The portrayal of Islam in movies and on TV is, to say the least, tricky.
Spanish hit-series Élite was the first time I saw Muslims on western TV that weren’t al Qaeda or some terrorist trying to bomb a train. At first, it was a breath of fresh air to see the character of Nadia as just another student. Until she goes into the principal’s office and they tell her that in order for her to stay enrolled in the school, she had to remove her hijab. (Remind you of anything… kinda rhymes with Pill Quincy One?).
The new season also showed Nadia without her hijab, and with a new makeover meant to impress her crush. A lot of people were outraged by that, and rightfully so. One, it does imply that she’s not beautiful enough with her hijab to be impressive, and two, there is an underlying theme of oppression and suppression connected with the hijab. It’s as if the headscarf is a metaphor for the ‘tyranny’ that is Islam. As if to say, “take the scarf off, you’re removing the metaphorical veil of oppression and, voila! You’re free.”
Let me ask you something, do you remember Billie Eilish’s campaign with Calvin Klein, where she said the reason she wears baggy clothes is so no one can tell what’s under, and thus not objectify her? My god, people just wouldn’t stop praising her for this amazing and wonderful stance that inspired millions of women! It was seen as a fight against the patriarchy.
Well, you’re all a bunch of hypocrites and are absolutely incapable of moving past built-in bias. No, seriously, people don’t have the ability to emotionally and mentally transcend Islamophobic bias set by years of unfair portrayal, and see it for what it actually is. The point of the Hijab is humility, and exactly what Eilish said. The problem didn’t start, nor will it end, with Nadia in Élite. The problem is you. It’s all of us, really.
Look inside you, people. Have you ever caught yourself looking pitifully at a woman in a niqab? That’s problematic. Looking at headscarves at the same level we do a woman or child with bruises over their bodies is fundamentally wrong, and although your intentions might be good, your lack of understanding that it is most likely a choice hurts more than helps.
Yes, in places like Saudi Arabia and Iran, women are forced to cover up. And yes, I’m against that, but that’s a cultural thing and not a religious one. The Quran gives general intrusctions, and the Hadith, the sayings and actions of the prophet Muhammad, gives details. It’s important to remember that what was written then doesn’t need to have the same interpretation today. Most muslim women choose to wear the hijab. Most muslim women want to cover up. I know at least three women who put the hijab on at a young age, and then decided to remove it. MY MOTHER REMOVED HER HIJAB AT ONE POINT. Granted, she put it on at 11-years-old and removed it about a month later, but the point remains that it is a choice; it’s a worldly representation of your Faith.
The word Islam literally means surrender, and letting go of worldly vanities is a step into surrender; like monks living in Kathmandu, or Sufis wandering and letting go of physical possessions. It’s meant to be a physical representation of what your priorities are: my appearance doesn’t matter as much as my intentions; ‘I will cover the outside so you can get to know me on the inside first.’
Some Middle Eastern cultures have let an innate patriarchy warrant a rather patriarchal interpretation of Islam. There’s an entire conversation that should happen about Islam being “anti-feminist,” because this is truthfully an atrocious lie.
There is a difference between religion and culture disguised under religious pretenses. The way Nadia was portrayed in Élite is just an example of how the media doesn’t distinguish between these two things. It’s time we learn to differentiate, and realize that what TV teaches you isn’t always what’s real – unrealistic beauty standards? Unrealistic portrayal of the hijab. It goes both ways.
Graphic by @sundaeghost