Muslim Women and Freedom of Choice: Syrian Television vs. Cinema

“Can a Syrian woman run for the post of the President of Syria? Yes she can.”

This interrogative statement and answer captured my attention as I was watching The Light in Her Eyes, a film that premiered at the 8th edition of the Dubai International Film Festival this December. The film, which documents the story of Houda Al-Habash, a Syrian female teacher of Islamic subjects at a girls’ school, made me ask a lot of questions, the most important of which was: why do not we see such Muslim women on our television screens inside our homes very often?

Students Hiba, Alaa', and Riham, from The Light in Her Eyes.

In a previous post on Muslimah Media Watch, Diana reviewed the film, which tries to show the natural setting where Syrian Muslim girls are living. During the film, you see girls reciting Quran, and watching soap operas as well. You see women wearing hijab, and putting on makeup. You even experience an initiation ceremony of 12- and 13-year-old girls into wearing hijab, something that might remind us of wedding celebrations or baptism ceremonies.

The film, which is directed by Julie Meltzer  and Laura Nix, does not only show female religious figures, but also presents characters of men who serve as supporters, like husbands, brothers, and sons. On the other hand, the film reminds us as viewers that this is not a totally rosy world we are living in. The film also shows extremely strict religious men who order women not to leave their houses, and focus only on serving their husbands and children. One of the clerics even wonders whether women who hold bachelors, masters or doctorates are able to raise their children in the right “Islamic” way.

For me, the film is reminiscent of a Syrian soap opera that was shown during the holy month of Ramadan two years ago. Titled “Ma Malakat Aymanokom [what your right hands possess],” the television drama tells the story of three different girls attending English language classes together, and living totally different lives.

[Read more...]