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.

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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!

Happy New Year! + Taking a Break
Friday Links | December 26, 2014
A Potential Burqa Ban at the Federal Level in Switzerland
Syrian Series “Bab Al Hara” and the Need to Combat Traditional Images of Women
  • brokenmystic

    This is the first time I’ve heard about Muna Abu Sulayman, but I really enjoyed watching the interview. It was really insightful.

    I agree that it is refreshing to see a Muslim woman in the media who is not only passionate about women’s rights and social work, but also about her faith in Islam. The misconception is that you’re either one or the other. I like how she wants to show the world that there are many opportunities for women in the Muslim world, and the fact that she’s an ambassador for the United Nations reflects that. However, as Krista mentioned, Muna’s background and experience in the United States is not the same as many other Saudi women, particularly the less-privileged ones. I think Muna is understanding of that since she mentioned that in the interview, but it would be nice for her to elaborate more and share some thoughts on that.

    I personally didn’t find the interviewer, Riz Khan, to be patronizing. I actually thought he was pointing the misconceptions out in order for Muna to enlighten the audience about how these are stereotypes and don’t apply to all Muslims. I thought he was quite respectful, but maybe I missed something.

    I was kind of saddened to hear about Muna’s divorce story, only because it seems like divorce is becoming a normal fact of life in the Muslim community/world. I read an article in my weekly Muslim newspaper and it pointed out that, according to statistics, divorce rates among Muslims in the West are much higher than before. Whether we are male or female, has divorce increased because we are too demanding? Muna mentions how she was traveling a lot and working with so many people, and maybe that implicates what separated her from her husband. If we are to think in stereotypical terms about Muslim men, we may think that he was too possessive and controlling of her. But then there’s an alternative viewpoint: maybe he just wanted to spend more time with her. I find myself leaning more to the latter explanation only because I find it difficult to believe that a possessive, controlling, and fundamentalist Muslim man would be ok with befriending his ex-wife.

    Then she mentioned that it’s hard to find a man who is willing to have her kind of relationship. I feel that a lot of young Muslims feel that way. I can certainly relate. But we have to draw the line somewhere, don’t we? In the same way that a Muslim woman can be a feminist and a devout Muslim, I’m sure there are those who believe that one can be an independent woman and also have a successful Romantic relationship. I hope there are anyway, lol.

    p.s I LOVE Al-Jazeera!

  • brokenmystic

    Oh and Ramadan Mubarak to everyone as well :) May Allah increase us all in Peace, Wisdom, and Compassion, ameen.

  • Jana

    I haven’t had time to actually watch both parts myself yet :D

    Kalam Nawaem is set to be aired in Holland (the first Arabic programme to do so). I’ve read several reports in Arabic, but I can’t seem to find any in English. This clip goes behind the scenes at the show:

    On top of all she does, Muna’s also launching her own clothing line in Jeddah on September 15th!

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  • a

    Arabian Lady magazine did a great feature story + interview on her, it was very interesting.