Not Australia’s Next Top Model: Iktimal Hage-Ali

Iktimal Hage-Ali, 24 is a Lebanese-Australian woman whose life reads like an episode of E! True Hollywood Story.

Iktimal Hage-Ali. Image via Ross Schulz.

Iktimal Hage-Ali. Image via Ross Schulz.

Hage-Ali, a former member of the government‘s Muslim Community Reference Group was arrested for conspiring to sell drugs on Nov. 22, 2006, eight days before she was named New South Wales’ Young Australian of the Year award. She relinquished this title after pictures of her sipping champagne surfaced on the Internet and reports about her cocaine habit were made public. She was released without charge hours later, after she admitted to buying cocaine for her own personal use.

In November 2006, police began tapping her phone calls and taping her conversations with her childhood friend and cocaine supplier, Mohammed “Bruce” Fahda. They had reason to believe she was selling the drugs because in the conversations she told Fahda the cocaine was for a friend, a lie she says she told him because didn’t want him to know she was snorting coke during the holy month of Ramadan. Hage-Ali claims she was wrongly arrested and detained (on suspicion of being a drug supplier) and is suing the government for damages of up to $750,000.

Hage-Ali, who was released without charge the day of her arrest, told The Daily Telegraph she’s “not ashamed of the fact that I have used cocaine” because she “still did a good job” at work.

Although I have problems with the lead in The Sydney Herald story, I’m siding with the media on this one. The “elephant in the room” is that Hagel-Ali is Muslim. The details of her case become even juicier when instances, such as her disgust with former fellow advisory panel member Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly, are inserted. It becomes very hard not to tell Hagel-Ali’s story without the Muslim woman gone bad” angle.

I work in government and I know what it’s like to have to schmooze and network and effectively kiss ass in order to be accepted in the community. But Hage-Ali, who literally represents the Muslim community in government, took it too far. She was acting reckless and it came back to bite her. She was a Muslim affairs advisor, and whether she likes it or not, that means she represents Muslims. That means you think twice before sipping champagne at a highly publicized event. Al Hilaly (who has issues of his own) had these harsh words to offer:

“A so-called Muslim leader drinks champagne and takes illegal substances – and this sends a terrible message to young people. And the government sees her as a role model. The Muslim community never did.”

It would be nice if Hage-Ali was at liberty to say her actions don’t represent all Muslims, but by default of her former title, they do. Having a bright, unveiled, attractive (shit helps!) Muslim woman in the public sphere is great PR for Islam and Muslim women because it defies the image of the depressed woman in the black chador, of the come-hither niqab eyes, of the lifeless woman underneath the burqa, of the apron, and the woman in the private sphere.

Hage-Ali could have taken a stand against the characterization of Muslim women by drawing attention to her own position in a positive manner. She could have said her commendable achievements were a result of her faith; after all, one does not become a Muslim affairs adviser without knowing a thing or two about Muslims. Instead, she projected the image of a Lindsey Lohan-type wild child, and gave the Muslim community the impression that she doesn’t care what they think of her.

  • http://www.progressiveislam.info Salaam

    Now she’s a representative of something else: Muslims with substance abuse problems. Inshallah, she’ll take her newfound notoriety and work on that issue.

  • Broomstick

    I hate druggies and junkies, I have no sympathy for her or anybody else who use hard drugs.

    Remember in 2004, that FA groupie, Fariha Alam, was exposed for having slept with many top guys at the FA in the UK? It was so embarrassing for Muslim women because the UK media was all like, oohhh a Muslim woman gone BAD!!!!

    It pissed me off so much.

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

  • Broomstick

    *Faria Alam, not Fariha Alam.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faria_Alam

  • Krista

    @ Broomstick: Woah. “I hate druggies and junkies”? I find that pretty offensive, actually. I’m not saying that there are excuses for what she did, but I think we also have to acknowledge that we definitely don’t have the whole story on this one. People generally don’t just start taking drugs for the heck of it; there are often stories of pain or abuse that lead to it. That doesn’t mean that taking drugs is the right response, or that it can be justified at all, but responding by lumping all people who use hard drugs together and hating all of them seems a little overly judgemental.

    That said, yeah, it’s definitely annoying that this person had such a high profile as a Muslim, and that she then fed the “Muslim girl gone bad” narrative – as Yusra said, there was serious potential for her position to be used to do a lot of good, which obviously isn’t what happened. I think it’s telling that the Muslim community never really saw her as their role model or representative – I wonder to what degree she has been positioned as one of those “moderate” (ie, pro-west/USA/imperialism, not very religious) Muslims by the Australian government.

  • Sobia

    @Broomstick:

    People are complex beings and we never know why people do the things they do. Its best not to judge others so harshly. You never know if you’ll be in such a position one day in which you will be being judged harshly for a decision you made. Have some sympathy, if not for the person than at least for the sake of karma which can come around and bite one in the ass and pretty badly too.

    @Salaam:
    I hope you’re right.

    Its unfortunate, as Yusra mentions, that we get someone who could have really improved the image of Muslim women and instead she damaged it in other ways. She should have realized her position not only as a representative of Muslims but also as someone in the government. Most countries are not so forgiving of politicians or political figures engaging in illegal acts, regardless of religion, race, etc. In Canada we recently had a member of the NDP resign because it got out that he made a video with him smoking pot.

    Anyhow, I do hope things get better for her. She is very young and her lack of experience may have led to her bad choices. Hopefully, she’s learned her lesson and use this as an example to help others who have or have had drug problems, especially Muslims. As Salaam said, maybe she can use this to set an example for Muslims with drug problems.

    Though, at the end of the day, I have to say, that I doubt this will reflect badly on Muslims. Its not like the image of Muslims as violent and oppressive will all of a sudden be replaced by an image of Muslims as drug addicts. I have a feeling she will be remembered as her own person as opposed to a representative of Muslims.

  • http://www.7obsessions.blogspot.com Yusra

    Thanks Sobia. My intentions certainly aren’t to point-fingers at Hage-Ali. She’s obviously a smart girl who made some bad choices. Salaam, The Australian government has said they’d welcome her back to her position with open arms, so it would be a smart move of her to speak about her drug problem in the hope that doing so would help others, and restore her credibility. I didn’t get into whether or not I thought it was right of her to sue the state and thus bring more attention to herself, but I’m interested in hearing what you all think about that. The police had every reason to believe she was selling drugs but were very lenient with her, letting her go without charging her for anything. Should she have just let the whole ordeal fizzle out? In suing the gov’t is she fighting for rights that were violated or is she just trying to prove she never sold drugs? There is a difference between a drug dealer and a drug taker but honestly does it really matter?

  • Broomstick

    @Krista: yes, I do hate junkies and druggies. I am a drinker (and yes I’m a Muslim, too), I smoke weed and drink alcohol, so trust me, I ain’t one of those “close-minded assholes.” However I am against hard drugs, and I have no sympathy for people who do hard drugs. Also, I have known people who died from drugs. Not to mention the repurcussions of many innocent, poor people who have died in the illegal drug trade, too.

    People who glorify hard drugs and act like it’s the greatest thing in the whole world, can go f–k themselves. And this Hage-Ali sounds like one of them. I have no sympathy for her at all whatsoever.

  • Krista

    @ Broomstick: Okay, I know we’re probably not going to reach any agreement on this, but I still find it really problematic to lump all people who use drugs into one category and express hatred for all of them. As Sobia mentioned, people are complex, and there are a lot of reasons why people might do certain things. There is often a lot more to the story than what we actually hear. This doesn’t mean we have to like or support the things that people do at times, but it’s not really up to us to judge, and holding such harsh opinions of other people just might, as Sobia said, come back to bite us.

    Hating the *idea* of hard drugs and the effects that drugs (and the drug trade) have on people is one thing. Hating *people* is another.

    Anyway, sorry Yusra, we’ve taken this off topic…

  • http://www.nuseiba.wordpress.com Sahar

    There is a disturbing trend amongst ambitious Muslim youths between the age of 19-30 trying to establish careers in government or in the media by exploiting their identity to get ahead. It’s one thing to be genuine about representing and helping your community by engaging with these insitutions, it’s another to exploit this identity for your own selfish endevours. I know Muslims in both categories, the latter end up being a liability and do a great disservice to the community. A lot of them don’t know much about the community, Islam or the issues around it! This is not to say, representatives of the community should be perfect, but they should be knowledgable and at least have enough support from the community to assume a representative role. That being said, our representatives should also be diverse (but not to the degree the case has highlighted hehe). For instance, I sometimes am called up about issues related to the Muslim youth to represent diversity in our community because I don’t wear a hijab and my views aren’t necessarily conservative (although this is also represented). This is essential, in order to reflect to the broader society the different views and sentiments in our community.

  • http://www.nuseiba.wordpress.com Sahar

    In order to communicate to the broader society*

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