On Noor Tagouri and Playboy – Standing Up to Cyberbullying

On Noor Tagouri and Playboy – Standing Up to Cyberbullying September 26, 2016

By Zainab Chaudry

In case you missed it, a Muslim woman who wears hijab was photographed for Playboy magazine.  And — not unexpectedly — the Muslim Internet imploded.

Aspiring journalist Noor Tagouri accepted an invitation to be featured in the magazine’s October “Renegades” issue.  Clad in jeans, sneakers, a jacket and her hijab, the 22-year-old social media personality candidly opens up about her goals, accomplishments and struggles.

In and of itself, the article is a powerful testimony of one young woman’s willpower, ambition and determination to smash any obstacles that block her from achieving her dream. The source of enormous contention is the controversial medium in which it is published. It’s little surprise that Muslims were shocked AF.

“Playboy” and “hijabi” are two words that we probably never expected to read in the same sentence.

The adult entertainment magazine predominantly caters to male audiences and  has been widely criticized for promoting sexism and being structured on the exploitation, objectification, commodification and dehumanization of girls and women.  Despite recent steps to rebrand its empire and diversify its content (last year the magazine announced it would no longer be publishing full nude photos, which defined the magazine for decades), it’s still best known for its scantily-clad models and racy, provocative centerfolds.

On the other hand, the hijab is an article of faith that categorically rejects impropriety and immorality. It symbolizes the exact opposite:  Modesty and humility.

Many of us are bewildered, wondering what compelled a woke young hijabi with a substantial following to agree to a feature in Playboy.

But Islam is not a monolith, and social media reactions to Noor’s decision underscore this.

The complex myriad of emotions it has evoked reflects a diverse range of perspectives among Muslims: Curiosity, pride, disappointment, disgust, confusion, admiration, horror, anger, sadness, outrage, indignation.

I won’t lie. I’ve had a figurative “WTF?!” tattooed on my forehead for the better part of 48 hours. The shock is gradually receding, but — while I get the pros and cons — I myself am still struggling to coherently articulate my thoughts on this.

Regardless, even while we passionately debate, discuss, and agree or disagree, let’s not forget our adab and the etiquette of engagement.

Shameful insults and taunts — coming mostly from other Muslims — are not only cruel, they are un-Islamic, and they do not reflect the prophetic values of mercy and tolerance.

Repulsive comments advocating for rape and murder are especially disturbing.

The ugly social stigma applied to women and girls who are believed to have violated traditional behavioral norms and expectations can do irreparable harm.

Yes, I am uncomfortable with one of my Muslim sisters being fetishized, tokenized, or endorsed by a crude and offensive publication. But the relentless mockery, ridicule, and harassment targeting Noor from the within (and outside) of the Muslim community is even more deeply troubling.

While many of us have legitimate concerns, these attacks are a reminder that trolls don’t only live under bridges; they also walk among us and occupy cyberspace.

Cyberbullying bullying is a real thing. It’s bullying that takes place through electronic devices such as phones, computers and tablets.  It involves communication tools like social media sites, text messages, chat, commenting boards and websites.

Examples of cyberbullying include demeaning text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites or fake profiles.

Cyberbullying has serious short-term and long-term consequences. If you observe it, here’s what you can do:

  • Don’t respond to it and don’t forward these messages.
  • Document it. Record the dates, times and descriptions of instances when it occurred. Save and print screenshots, emails and text messages. Use this evidence to report incidents to web and cell phone service providers.
  • Block the person who is cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying violates the terms of service established by social media sites like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.  If you come across it, report it so these platforms can take action against users abusing the terms of service.

Some forms of cyberbullying are unlawful. When it involves threats of violence, child pornography, or sexually explicit messages or photos, invasion of privacy, stalking and hate crimes, these activities are considered a crime and should be reported immediately to law enforcement.

In Noor’s case, whether we support or denounce her decision, don’t forget that she is a human being, and ultimately our sister in Islam.

Beloved American Muslim scholar Sr. Dalia Mogahed notes:

Every day, many of us are in spaces that are very polluted. Places where sin much worse than this is legitimate and normal, like murder, war and usury. And we stand in those stained spaces and speak truth to falsehood.

Barakah comes from our effort and our intention. When God told Musa (s) to go speak to Pharaoh,  He said that the tyrant had transgressed so go to him with gentle words.

What was more polluted? The palace of Pharaoh, or a magazine with this history? Our Prophet never turned anyone wishing to hear truth away, no matter their state of sin. [Noor] made dawah to [this readership]. She told them her truth.

These words of wisdom offer critical nuance and perspective. Let’s prioritize constructive criticism over personal attacks and destructive censure.

We can and should share our concerns from a place of empathy.  But let’s follow the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet(s), and not ostracize, condemn or stand in judgment of those we believe have erred.

A version of this post originally appeared in MuslimGirl.com

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