It seems as of late, the media has taken a very keen interest in the personal details of the lives of Muslim women. My fellow writers here at MMW have discussed this phenomenon. The Associated Press is now adding to this by telling us how Hamas is getting in on the matchmaking business.
The title of the original AP article isn’t so bad: “Love Connection: Hamas gets into matchmaking biz”. The original article that I found on Google also has no pictures either. So you’re less likely to come away with any bad images; just an interesting story that paints a different picture of Hamas as humanitarian group that also take an interest in matchmaking.
Yahoo, taking the same AP story, makes it much scarier. The title of the story is changed to “Militant Hamas gets into matchmaking business”, since it’s very important that we know that this is a militant (read: extremist) Islamist group that is making matches for Muslim women in Gaza. Yahoo also has a picture of one of the women that Hamas helped, Rania Hijazi, in niqab, with her husband, Ashraf Farahat (pictured left). The Huffington Post, which also ran the same AP story under the title “Hamas gets into matchmaking business”, has the same photograph.
The picture of the woman in niqab is meant to complete Yahoo’s message that the scary militant Islamic group is setting up extremist marriages. I am honestly baffled that Yahoo presented the story this way considering that the author of the piece, Diaa Hadid, mentions only once that Hamas is considered a terrorist group by Israel. Not to mention Yahoo’s use of scary niqabi woman stereotype.
This story, as I mentioned previously, falls into a line of stories and features that the media has produced recently that focus on the mundane or what I like to think of as “lifestyle” aspect of Muslim women: the New York Times’ profile of Dubai’s most prominent sex therapist and their focus on fashions in Baghdad, for example.
We see various stereotypes that are normally placed on women in Western media (like obsession with clothing or men), but this time they’re placed on Muslim women. The first is the desperate spinster stereotype:
At 29, Tahani is considered a spinster by the standards of deeply conservative Gaza. So in her search for a husband, she turned for help to the best in the marriage business: the Islamic militant group Hamas.
“I gaze at all the men on the street and think, ‘Oh God, isn’t there just one for me?’” said the young woman with dark skin and honey-colored eyes, set off by a maroon headscarf.
This sets the mood for the rest of the piece. The entire article features stories of women who so badly want a husband and Hamas, in turn, is almost given a halo for their role in helping women find husbands. Tahani is framed as a spinster, despite the fact that more and more women in the Middle East are getting married at later ages because of economic hardship, as well as increasing education. In fact, Tahani herself has a degree in social work. I don’t want to dismiss Tahani’s desire for a spouse, but the way her story is framed makes her seem like a sad Cinderella awaiting her prince charming:
“My brothers held their wives when they were scared. I felt lonely,” said Tahani, a university graduate in social work.
Hadid’s piece, while giving an interesting glimpse into Hamas’ matchmaking and the social dynamics that created the need for the group to even set up a matchmaking wing, also puts Muslim women into the same consumerist and patriarchal culture of women in Western society: “We’re interested in pageants, fashions, and how to keep our men.”
In this story, Muslim women are paying Hamas to set them up with Prince Charming in much the same way that dating services are frequented by women in Western countries. Muslim women are being portrayed not as desperate and unwilling victims of oppressive Muslim men, but rather as willing participants in a culture where marriage should be the end goal for women. ‘
This is an interesting turn in the way that Muslim women are portrayed in the media. Muslim women are being brought into a global culture where women are supposed to be concerned with beauty, fashion, and the opposite sex. We’re supposed to be concerned with the mundane in much the same way as other women around the globe. It is a relief (we’re just like everyone else) and also troubling (as ladies, all we care about is clothing and boys!).