One on One interviews Muna Abu Sulayman

First, Ramadan mubarak to all MMW readers! I know that Fatemeh said that already, but I wanted to wish you a happy Ramadan myself too : )

We’re about a month late on this, but I wanted to cover an interview with Muna Abu Sulayman that was aired on One on One with Riz Khan. Abu Sulayman is a Saudi woman and one of the hosts of the show Kalam Nawaem, which is apparently similar to the American show The View, but airs in Arabic and is focused on social issues in the Middle East. She also works as executive director for the Kingdom Foundation, and has been designated as a Global Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme. In addition to all this, she is also a mother of two daughters.

The interview, which you can see in the clips above and below, was generally quite interesting. I appreciated how Abu Sulayman was very conscious of the way that people come to see her as a representative of her country, or of Saudi women, and her acknowledgement of the responsibility that this brings. (Whether or not she should have this burden of representing her country, her sex, or her religion every time she opens her mouth, is another story, but it’s worth at least being aware that it is how she’s seen.)

It was also refreshing, in a world where Muslims are often assumed either to have to completely reject their religion/culture or to stand up and defend all aspects of it, to see her speak from a perspective that directly challenges stereotypes that people might have of Saudi Arabia and of Saudi women (or Muslim women), while simultaneously talking about the obstacles that women do face in her country. Yes, it is possible to do both! She came across as confident in her Saudi identity, without seeming as if she was ignorant of (or an apologist for) oppression that might occur in her country. On the other hand, in the discussions of barriers that women may or may not face, it would have been nice to see some consideration of the role of economic or educational privilege, since Abu Sulayman certainly comes from a background where certain privileges have likely mitigated the gender-related obstacles that she could have encountered.

Although the interviewer was generally fairly good, I did find him patronising at times. He seemed to focus on the challenges Abu Sulayman had come up against, particularly as a woman, which didn’t seem like it was her first priority to discuss. Most annoying was his (repeated) use of the word “impose” when asking about the religious guidance that Abu Sulayman received from each of her parents. The implication that her religious practice was something forced on her was somewhat offensive, given that this woman is clearly very accomplished and probably able to think for herself, even when it comes to religion!

This is my second time posting on something Saudi-related, and as with the first time, I’m sure there’s a lot that I’m missing! So I’ll stop here and open it up to all of you. I’d love to hear thoughts on the interview or on Muna Abu Sulayman and her role as a media presence from any of you who have come across her elsewhere! I’m also interested in reflections from any of you who have seen her show, Kalam Nawaem.

Muslimah Media Watch thanks Jana for the tip!