoid disclosing that sin. People make mistakes and I think it would have been far more noble of the husband to overlook his wife’s past.

    Plus I think the ‘virginity proof on the wedding night’ expected of women in some cultures is grim and unseemly. Sex is meant to be a private matter.

    As for my thoughts on the tv series, after the last review I will do a post about what I would have liked to have seen.

    Hope you’re well too (actually I know you are, you look glowing in your latest pictures!)

  6. Thanks, Safiya. Looking forward to you last post in the series!

  7. Salaam Aleykum

    Just to let you know, Hijab Swimwear is available from modestswimsuits.co.uk

    International Shipping available


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