Hi there! You may recognize me. I’m a Muslim woman, who also happens to be American. I’m also Arab, and I have something to say about the recent spate of American-based television shows that pretend to understand my culture. They have triggered debate after debate, and an Emmy win that we did NOT see coming. A part of me does believe that it’s possible that the producers or creators of shows like Hulu’s “Ramy” or Apple’s “Hala” were probably thinking that by depicting these seemingly tired old narratives, they were going to help American Muslims. Another part of me hates how some of these shows depict Muslim women.
But there is another truth that we seem to be overlooking in this depiction of the “bullied” Muslim woman. The truth is, there are so many women being pushed and bullied into things related to their faith. I know I was, and to a certain degree, I still feel like I am, a little bit. Many people get offended by these shows because they discuss the perceived “oppression” of Muslim women, but that part doesn’t actually upset me. Want to hazard a guess as to why? It’s because I know how that feels. I know how it feels to be bullied into feeling like some part of me isn’t Islamic enough until it’s been tweaked to suit someone else’s requirements.
Just because I don’t like the depiction doesn’t mean I can’t accept that the bullying of Muslim women exists, sometimes from within our own families, and often in the ways depicted in “Hala” and “Ramy.”
Now don’t get me wrong. I may not like people who have never walked in my shoes trying to portray my culture on TV, but let’s be honest here. There is an abundance of bullying and hypocrisy occurring against women all over the world, in so many forms, and in so many different cultures. The only way to defeat this oppression is by having more representation and stories publicized from those who do feel like they were forced into something. It’s hard, but doable. It certainly requires the right team to tell these sensitive stories. But it is important that we have these discussions, even if it doesn’t paint the self-proclaimed gatekeepers of Islam in the best light.
Don’t just criticize depictions of anyone who suggests that some Muslim women are being bullied into adopting aspects of Islam before they’re ready. Although it happens to women everywhere, let’s be honest with ourselves: Muslim women have it pretty bad. Some cultures from the Middle East have indomitable forms of patriarchy that are wholly un-Islamic, and these structures of patriarchy continue to this day. If “Hala” and “Ramy” portray it in the slightest, we have no right to get upset. Instead we should do something about it, because those depictions are conceivably based upon real emotions that a real Muslim woman has felt somewhere in the world, at some point in her life.
Instead of criticizing, ask yourself, where are these experiences coming from? Is there something I have missed? Just because you haven’t been bullied into adopting aspects of your faith doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Instead of feeling frustrated that these shows are highlighting Muslim women in situations they don’t wish to be in, let’s make sure to become advocates for women who are being compelled in their faith by patriarchal figures. Take it from someone who has been there, and still fights it everyday! If you really want to stop the portrayal of Muslim women being oppressed, then do something about it; help those that are!
Look, I hear the criticism of how Muslim women are portrayed in “Hala” and “Ramy.” I understand the need for stories about Muslim women that don’t center on their faith, or patriarchal figures in their lives bullying them into submission. But please know that I was one of those women from “Ramy” and “Hala” once. I felt bullied, and oppressed, and pushed around. I needed to see women dealing with that on the screen. The experience of being a Muslim woman is so diverse! We need to ensure that the entirety of the female Muslim experience is depicted so that every woman, in every situation feels seen and acknowledged. This means we need to see the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Compulsion has no place in a faith like Islam, and it’s important that we understand that. I’m not saying that “Ramy” and “Hala” handled the plight of a Muslim woman well. I’m not saying that we don’t simultaneously need to see female Muslim leads whose stories don’t center around any ambiguity they may feel about their faith. Of course we need those stories, too. I’m just as fed as the next Muslim women up that we aren’t getting those stories too. However, we cannot be dismissive of the emotions of the Muslim women depicted in “Hala” and “Ramy.” Just because I don’t like the depiction doesn’t mean I can’t accept that the bullying of Muslim women exists, sometimes from within our own families, and often in the ways depicted in “Hala” and “Ramy.” While we do need stories about Muslim women that don’t center on faith, we need the women being bullied to understand that we see their struggles, too.