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.