Muslim Women In Pop Culture

On yesterday’s post about what a Muslim archetype might look like in American popular culture, Marcus Richards wisely noted that there was something a little odd about the ideas we were coming up with: “It surprises me that no one has suggested this hypothetical character should be a woman. The female perspective is a huge elephant in the room for Western culture in approaching Muslims, and it feels like we need to come to terms with that in order to approach any positive stereotypes.” He’s right, of course, though I think part of the reason folks were trying to come up with positive images of Muslim men is that Islamophobia’s largely centered around ideas about the behavior of Muslim men.

So of course it was immediately after writing this that two Muslim-related bits of pop culture news crossed my desk. First, a writeup of Janaza, an Iraqi black metal musician from Iraq who is, to put it mildly, not a fan of Islam:

I’m not the world’s biggest black metal fan (I’m more of an Isis kinda gal), and I think Janaza is unlikely to go mainstream. But it still would be interesting to see a conversation about Islam and its role in society get played out in music, between black metal and taqwacore.

Second, a Malaysian television station is spinning off an American Idol-style show that pits aspiring imams against each other and creating a version for women. Given that Morocco just graduated its first class of female preachers in 2006 and wouldn’t even give them full imam status, and that debates are still underway about the legitimacy of women serving as judges in Kenyan courts and interpreting Islamic law, a contest like this that asserts women’s rights to teach the Koran and sets it up as an admirable thing seems pretty cool.

In a networked world, Muslims in American popular culture won’t only be seen by Americans, and will be received very differently by folks in different countries and in different Islamic traditions. We’re obviously not going to come up with something that will affirm everyone’s beliefs and leave everyone feeling happy and comfortable. But even so, we should look abroad for inspiration as we think about getting more images of Muslims into American popular culture: American Islamophobia may be a specific phenomenon, but the cure for it might well be international, from people who have more experience creating Muslim characters than American writers and producers do.