Sondos Alqattan did not apologize the way people thought she would.
The Kuwaiti beauty blogger recently came under fire for posting a now-deleted video where she complained about Filipina domestic workers being granted the right to a day off and the right to keep their own passports by Kuwaiti law.
Instead of issuing a sincere apology for her wrong and loud views, she released a statement defending her views. Not quite the response many were hoping for. In her now-private Twitter account, Alqattan says that the criticism she is facing is an attack on Kuwait, the hijab, and Islam as a whole. On her Instagram, she stood by her view that “the passport of any expat employee should be in the possession of the employer to protect the employer’s interest.”
Article 12 of the Domestic Worker Law in Kuwait states that “The employer is not allowed to keep in his possession any of the domestic workers’ personal identity documents, such as passport or civil status card, unless the domestic worker has agreed thereof.”
According to the Human Rights Watch World Report, “The law also does not set out sanctions against employers who confiscate passports or fail to provide adequate housing, food, and medical expenses, work breaks, or weekly rest days.”
Recent reforms to this Kuwaiti law require that Filipina domestic workers keep their own passports, which is what upset Alqattan and prompted her to post the controversial video. Yes, she is correct in that people are attacking her identities as a Muslim, Kuwaiti, and hijabi (which is normal for media outlets and critics in general, and they don’t make exceptions for beauty bloggers) but her defensive position is flawed, if not confusing.
Her claim that the criticism she is receiving is an attack on her home country cannot possibly be true, because Kuwait is the country that passed the reforms to protect Filipina domestic workers’ rights in the first place. In fact, by creating a video complaining about the reforms, Alqattan was the one denouncing her own government. She is criticising her country’s policies by speaking out against them. She has enjoyed the services of a human being who is now able to take a day off and keep her passport — privileges that are afforded without second thought to any other working individual. As a citizen of Kuwait, and a so-called patriot, I would think that Alqattan would be in support of such a positive reform that protects someone’s human rights. But she seems to be publicly humanitarian and patriotic only when it is convenient for her.
Her claim that the criticism she is receiving is an attack on her home country cannot possibly be true, because Kuwait is the country that passed the reforms to protect Filipina domestic workers’ rights in the first place.
If I was the Kuwaiti government, I would be concerned about individuals like Alqattan and those who share her views of the way domestic workers should be treated. How will Kuwait enforce the reforms to this law, so that regardless of the personal views of their employers, Filipina domestic workers get the rights they deserve? Is there a system in place to hold negligent citizens accountable? And while Alqattan is busy claiming the criticism she’s receiving is an attack on all Muslims and hijabis, the rest of the Muslim and hijabi world is doing what they can to distance themselves from her narrative.
She clearly felt confident, supported, and comfortable enough in her own views to voice an opinion and speak for people “who feel like her” on a public platform. In attempting to diffuse some of the heat off of herself onto an already vilified community, as well as onto other hijabis, she is using her identities as a cop-out. It is unfair for her to use other women as a shield to hide behind, instead of owning up to her own mistakes and shortcomings. She clearly did not expect the backlash she received, nor does she feel like the criticism is justified or warranted, which she made clear in how she defended her views. If she is claiming that it is an attack on Muslims, that would mean that Islam supports her way of thinking, and how she treats others who work for her. This is claim is incorrect.
In Surah A’rafayat 85 it says, “To the Madyan people We sent Shu`aib, one of their own brethren: he said: “O my people! Worship Allah; Ye have no other god but Him. Now hath come unto you a clear (sign) from your Lord! Give just measure and weight, nor withhold from the people the things that are their due; and do no mischief on the earth after it has been set in order: that will be best for you, if ye have Faith.” This ayah can apply to any relationship or interaction, but we can use it as guidelines for an Islamic employer/employee work relationship. The Kuwaiti government has set something that was very wrong aright. Even though it took far too long to enact, Filipina domestic workers now have the right to a day off, and the right to keep their passports.
Alqattan seems to think that it is fair to keep her employees working for seven days out of the week, and on top of that, hold on to her domestic workers’ passports for fear they will hop on the next flight home (probably because they’re overworked and underpaid). Regardless of the employer/employee relationship, she should not hold on to anyone’s passport because it is not her property, and it does not rightfully belong to her. If Alqattan was treating her employees correctly, perhaps she would not have this fear that they would flee with their documents if given the chance.
By not apologizing and further defending her statement in such a bizarre way, and citing Islamophobia as a poor excuse, Alqattan has proven that she does not, for a minute, think her views were wrong — which is a problem.
In the above ayah, Allah commands us to treat each other justly and give employees what rightfully belongs to them — in this case, passports. Because of my own experience with domestic workers in the United Arab Emirates, I am personally offended by Alqattan’s position, and deeply saddened by her unwillingness to see the error in her views.
I grew up in the UAE, where domestic workers from the Philippines, Indonesia, Ethiopia and Southeast Asia are also employed in many homes. Growing up, my family had an Indonesian housekeeper. She had access to whatever she needed, including her passport. In addition to her regular time off, I remember her leaving to get married, have a baby, and to occasionally visit her son, who lived with her in-laws. She was amazing, and I can’t remember a time in my childhood when she wasn’t there helping my Mom around the house.
She became an integral part of our family — she watched us grow up, she taught us her own language, fed us food from her own country, loved us like we were her own kids, and she taught my mom how to cook the best fried chicken ever. We treated her with the respect she deserved. We continue to stay in touch, and make sure she is being treated well in the homes she has worked in after we moved back to the United States.
I know what it is like to have a housekeeper live with you, who helps raise your kids and keeps your home in order. Because of my experience, it appalls me that individuals like Alqattan can say with complete confidence that Filipina domestic workers shouldn’t get a day off or can’t keep their own passports. That is inhumane, un-islamic, and unfair. Judging by how she’s dealt with the heat of all this controversy, it is clear to me that Alqattan doesn’t seem to understand what being an influencer actually entails.
Sometimes we can get caught up on social media. We interact with people’s profile pictures and beautiful feeds, and we often forget that there are actual humans behind those accounts, people who have real thoughts, feelings, and in Alqattan’s case, bad opinions. As a public figure, she has a responsibility to her followers to be a positive representation of what it means to be a Muslim, hijabi, and a Kuwati. As a public figure, she has a responsibility to show her followers what humility, grace, and sincerity looks like, but instead she refuses to see where she is wrong, and perpetuates the idea that it is perfectly fine to be inhumane to others in your employ.
Alqattan has lost a lot due to her video. Brands like MaxFactor Arabia have dropped her, making it very clear where they stand. She did not think about other Muslims when she posted her video, nor did she think about other Kuwaitis who have differing views, or other hijabis who will now be under an even brighter spotlight because of her. She was thinking selfishly, and as a social media influencer with such a huge following, she should have been more thoughtful. On top of that, she has deleted the video, and called the entire controversy a “rumor,” meaning any followers who did not catch the original post will be blissfully unaware of her great mistake. This is misleading and dishonest, as she continues to put forth this false, picture-perfect image of someone who seems to be untouchable because of her status.
Social media has pros and cons, but that day Instagram followers did what they do best: Expose, expose, expose. Many people around the world don’t know (or would like to believe) that modern-day slavery does not exist. That day made one thing painfully clear — it exists in many countries that are slowly reforming to protect domestic workers, but the superiority complex some employers have still remains. As a social media influencer, Alqattan must understand that she was an easy target. Everyone loves to be famous and popular until they make a big public blunder like that.
By not apologizing and further defending her statement in such a bizarre way, and citing Islamophobia as a poor excuse, Alqattan has proven that she does not, for a minute, think her views were wrong — which is a problem. She continues to grow her following on Instagram (she just hit 2.4 million) and gets over 20,000 likes on her photos.
It is okay to make a mistake. It is okay to be famous and pick yourself up after a slip-up and keep going.
However, it is wrong to continue to profess and stand by a view that is detrimental to the well-being of others, especially those in her care. Regardless of how someone treats their employees, there is no reason for an employer to keep an employee’s passport. It belongs to the passport holder (according to Kuwaiti law and common sense).
Alqattan needs to realize that saying that someone is equal and acting like someone is equal are two very different things.