One Legacy Radio: A Mixed Bag for Women

New voices are invading the airwaves in Southern California. The voices of local Muslim activists, community leaders, scholars and public speakers have come together for One Legacy Radio, the first English-speaking Islamic radio station in the U.S. It’s leaving listeners with high expectations as it aims to provide “thought-provoking material which inspires spiritual reflection and ultimately closeness to Allah.”

The station features many programs to “enrich the Islamic spiritual experience.” Two such programs expected to deliver on these promises are Boiling Point and Family Connections.

Boiling Point is hosted by Mohamad Ahmad and Amir Mertaban, two young men who are most noted for their activism within Southern California’s Muslim youth population.  The show discusses issues that are taboo in Islam and among Muslims. The varied topics, ranging from hijabis to Hamas, are infused with irreverent humor, making sure that the show fulfills its guarantee that listeners will either “love it or hate it.”

Noha Alshugairi and Munira Lekovic-Ezzeldine are the hosts of Family Connection. Its mission to “build better families” necessitates the discussion of various issues such as divorce, fatherhood, and proper parenting. Alshugairi, a marriage and family therapist, and Lekovic-Ezzeldine, author of Before the Wedding: 150 Questions for Muslims to Ask Before Getting Married, are well-qualified to speak on these issues, but they often also engage with doctors, psychologists, scholars, community activists and other guests to provide a well-rounded discussion of the topics.

While the title may suggest sexist undertones, Family Connection is not a show that preaches “traditional women’s roles.” Although the focus is obviously on family, emphasis is also placed on males as father figures. In fact, it is mentioned more than once on the show that the job of child-rearing is not a responsibility that should be placed entirely on a mother. In this sense, the show is not aimed at women or women’s issues–rather, it is aimed at families and issues that both men and women often deal with.

On Family Connection, the topic of divorce is approached with an open mind and seen as a legitimate option. Moreover, it is presented as the best option sometimes. The women tackle hard-hitting issues of women’s rights and domestic violence in Muslim marriages. They speak about issues which are typically taboo, such as child counseling, sexual appetite, marriage counseling, and divorce initiated by the wife.

Family Connection is a show that does a great service for Muslim women. Its topics veer from the typical discourse surrounding Muslim women. Instead, it makes a positive step towards conversations that address issues paramount to Muslim women’s empowerment. Family Connection humanizes Muslim women who are mothers and wives, giving them value outside of these roles, which makes the subjects of divorce and domestic violence necessary instead of unmentionable.

After listening to Boiling Point, it was clear that Family Connection is not the only program on the station to talk about issues effecting Muslim women. Mertaban and Ahmad address woman-related topics quite often. In the shows discussing Muslim women, the hosts tackle different issues: whether a Muslim woman who doesn’t wear hijab should be allowed to represent Islam in a Muslim organization, whether Muslim American women should work while having children, and traits that make Muslim women “unmarriageable.”

If these sound like controversial and volatile topics, it’s because they are. Mertaban and Ahmed, fit to be One Legacy Radio’s “shock jocks,” choose provocative topics and discussing them until listeners “boil.” Unlike the hosts of Family Connection, Boiling Point does not give these subjects the necessary delicacy or nuance they require. They often play “Good Cop, Bad Cop,” with Mertaban playing the role of the “un-politically-correct” comedian and Ahmad trying to fill a more progressive model.

I have to give the men some credit for featuring Yasmin Nouh in the show discussing women in Muslim organizations. The men also had two Muslim women, Ferdaus Serhal Mertaban (Amir’s sister in-law) and Sireen Sawaf, guest-host a show discussing traits which make Muslim men “unmarriageable.” These particular shows allowed Muslim women to have an opportunity to speak for themselves.

In addition, these shows cleared up some misconceptions surrounding the hijab and allowed Muslim women to voice their frustration over the way the hijab has been infused with such symbolism. Nouh, Mertaban, and Sawaf all voiced the idea that they do not want hijab, or lack thereof, to define their Islam.

However, even while providing Muslim women with a platform to speak, Ahmad and Mertaban expressed opinions which are detrimental to Muslim women. Mertaban makes the assumptions that, for a woman, a career is a response to financial need instead of something that could be valuable to a woman’s self esteem; that “jihadi butch sisters”—his term for aggressive Muslim women—are a result of the feminist movement; and women who don’t wear headscarves are “mediocre” individuals in comparison to Muslim women who wear hijab.

On the other hand, Ahmad voices equally detrimental sentiments, expressing a lack of value for women choosing to be “stay at home moms,” suggesting that this makes them less of an asset to the ummah. He also attributes female aggression and “lack of respect for men” to the feminist movement.

Setting aside a multitude of other obvious criticisms, the amount of provocative and irreverent manner humor used when speaking about serious issues lends itself to the kind of slapdash discourse which results in throwing out loaded terms like “jihadi butch sister,” without any regard as to who will suffer the consequences of such derisive jargon.

In the end I have to ask, who is qualifying these men to speak to speak on these issues? The damage perpetuated by Boiling Point’s shows on women is sadly reminiscent of that suffered by existing discourse surrounding Muslim women. The saving grace of One Legacy Radio is the amount of positive discourse that comes from shows like Family Connection and the station’s other intelligible shows.

  • Mohamad Ahmad

    As-Salam ‘Alaykum. Insha’Allah you are all well. Your article is well written and that’s inspiring so I applaud you for that. I am the co-host of Boiling Point and the only thing I would like to say in response to your critique of our show is that Amir and I are both men and the issues we tackle regarding women are intended to be tackled from a man’s perspective. If the end result is not as nuanced as it should be, it’s likely because the issues play out very simply in reality and we don’t like to live entirely in the abstract. You should also probably listen to the shows again because your inference about Amir’s view of hijabis vis-a-vis non-hijabis is incorrect.

    Finally, in theory Amir and I would like to script the good-cop, bad-cop dynamic because it is more entertaining but we do not. The views represented on the show approximate our actual views quite well so it’s genuine. Also, the topics are chosen in response to discussions we have amongst ourselves and with other brothers or sisters (but mostly brothers) outside of the studio. We figured that, lack of any tangible expertise notwithstanding, we should bring these discussions to the forefront so that Muslim women and elders can hear what men actually talk about. If you’d like to come on the show to discuss this, let me know. Peace,

    Mohamad Ahmad

  • Diana

    Wa Alaykum Asalaam Mohamad. I appreciate you and Amir bringing these issues to the forefront, what is not appreciated however is the manner in which they are discussed and the amount of humor which leans towards the offensive and derogatory. As I mentioned, the show speaking about Non-hijabi’s within Muslim orgs brought to light some important issues and allowed women to say how they felt. There was a positive discourse there.

    But when there are jokes about how women should stick to trade schools (notice I acknowledge this was a “joke” to an extent) or when “Jihadi Butch Sisters” is used to describe aggressive Muslim women then the discourse changes to something that is detrimental.

    It is all fine and dandy that you preface each show by making it very clear this is your opinion and Amir’s opinion, but when you throw these loaded terms or opinions out there on the radio waves they are not yours anymore. They fall on many ears and now you do not have the ability to control what people will do with this information (opinion or fact).

    So supposed I am a non-Muslim who happens to change the radio as Amir says “Jihadi Butch sister”, what do you think will go through my mind? Or suppose, I am a Muslim brother and now this term has been appropriated and so the next time I encounter a Muslim woman who is aggressive I call her a “jihadi butch”. Suppose I am a transgendered, lesbian or Gay Muslim woman, how do you think I will feel? And I know you THINK you are not responsible, but you are responsible for the consequences of what you say and in this case you should care because the consequences fall on people you yourself identify as “sisters”.

    You and Amir are both Muslim men and instead of creating a positive framework in which Muslim women are viewed, you are echoing and perpetuating negative perceptions of Muslim women. How then do you think we will be perceived by a non-Muslim community or by non-Muslim men and women if this is what is said about Muslim women by Muslim men?

    I should note here that I know Br. Amir pretty well and I come from the Muslim community you both come from, and it goes without saying, especially now as it seems Muslim women (and the Muslim community in general) are experiencing sever marginalization that, one should be cautious of things said, especially within public spaces. To discuss Muslim women, in this irreverent and arbitrary manner, is counter productive to Muslim women breaking down some of these negative stereotypes and tackling misconceptions.

    So excuse my antagonism, but if the tables were turned and Muslim women started speaking about Muslim men describing them using terms that are loaded, like jihad, holy war, terrorists, using a public media outlet, then I am sure that there would be some sort of uproar, and rightfully so.

    On a side note, it might benefit you and Amir to read up on Muslim feminism, because you seem to group all feminists together and there is a huge huge difference.

    Diana Doss