Made in Sweden: Halal-TV

Muslimah Media Watch thanks Shaista for the tip!

A couple of days ago, a new TV show about Muslim women in Sweden, Halal-TV, aired its first episode on Sveriges Television (SVT), a Swedish television channel.

As expected, the show, which features three young Muslim women as hosts, was stirring up debate before it even began. A Kurdish-Swedish author, Dilsa Demirbag-Sten, pointed out that 23-year-old host Cherin Awad had said, at age 18, that stoning a woman to death was an appropriate punishment for adultery. Awad, a lawyer, has since retracted her previous comments.

The show also features 22-year-old doctor-to-be Dalia Azzam Kassem and 25-year-old dental hygienist Khadiga El-Khabiry. All were born in Sweden.

But that’s not what the hullabaloo is now about. On the very first episode, Awad and El-Khabiry refused to shake the hand of Carl Hamiltion (all pictured below), a columnist from the left-wing newspaper, Aftonbladet. According to a transcript published in the Expressen newspaper, this exchange occurred:

“I’m sorry, you ought to shake my hand,” said Hamilton.

“That’s something I decide,” replied El Khabiry.

“No, I don’t think so!” Hamilton shot back.

[He was then asked what he thought a Swede who had converted to Islam ought to do].

“He should shake hands when in Sweden. If he can’t manage that then he can go live in a cave and be a hermit. It’s about how we live as Swedes. That’s how we socialize, we shake hands. It’s not we who are the problem. The problem is that you come here and don’t want to shake hands, so it’s actually you who are the problem.”

“We didn’t come here. I was born here,” El Khabiry reminded Hamilton.

Cherin Awad, Dalia Azzam Kassem, Carl Hamilton, and Khadiga El Khabiry. Image via SVT.

From left to right: Cherin Awad, Dalia Azzam Kassem, Carl Hamilton, and Khadiga El Khabiry. Image via SVT.

If you understand Swedish, go to the program’s website then click on the side bar where it says “Se programmet” to watch the clip. You need to know Swedish because the incident happened off-camera though it was audio-recorded.

According to Shaista, a Swedish-born Muslim:

“In the clip [the incident is] when they’re sitting down and the picture is a bit blurry. They sort of had a row. They asked him why he reacted the way he did and he was saying he was the one being normal, that’s how everyone would react in Sweden, etc.

At the end of the show he is given an opportunity to state his side of the story, he’s basically saying he lost his temper a little, he doesn’t usually but he felt he was being accused of being a racist and they were rude towards him and tried to undermine him by not shaking hands, that’s what made him question them and lose his temper.”

In a column he published in his newspaper Hamilton asked “Is it racist to want to shake hands with a Muslim?” and said the non-handshaking minority should adapt themselves to the handshaking majority.

(Most of the above information I got from the well-researched article in The Local, Sweden’s English newspaper).

Where to start?

Let’s take how the media tackled the no-handshaking issue. In the article I quoted above, the article was actually passably fair, though, as Shaista points out, the transcript is slightly edited, not mentioning that Hamilton forcibly grabbed one of the women’s hands to shake, and that he said that if she doesn’t shake hands in Sweden she might as well return to Iran (Note: Not her country).

Some blog posts (where the issue was first raised) were sarcastic of the whole issue, with the author of this post titled “On Swedish TV, a Muslim Woman Supports Stoning Adulteresses,” saying:

“My only question here is, how long will it take before the closed minded columnist of the Left-wing rag Aftonbladet is labeled as a racist? If Hamilton refuses to see the light and the error of his ways, it’ll only a matter of time before he’s cast into the outer darkness by his peers. All that wailing and moaning and gnashing of the teeth awaits him, especially the gnashing of teeth.”

And that’s not the only sensationalist title. A post on corrupt.com is titled “Muslim TV Show Shocks Swedish Public,” and has some very interesting insights on the show:

“What’s striking about the response to the show is how both journalists and the Swedish public react negatively against watching radical Muslims appearing live on television. What are we, I ask as a Swede, afraid of? Did we think all Muslims would convert to law abiding Social Democrats the minute they crossed our borders?

I may be one of the few Swedes who appreciated watching these three Muslims express their opinions on TV. Aside from the tedious socialist propaganda and the poor journalism, it reflects the feelings, behavior and attitude of a great portion of the people who’ve come to stay in this country since the late ’70s. These people are no longer portrayed as hard working wannabe-Westerners without cultural roots. They represent their cultural and religious identity, and do so with pride. Even more, they refuse to accept our culture.

Such a silly social act as shaking hands, which in Sweden is a very important formal signal that you welcome a person in question (not shaking hands is the same as expressing resentment towards that same person), sparked a lively debate among people. “Why can’t they accept our social traditions?” The answer is: they already have social traditions of their own, and we’re morons if we thought they’d abandon these on the whim. Opposed to us, they are proud of their culture, while we spend hours on television condemning ours.”

I don’t want to go off on a tangent here, but I have some reservations about his whole post. In the above comments, he not only labels the three women hosts as “radicals,” he assumes that just because Muslims are proud of their culture they must reject Swedish culture and laws. He paints a picture of “us” and “them” that are in binary opposition, forgetting that the three Swedish women are part of that “us!” By simplifying the situation, he has effectively reduced the difficulties any person with dual identities faces to something trivial. He also refuses to consider the idea that shaking hands may mean a very different thing to those women—one has to take into account different beliefs and cultures. If it wasn’t a religious issue (for example, let’s say giving the okay sign in Brazil, which is equivalent to giving someone your middle finger), I’m assuming it wouldn’t have been so hard to avoid doing it.

I do believe, though, that the women should have made it clear before the show began taping that they did not want to shake hands, because I understand it is embarrassing to put out your hand and not have it shaken.

On the issue of shaking hands, Shaista is frustrated:

“The debate in Swedish newspapers continues and much focus is on why some people in the Muslim community chose not to shake hands with the opposite sex. TV-shows and journalists are once again calling to get in touch with the Muslim community to have us “explain this” to them. They think we should be happy and grateful that they are getting in touch with us to let us have chance to clarify things. But I’m not too happy or grateful. The only time they contact us is when we have to explain ourselves as the problematic part of society. We are once again given on-air time in defensive positions. A lot of us are getting tired of it. It’s not our job to run to the studios and explain and answer the questions they pose when they feel like it.”

(For more stories, go here, where the blog author has posted links to dozens of English and Swedish stories on the program).

A couple of last comments on the show itself, which is supposed to be the Muslim women explaining Sweden through their ‘Muslim’ eyes. I don’t speak Swedish, so I can’t judge the content, but from what I’ve read, the first episode talked about class and wasn’t very ‘meaty.’ I watched the clip on the site, and even though I don’t understand Swedish, I still have something to say.

The three women, although they come from different backgrounds, are hijabis. And although way harsh, this is what Demirbag-Sten, the Swedish author, wrote in a column published last week in the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper:

“There are many ways for public broadcasting to use high standards of journalism to address the diversity issues which affect the Muslim part of the population without reducing the group to deeply faithful, headscarf bearing, homophobic teetotalers who believe that women should be virgins until they are married and support stoning for adultery.”

Immediately, you see that the connection has been made that wearing hijab = the stereotypes he just spewed. Awad’s previous statement and the women’s refusal to shake hands just reinforced those stereotypes.

I have to question why it is the three women are hijabis. It’s an unfortunate truth, but the reality is that the hijab, especially with the target audience of the show, might make all three women seem homogenous. Criticism of them being veiled actually came from unveiled Swedish Muslim women.

In an interesting eight minute (English) radio interview with the TV show producer Gunnar Hofverberg and the three hosts right before the show began, Hofverberg says:

“They don’t represent anyone but themselves. We have 150,000 religious Muslims in Sweden and we don’t make a program that represents this group.”

The radio interviewer (who’s actually very articulate though he does ask the [Swedish born] women “have you learned anything about Sweden?”) asked the three women why they think people look at them and say “Ah, three women in hijab. They must all think the same.” One of them answered (sorry, can’t tell their voices apart!):

“It seems so illogical when you say it so I can’t even say why. If I see three white men next to each other, I won’t say they must all have the same political views. We would never think that way.”

The radio interviewer then told them that because so few veiled women are on Swedish TV, people will see them as role models or forebearers. Another one answered:

“We’re all very aware that people consider us to be representatives for the Muslim community and we understand that but that’s not what we want. We want to show we are all individuals. We have two factors in common: we live in Sweden and we are Muslim. But other than that we are very different.”

Last comment: why is the show named ‘Halal TV?’

  • http://www.stop-stoning.org Rochelle

    I heard about this show from a Swedish woman in my office, and it made me ick in a lot of ways.

    First the name connotes that all other forms of TV are not Halal, and are thus forbidden. Ick.

    And although I realize these women, or any women, should never be taken as a representative of all Swedish Muslims, they didn’t exactly shout “Diversity!” to me. I mean, this isn’t the “View”. They’re all white, they’re all hijabis, there seem to have pretty similar ideas on what constitutes sharia and Islam and everything. I’m willing to bet they’re all Sunnis. If the show wanted to show that not all Swedish Muslim women think they same, they didn’t do a very good job of it in my opinion. I mean, the show is called “Halal TV” for chrissakes.

    Finally, I know we should look past the whole hand-shaking thing, but personally, when I’m in Iran, I make a note to take my shoes off at the door. I’m not saying that you have to conform to all cultural standards in whatever country you’re in, but something like hand-shaking, taking shoes off before you walk on somebody’s Persian rug, etc., are forms of politeness and respect that I feel people should honor unless it harms them personally.

    If these women were honestly uncomfortable, they should have made a note to their guest before hand so as not to embarrass him.

    In short, the whole show just reminded me of a zoo. “Look at the weird Muslim girls on TV!!!!” It’s offensive.

  • http://amuslimwife.blogspot.com MJ

    :O I don’t shake men’s hands either and have never gotten that response, WOW! I can’t believe his reaction. How dare he think that a woman has an obligation to allow him to touch her, and if he thinks it’s not such a big deal, than why is he so upset that she won’t allow that? I suppose it’s all culture, but if you’re going to constantly pique about democracy, lay of the ethnocentricism! His responses were so offensive!
    I’m 19 years old and my grandmother raised me that a man should never reach for a woman’s hand to shake it because it is her choice to initiate such a thing. She told me for a man to do so would be very rude. Many elderly people, or more conservative Americans (although few and far between) feel the same on this issue as Muslims. Alhamdulilah, whenever I inform people I can not shake their hand they always reply politely. Maybe it’s a strained or awkward, but the majority quickly bounce back after I’ve explained why. LOL most start the “na na na na can’t touch this!” song :)

  • Kholoud Khalifa

    @shaiste
    I read your comment and as a Muslim I feel like I should respond and perhaps provide you with a different perspective. I am an Egyptian born and raised in Vienna, Austria. What got my attention most was “TV-shows and journalists are once again calling to get in touch with the Muslim community to have us ‘explain this’ to them.” I think as a Muslim you should seize this opportunity and inform others about our religion. It’s proven that people, nowadays, don’t like to read, so they see an action like this on T.V. and will immediately associate us with an extreme backward culture. If we don’t explain, (and I condemn the girls for not warning Hamilton beforehand) Swedes will be left in the dark and the Muslim stereotype will never fade out. Plus you need to ask yourself, why is the media always asking for an explanation? Is it because they’re ignorant and want to know more? Is it because they want to shed negative light on all Muslims? Is it because we constantly give them wrong implications? Is it because we really portray a backward culture? Refusing the media will give them a reason to believe all of the above is true. If you don’t explain yourself you let yourself fall into a mouse trap and you also give up your right to voice yourself.

  • http://www.thedaysarepacked.com Shawna

    jeez.

  • http://www.sisterpower.net Lana

    Ethar… another amazing article of yours … THANK YOU..luv everything you write :)

    i agree with you totally ..

    i am not sure why is it called Halal T.V? does this mean every other sort of T.V is “Haram”?
    i am not opening a debate here, i just don’t think it’s a smart choice..

    i heard Shaikh Hamza Yusuf once say, we need people who can represent Islam at the highest intellectual level, it’s a huge huge responsability to speak for Islam especially in the west with everything that’s happening and we shouldn’t take it lightly, we must be smart enough tp comprehend and deal with reality.

    I am not judging the show, i didn’t watch it, those were just thoughts.

    People who are representing Islam in media are taking among themselves a big responsibility and it’s a huge challange so they ought do it right …

    Thank you again
    and good luck to the sisters on Halal T.V may ALLAH grant them sucess

  • http://www.progressiveislam.info Salaam

    Thoughts:

    1) Proceeding from commonly held universal values might have helped deflate Hamilton. While Swedish culture may value shaking hands, it also values that every human being has the right to control their own body, to decide whether to touch or be touched.

    2) Hamilton drew the exchange down to a stark binary of civilization interaction: Who should be ‘sensitive’ to whom? We can elide that question by talking about the complexities of dual identity issues, but it would be better to respond to the question directly.

    3) Hamilton is a columnist, so as a matter of self-promotion he has to be provocative and give people a reason to pay attention to him, perhaps thereby increasing his readership. Maybe it was the Muslimahs who got ambushed here, not Hamilton. Muslims (who abstain from touching the other gender – that’s not all of us) in visual media should be ready for this trick in the future.

    4) A good filter (for Muslim-bashing) to have applied to Hamilton in that exchange would have been to ask him if he would have been offended if people of some other strain of belief that doesn’t allow the genders to touch – such as Orthodox Jews – would have offended him as much. A sweeping denunciation on his part of all people’s with such beliefs would have put him firmly in the discredited rightwing frame of reference.

  • Salma

    My personal opinion – they should have shook hands with the guy… especially if they are born and raised in Sweden they know how offensive it is if you don’t, so maybe they were just doing it for attention on their show, propaganda or somthing…

    Anyways, if they didn’t wanna shake hands they could have told him before the show, or let the producer or camera man let him know that they don’t shake hands.

  • http://achelois.wordpress.com/ Achelois

    It is embarrassing to put your hand out and be refused. Many who refuse to shake hands don’t realise that but it is very embarrassing for the one with the hand stuck out. I have been in Muslim cultures where male and female relatives (not mahrams) hug and kiss each other when they meet. It all has to do with what culture one belongs to in the end and in Swedish culture people shake hands.

  • Ima

    To everyone who thought the girls should’ve informed Hamilton about the handshaking issue beforehand: You get to see in the show that the incident took place before the actual recording. That’s why there’s only an audio file available of the row. The camera team were still rigging up the equipment but managed to get a voice recording.

    Furthermore, I fail to see how explaining it to Hamilton (or any other male person they are to meet after this show) BEFORE the programme would help. You don’t get to do that in real life. You don’t mail people you’re going to meet beforehand, telling them “Oh, btw, I will not be able to shake your hand tomorrow when we meet!” (well, I’ve actually contemplated doing that sometimes but refrained from doing so), or make your friends or colleagues explain it to every male you might encounter in order to make it all less awkward.

    While there’re lots of things it could improve on, the show is ultimately about Swedish muslim girls living in Sweden. THIS is the reality. You GET to encounter similar situations quite often. You will have to deal with it. The people you meet will also have to do so.

    I agree with Shaista on the media calling you only when you have to defend something. Kudos to her for bringing that up. That’s the only role muslim women in Swedish media gets to play other than being victims in one way or another. That’s why something like Halal TV is needed. As I said, it isn’t perfect. But it it tries putting muslim women (albeit in an outwardly almost identical fashion) on primetime TV. Without them having to defend themselves or play victims.

    Ethar: Thanks for reporting about this. It was very interesting to read. Also, I think the last two quotes are by Cherin Awad. And Dilsa Demirbag-Sten is female (I think you were still talking about her immediately after her quote with the stereotypes?).

  • Philip

    sigh i knew the “if there are no non-hijabis its not representative” thing was going to come up with this, never fail to disappoint. lol. (joke)

    In their defense there are a few things we should keep in mind.

    1. no one is paying them to be representative, in fact i am going to take a wild guess and say that this show is the result of 3 sisters getting off their bums and making some sort of positive contribution.

    2. hijab is up there with the minarets and the crescent in terms of symbolism of Islam.

    3. the name, halal was chosen (by my estimation) because it is quite commonly understood by those with a brain bigger than a peanut to be an Islamic term.

    4. Looking at the name(halal tv) and the lack of non hijabis, i guess you could extrapolate what their position on fard-ness of hijab is.

    5. they also did not have women in Burqa

    as for the shaking hands thing, to quote the Mufti of Bosnia “its his/her right as a conservative muslim to not have to shake your hand.”

  • laila

    I want to give these ladies the benefit of the doubt, because it’s a new t.v. show and their going to make some mistakes along the way; like this handshaking incident. Most of the time, someone (most likely) the producer informs the guest where they would be sitting, the network’s rule like no profanity, fact-checking or getting interesting or important topics to give the hostes so they can save time. And sometimes the guest inform’s the producer they don’t want to be asked certain personal questions or issues by the host or on national televsion (the off limit base). Well hand shaking would fall into this category of preparing the guest, and it would have saved the initiator from rejection or embarresment. The show is new and the hostes are probably still training or perhaps they lack the financial capability for a producer or middle person but they’ll learn the tricks of the trade soon. Like how to recover from an incident quickly or how to smooth the ruffles or how to get the guest comfortable to opening up etc.

    At first I thought what’s the big deal Hamiltion, but then I remembered when I gave props to someone and they didn’t give it back to me, yah I felt a little stupid, (lol). Or when you give someone a High Five and they don’t respond. Whatever … Hamiltion should of taken it gracefully.

    “He paints a picture of “us” and “them” that are in binary opposition,…”

    For sure he did that out-right but I feel like “Halal t.v” name/term also does that in a way too. I watched the clip and although I don’t speak Swedish, in the introduction one of the host’s seems to describe Halal and Haram and I got the vibe she was saying we want to stay within Halal. Again since I don’t speak the language I don’t know if she was describing Halal as what is permissible under Islam (such as dietary laws) or does she mean behaviour, clothing, manners, certain topics??? Or did she only explain what is Haram (things considered forbidden) in Islam and therefore everything outside that is Halal and they can discuss it?????

    With the language barrier who knows what she explains as Halal and Haram and why they call this show “Halal t.v.” Anyone want to translate this interesting bit (lol)?

    I’m really impressed on how you ladies post media coverage of Muslim women from Spain to Egypt to Sweden and everything under the moon. Thanks for going beyond the national boundaries (and every other boundary out there).

  • Karim Elmansi

    just one question ,Ethar. I am not arguing just want to know. Why do they live in Sweden ? obviously it doesnt fit them. seriously why a person would pick a society completely different than everything they believe in and try to force themselves in. (i know they were born there, assume they werent and even if they were they can move to a society where they can be who they are.)

  • Melinda

    Yuck.

  • Shaista

    I’m amazed at the comments made her by the sisters.

    First of all some people believe that it’s against the sunnah to shake hands, should they then not be allowed to follow what they belive is sunnah? I’m absolutely mindboggled by the sisters who are condemning our sisters who are trying to do what is right.

    Secondly, you guyz think they should have let him know before they met with him? Why? Is he a person who does not have the ability to deal with situations when they occur? Does everything in his life happen according to plan, as he wants it and when he wants it? And if it doesn’t, does that give him the right to bash out racist remarks???

    I’m stunned. In a free democratic multicultural society everyone should have just the same rights to chose what to do and what not to do with their body as long as it’s within the law of that country and no-where does a democratic free society force its citizens to shake hands. He doesn’t have a right to force them to shake hands with them nor to know beforehand how they will chose to greet him. He should be able to deal with situations anyway, stop babying him!

    Thirdly, some sisters have a personal opinion about how it’s better to shake hands because of this and that. Interesting, but it doesn’t matter what you think because you still don’t have a right to force your ‘religious opinion’ upon the sisters that chose not to do so. It’s like a muslim who eats non-halal meat would say “well I eat it, I think you should as well” So what? If I don’t believe it’s ok, I don’t care how far you are going to fit in, it’s not my problem, I have to have the right to stick to whatever fard or sunnah I feel like.

    Fourthly, sister Kholoud I think this sort of thinking is the biggest reason the western societies we live in don’t see us as equal citizens. Because as soon as they question us, put us against the wall we just respond with gratefulness. We’re so pleased they want to talk to us.

    I just want to clarify, I’m in no way against participating in media, I have done so many times myself before. I’m against being a part of it, when they feel like it, on their terms, answering the questions they pose, taking defensive position.
    If you think the apologetic tone has ever done muslims living in the west any good you’re wrong. It just gives the majority of soceity ‘more right’ to point fingers at us next time something happens. Because we let them. We give them the impression that we have to apologise for everything in the world they cannot understand.

    But I’m sorry, living in a free democratic soceity we should be given the same right to exsist without being blamed for everything wrong. We should be invited to TV-shows on the same terms as any other citizens of our soceity and not only to be questioned. We should be given just as much oppertunity to ask questions, but have you ever been a part of that happening sister?

    lastly, again I want to bring your attention to the fact that this isn’t a muslim issue, this is a issue of people living in free soceities have right to their own bodies and opinions, whether it’s normative or not, people should have the right to not dress, walk, talk and eat as they feel like within the boundries of the law.
    And this, without anyone threatning Swedishborn citizens to be sent back ‘home’.

  • Meryem

    Ethar: Thanks for the post! May God be please with you and your work.

    Lana and Laila: It says in the beginning of the show “Halal is what is right. Haram is what is wrong. We are going to make TV and it has to be halal.” Therefore the name Halal-tv…

    Karim Elmansi: Where exactly would you advice these Muslim women to move? Where exactly on earth do you find a place where a Muslim can practice Islam freely? Not even in a Muslim country you always have this freedom. Believe it or not, Sweden happens to be a fairly good country for Muslims, compared to many other European countries.

    Shaista: I’m with you!

  • Krista

    I think this is a tough issue to talk about when most of us don’t speak Swedish and really don’t know that much about it. Shaista, thanks for what you’ve written about this.

    I’m frustrated (but not surprised) by the implication that not shaking hands = rejecting Swedish culture, to the extent that there’s even a situation that these women go somewhere where they “belong.” Aren’t there many other ways that these women may “belong” in Sweden (you know, since they’ve lived there all their lives)? Might there be many ways – maybe even more significant than hand-shaking – that these women would be out-of-place in a Muslim country? I think people are making a bit of a mountain out of a molehill if they’re suggesting that these women should leave Sweden because they don’t engage in this one cultural practice…

    I agree with Shaista that, whether or not you choose to shake hands with everyone, the question of having a right to your own body and to decide who touches you is pretty fundamental. Of course, those refusing to shake hands should be friendly and gracious about it (there are certainly some ways to do this that are more polite than others), but I don’t think that the cultural expectation of a handshake overrides someone’s control over their body. It’s not the same as following cultural norms by taking your shoes off to go into someone’s house, since it probably doesn’t go against your belief system to do so (unless you have strong beliefs or other needs that require you to keep shoes on, in which case, that would be worthy of a different discussion.)

  • Ethar

    Thanks for all the great comments everybody!

    @ Rochelle: I agree with you that perhaps the name Halal TV wasn’t exactly the best choice though I’m not sure their naming the show that leads to them believing all other TV shows are haram.

    Handshaking is perhaps a bit different from taking your shoes off, because (unless you’re a very strict Shaf’i) it’s ok for your feet to show. But even then, there are ways around it like wearing socks? Perhaps gloves then?

    @ Kholoud: You make a valid point, but the problem is the opportunity to speak then wouldn’t be to talk about your religion; it would be to defend it. Shaista makes a valid point that the media only rushes to speak to Muslims when they’ve done something ‘wrong’ that needs explaining. And once again, we’re put in situations were we either end up looking a) defensive b) apologetic c) “radical.”

    @ Lana: I completely agree with Sh. Hamza that not anyone is qualified to speak about Islam and that those who do so shoulder a huge responsibility.

    @ Salaam: Great points!

    @ Ima: I agree that it’s sometimes impossible to let men know beforehand that you don’t shake hands. But, if it had been possible, perhaps this whole situation might have been averted. But yes, these things happen and both sides should be mature enough to deal with the situation.

    The show is still new so we can’t judge what effect it’s going to have on the perception of Swedish Muslim women, but there’s no denying it has potential.

    Thanks for the clarifications, I’ll fix the references.

    @ Philip: But of course, we aim to please :) But you’ll notice that my point was’t just that having three hijabis means non-hijabs are unrepresented, but that the viewers would consider the three women to be homogenous. So, to respond your comments:

    1. Even if they say they are not being representatives of Islam, chance are there are some people who will view them as being ones.

    2. No, hijab is definitely not like minarets or crescents! Hijab is something with a multitude of loaded meanings, while a minaret or a crescent is just that. True, when people see hijab they automatically think Islam, but it is so much more complex than just a symbol. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be such an issue.

    3. Yes, it is an Islamic term, but again, it’s a loaded one.

    4. True.

    5. Good point. But if we’re going to nitpick you can then say they didn’t represent every type of ‘covering’ a woman can have. That would be impossible. But it’s safe to say that hijabi and non-hijabi are the biggest two ‘types’ of dress and showing both of them would have satisfied a much larger segment of women.

  • Ethar

    @ Laila: I agree that the name halal-TV is exclusionary. Meryem explained what they say in the beginning “Halal is what is right. Haram is what is wrong. We are going to make TV and it has to be halal.” I don’t know about you but that doesn’t seem near enough for me.

    @ Karim Elmansi: They live in Sweden because it is their country! And I think it’s a bit presumptuous of you to say Sweden doesn’t “fit them” because they refused to shake hands. And where exactly can you be exactly like “you are?” We all adapt and change ourselves in different situations—in the workplace, with family, etc.

    I live in Egypt, a (supposedly) Muslim country, and yet I don’t feel “free” to be exactly how I want to be all the time. Even though there may be aspects of Swedish culture that don’t “mesh” with them, it is their country and they are part of that country! And who said everything about the culture is against what they believe in?

    I am Egyptian. I do not agree with circumcision (as an example) which over 90% of Egyptian women have undergone. There are many many unpleasant things in my culture I do not like, but that doesn’t mean I should just leave my country and go somewhere else!

    @ Shaista: “Stop babying him” Lol. And you are so right. We all have to deal with situations where we’ve been made uncomfortable as Muslims and we just have to deal with it. No one has ever tried to baby us!

    Thanks for the great insights–and I’m with you too!

  • Kholoud Khalifa

    @shaista,

    Who said you have to answer with an apologetic tone? and if you want to look at things that way.. you deliberately put muslims down. Its not about being grateful shista, its about voicing yourself, and mind you if you dont do that they’ll keep thinking we’re backwards.

    and whats wrong if you warn him beforehand? if you want them to accept our religion and what we believe then WE need to practice what we preach and respect their culture too. By warning him he wont be taken by surprise and he most certainly won’t start saying racist remarks. You can avoid things like this so easily by thinking first. otherwise there is no one to blame but yourself.

    I am not defending him shaista, nor am i “babying him”, you need to look at the bigger picture.

  • http://www.stop-stoning.org Rochelle

    They should have let him know before the show started so that he wasn’t embrassed in front of thousands of viewers. When somebody in Iran tells me to fix my “bad hijab”, that’s their right. But to tell me that in front of thousands of people is humiliating. It has nothing to do with religion, it has to do with common curtosy. Of course these women should have the right to do whatever they want with their bodies. But I made the analogy to taking my shoes off in Iran because I think it shows how every country has a predominate form of showing respect and politeness, and it often has nothing to do with religion.

    I am kind of shocked by all the support I’m reading here for this show. This show ESSENTIALIZES Muslim women like I’ve never seen. It’s like the flip side of the Orientalist coin. “Halal TV?” YUCK! The subtext there is clearly that other programs are haram. Just the believe that there is such a thing as a haram tv creeps me out.

    Both Muslims and non-Muslims can essentialize what being Muslim means. Do these women have the right to broadcast their show? Absolutely. Does it do well by Swedish Muslim women? I don’t think so.

  • Meryem

    Rochelle: The handshaking-story took part before the cameras were on, so I guess “in front of thousands of viewers” is not really the situation here. Furthermore, the name choice was probably not the best, but Halal-tv does not mean “that other programs are haram.” It only says that this program is halal. Personally, I think they wanted a name that was connected to Islam and at the same time known amongst the non-muslim Swedes. The Arabic words mostly known in Sweden are “halal”, “haram” and “yallah”… By the way, you don’t think there is haram TV?? What about erotic and porn movies? I would call that haram…

  • http://getoutlines.wordpress.com Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    I’m not impressed with the remarks about “I couldn’t understand what they were saying but it looked like…”. Come on! Would we accept that sort of analysis from other sources? Either we know what they said, or we don’t and have to reserve judgment.

    Rochelle – Whether the show’s title is right or wrong, surely the concept of kinds of programming being haram, surely isn’t so odd. For example, a pornography channel, would be considered haram viewing by many. Plus, do you really think the women pictured are white?

    I’m feeling like too many of the pieces here are just destructive nit picking. It’s hard enough as a Muslim and especially as a Muslim woman, to have any kind of media presence and to know that if you do succeed, then you’ll be chastised for not being ‘representative enough’ or whatever, probably hinders this further.

  • Asmaa

    Re: Why is it called ‘Halal TV?’ I mean seriously, get over the whole “they’re saying all other tv is haram!” line. It sounds like inflated rhetoric against this non white “white” girls. (snicker). I’m just saying, as someone who used to work in tv, that it was probably something someone along the line (likely a higher up) decided sounded good and conveyed what the show was about so that viewers wouldn’t have to do too much work. On the one hand, it sounds like a working title that stuck, but on the other hand, I’d bet it had two or three other names prior to this one. Stop reading so much into everything. I think “Neo-Conservative Talk Hour in Which Three White-When-It’s-Convenient-For-You Covered Women Who are Totally Different From One Another and In No Way Represent all of Sweden’s Muslim Population Manufacture Some Controversy” would have been too long for the TiVo.

  • Simone

    I’ve seen the program and I think it is good! The girls are all very self-confident, and they talk about gender equality, the gender pay gap and how men should take equal responsibility for children and household work. In other words, they contradict the image of muslim women the average Swede has. Muslim women in veils do not need to be oppressed, they are no victims!

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  • http://www.mangonocturna.blogspot.com Mango Nocturna

    According to western customs of politeness, a gentleman does not extend his hand to a lady, but leaves the choice to her.

    Should she extend her hand, he shakes or kisses it according to the situation and his own cultural tradition, and if she does not, he simpy says “Pleased to meet you,” or similar if being introduced to her for the first time, or “Good to see you again,” or “nice weather we’re having” or “How bout them Lakers?” or whatever conversation or pleasantries may be appropriate to the situation, but he does not comment on her decision not to extend her hand.

    This has nothing to do with Islam or Islamic tradition. This is the western European standard of polite behavior as has been taught to children as soon as they were old enough to extend (or not) their tiny hands, for generations.

    Unfortunately, there are apparently some individuals who were not taught these things, one is obliged to wonder, despite oneself, if Mr Hamilton is accustomed to place his elbows on the table at dinner, or use his fork to shove peas on the blade of his knife in preparation for placing the latter into his mouth.

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  • Sofia

    Hello – I’m Swedish, living in Sweden but have spent some time in Oman and I know the difference between a religiuos and secular society. I think the hole thing about halal-tv is very unfortunate for both believers and non-believers. Mango Nocturna: it is not as simple as to say that

    “According to western customs of politeness, a gentleman does not extend his hand to a lady, but leaves the choice to her.”

    That is not the way it is in Sweden, and I think I can understand why this hole misunderstanding led to a quarrel- C. Hamilton got a signal from the girls that did´’t want to shake hands with him that they thouhgt he wanted to be sexually intimate with them, and that he was being a sexually hungry sexist and racist. That made him extremely embarrased and therefore angry. It’s not an excuse, but an explanation.

    I don’t think anyone should be forced to shake hands – but it must have been confusing for mr Hamilton that one of the girls did and the others not…. and I must admit that I don’t understand why one of the girls who refused to thouch mr Hamiltons hand so willingly extended her hand to a dog (haram!) and why they behaved so flirtatously towards the old rich man and told him he was good looking for his age and actually stroke his hair….that I find extremely strange for muslim women as well as a non muslim women.

    Swedes in general are not religious and it might seem strange but we will slowly have to learn about the meaning of religious rules.

    Religious rules make most Swedes nervous, and we don’t need to fuel the misunderstandings between groups in our society. These girls in halal-tv have the knowledge of two worlds, and they shold use that knowledge in a better way, I think and bridge gaps, not seek trouble.

    [This comment has been edited to fit within moderation guidelines.]

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  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    @ Sofia: I think you misunderstand the reason that some Muslim women don’t shake hands…

    But I want to point out something. You said “Religious rules make Swedes nervous” and “Swedes are not very religious.”

    When you say Swedes, who are you talking about? Are you talking about all Swedes, which include Swedish Muslims (many of whom are not “nervous” about “religious rules” and who may be fairly religious)? No. You’re talking about (mostly) white, Christian Swedes.

    It’s easy to say that the dominant majority is X or Y because you don’t see that X or Y is right in front of you. During Christmas, isn’t the Christian religion splashed all over Sweden? On TV, in the malls, on the radio…that’s very “in your face.” But white Christian Swedes don’t have a problem with it, do they?

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  • Plateau

    Fatemah, there is such a thing as ethnic Swedes – descendants from Germanic tribes such as the Suiones and Geats, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swedish_people) and who, in spite of large scale immigration over the past 30 years, still comprise the majority of the population of Sweden. This is who Sofia is rightly referring to in her comment. Ethnic Swedes, the indigenous population are in the main quite non-religious. Sweden is one of the most atheistic/agnostic nations on the planet (http://www.adherents.com/largecom/com_atheist.html)

    All of which makes your snarky outrage utterly irrelevent.

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    I never said that “ethnic Swedes” didn’t exist. I’m just trying to make the case that the nation of Sweden does not just include (or belong to or serve) “ethnic Swedes” but everyone with Swedish citizenship, including people who are religious or not “ethnically” Swedish.

  • E

    For those saying non-hijabies are not reprsented I just want to say that they are otherwise well represented in Western media, it’s the hijabies that are usually portrayed as radicals.

    I think the show is a great first step toward a more open-minded society.


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