Channel Islam International, often considered to be the “more progressive” Muslim community radio station in Johannesburg, is broadcasting a radio drama series for the month of Ramadan. The show is titled “Redemption Road,” and aims to be a representation of South African Indian Muslim society and its idiosyncrasies while reminding listeners to their often-forgotten purpose in life.
While the show does deal with important issues like wife neglect/abuse and teen problems, it is severely stereotypical of Muslim women in a number of aspects.
The issue of women praying in mosques is used as a scapegoat for one teenager’s nightly escapades. This stance is corroborated in the drama by claims that allowing women in mosques would provide them with “a smokescreen to conduct their nefarious activities,” as a friend put it.
The constant references to women and young girls using the pretext of attending the mosque to perform their prayers but then engaging in dubious activities is extremely problematic in a community where the notion of women’s attendance at the mosque is thought of as evil and prohibited. This severely undermines the struggles of many Muslim women for integration into their communities via the mosque.
“Redemption Road” represents women in a many other negative lights. Women who leave home to work and study abroad are portrayed as “up to no good.” Wives are are either nagging/incessantly obedient/suspicious, and daughters are wayward.
I understand that the drama is a work of fiction, and a good depiction of South African Indian Muslim community at that. I also admit that some of the incidents may very well happen in real life. But it still perpetuates the stereotype that women in mosques can only lead to trouble, and that no good can come out of their participation in sacred spaces. The drama also presupposes that all listeners agree with the particular Islamic school of law in South Africa that bars female participation in the mosque.
Let me reiterate that there are many positive aspects of the “Redemption Road,” especially in its exploration of relationships, organizational politics and especially for driving home the message that women are not duty-bound to the kitchen, especially in Ramadan.
However, it is important to realize how even subtle jabs at certain actions (like women attending mosques) ostracize women who fight hard for this very Islamic right and subconsciously cement existing misconceptions. Perhaps the “Redemption Road” could have balanced this bad representation with a positive one, with women who are active and in mosque participation and the better for it.