Sabah: Not My Big Fat Muslim Wedding

Netflix offered Sabah: A Love Story, a story about a devout Muslim Canadian woman who falls in love and has to deal with the subsequent culture clashes that result.

Sabah

Stephen and Sabah.

Arsinée Khanjian stars as Sabah, a Muslim woman in her forties who has never been married and dutifully takes care of her mother, while her controlling brother keeps everyone under his thumb. The movie is billed as a cross-cultural romantic comedy, featuring serious cultural clash moments while attempting the comedy and warmth of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. But while the movie aimed high, it fell short.

Sabah is a woman who never wanted to get married. The movie never delves into why she didn’t want to get married, or whether marriage was ever an option for her. It simply puts her into the role of “good Muslim daughter,” who cares for her mother and looks after her niece, as well as “good Muslim sister,” who puts up with her brother’s stereotypically oppressing presence. She wears a tight headscarf and dumpy, form-concealing clothing.

One day Sabah meets Stephen, a hunky white Canadian guy, while at the public pool. Her behavior is very meek (good Muslim women don’t go to the pool!) and once he enters, she slinks away, hoping he doesn’t see her swimsuit-clad body. Eventually, they make contact, and Stephen gradually pulls her out of her shell. By the way, her shell is her hijab and her dumpy clothing: the more she sees Stephen, the more her headscarf slides back on her head, and the more skin she reveals in her outfits. The movie equates romance and love with stereotypically Western clothing and customs: Sabah is so in love with Stephen, she takes a sip of wine at dinner. Gasp!

They’re in love, but of course her family can never know. Insert lots of cultural and religious clashes. Oh, and throw in some belly dancing. No, seriously. Eventually, Sabah’s douchebag brother makes her choose between her family and love, and she chooses Stephen. When Sabah gives up her family, she also seemingly gives up religion: she stops wearing the headscarf, wears red lipstick, and spends a steamy night with Stephen. If romance is wrong, then Sabah doesn’t want to be right.

Eventually, of course, everything works out and they’re one big happy blended family. But while the movie had some great, funny moments (like when Sabah’s niece pretended to be ultra-conservative to get out of a matrimonial arrangement), it relied too much on tired Muslim and Arab stereotypes (the belly dancing, the controlling male relative, the subservient, cowed daughter).

But the movie also disappointed me because it created a dichotomy between Islam and the West, as if a woman can’t have both and be happy, or be in a decent relationship. It was as if all Sabah ever needed to be free was the love of a good white (non-Muslim) man, instead of standing up for herself and making her own choices.

The film was sweet and well meaning, but just didn’t quite get where it wanted to go, in part because of the heavy-handed one-dimensionality of the characters. Sabah found her Prince Charming, but I’m still waiting on a Muslim version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Muslimah Media Watch thanks Nadya for the tip!

  • http://DeadAmericanDream.blogspot.com Jihad-Punk

    Yuck. Sounds like a typical white male Orientalist fantasy: the white man saves the Muslim woman from her evil, oppressive family and she becomes liberated!! Wow!!!

    I have no interest in watching this crap.

    • Traci

      Actually, I did not take it that way at all. Sabah started finding her strength by going to the public pool. Meeting Stephen was a tool for her liberation, but he was definitely not cast to come and save the day. I have also lived in the Middle East and found the characters to be more true than to be stereotyped.
      Maybe see it for yourself without someone else’s preconceptions painting your view.

  • http://www.muslimasoasis.com/ Emma Apple

    I’ve seen this on Netflix too but never watched it because of low expectations (basically, what you said) and not really into the whole love story thing, much less when it’s relying on damaging stereotypes.

    Well written review.

  • jemila.

    JUST ANOTHER WAY TO DEGRADE ISLAM,GO AHEAD DO WHAT YOU WANT AT THE END ALLAHS WRATH WILL FALL ON YOU ALL

    • Fatemeh

      @ jemila: Did you read my review? Did you see the movie? Where are these strong feelings coming from? I don’t think the movies degrades Islam. I felt the characters were poorly constructed and stereotypes of Muslims. The movie is not an awful, terrible thing. Just disappointing and a bit racist.

  • Pingback: What I’m complaining about today: « Fatemeh Fakhraie

  • luckyfatima

    The movie was boring, slow, and had too many cringe inducing moments. Your review is spot on.

  • Asma

    I haven’t seen the flick, but as in literature, this movie seems to rely on the usual sterotypical portrayal of Muslim woman which has become really tiresome. Unfortunately it seems that this is what gets them (the producer or the publisher) the money! It makes you wonder if the producers did any research at all about marriage and relaionships in Islam and Muslim cultural pratcies when it comes to marriage?!

  • Lara A

    Salaam Alaikum,

    It also perpetuates the stereotype that women are only practicing (for want of a better word) Muslims because they have no better offers. No woman is portrayed as truly choosing to be Muslim, or certainly wouldn’t choose a Muslim life over one without Islam

  • http://www.examiner.com/family-in-new-york/rahela-choudhury RCHOUDH

    Yawn…this movie sounds awful with its usual stereotypical nonsense and it’s nowhere near the level of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. MBFGW never demeaned the main character’s Greek family and culture only portrayed them as being different but lovable. And it appealed to everyone with a big family not just to Greek-Americans. It’s universal message of family love and acceptance was what made it popular. This movie doesn’t sound like it comes close to appealing to anyone, including the Muslims whose religion/culture it portrays.

  • http://myrediscoveryofme.com Eba

    Yes! Thank you for this post!

    I found this movie on Netflix a month or so ago. I was yelling at my screen for 80% of it. Immediately after watching, I posted the following to my Facebook page:

    “According to the movie I just watched, Arab families spend most nights drinking lots of tea and coffee, smoking shisha, belly dancing and doing this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyNnzSnrHkM.”

  • Asma

    The closest thing to MBFGW is Arranged. Which is a very good movie, but I’d like to see one that focuses on the couple, instead of the bride and her friend.


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