In Islam, all humans are considered God’s representatives on this earth. Men and women are given the same responsibility to carry out their duties to uplift and help others. Nowhere in the Qur’an does it say that women are oppressed or should be oppressed. In fact, the Qur’an portrays many Muslim women, such as the Queen of Sheba, as strong, intelligent, and independent. Moreover, the Prophet has often turned to women in his life for their wisdom and advice.
Today, the representation of Muslim women in the media continues to be a point of contention for many Muslim women around the world. In spite of Muslim women’s diverse legacies as political, cultural and social leaders, their image in the media is often reduced to stereotypical portrayals of oppressed Muslim women who are in need of liberation from an outside source.
“We have honoured the sons of Adam … and conferred on them special favours above a great part of Our Creation” (17:70)
“Behold! The country is ruled by a Queen (of Sheba) who has been given everything and she has a tremendous throne” (27:23)
Despite the positive descriptions of Muslim women in the Qur’an and Hadith, there continues to be a persistence of negative and homogeneous portrayals of Muslim women as suppressed, oppressed, and lacking agency mistakenly believed to be as a result of their religion, rather than specific socio-economic, nationalist, or political forces. Moreover, these media representations have fostered a perception that Muslim women are not active citizens in their communities, and instead reduce them to passive victims incapable of their own empowerment. Such representations tend to reflect a narrow view of Muslim women, obscuring the reality of the problems and challenges they face.
Today, Muslim women have created their own sites to monitor and represent an accurate image in the media, such as Muslimah Media Watch review, which critiques mainstream media representations of Muslim women, as well as Muslimette.com, and Muslimgirl.com, which cover a diverse range of issues from favorite iPhone apps, to questions about marriage, politics, and identity. Despite the contested imagery of Muslim women in the media, these outlets have been able to carve out their own space for mediating and representing their cultural, social and ethnic diversity, and the growing number of media outlets created by and for Muslim women which reflect the inherent heterogeneity of Muslim women around the world.
WISE affirms that women have the right to enter public spaces and reclaim their portrayal in the mainstream. Misrepresentations of Muslim women in media harms the Muslim community at large by perpetuating misconceptions; instead, media outlets should consult Muslims about representations of Islam and Muslim women in media. Moreover, they should work to create a just portrayal of Muslim women that addresses their multifaceted and layered identities.
Afra Jalabi, Tasneem Ahmar, Nadia al-Sakkaf, Maha Akeel, Samar Fatany, Anisa Mehdi , Fatemeh Fakhraie, Noor Tagouri, Sana Amanat
Esra Özcan, "The Visual Representation of the Female in Turkish Press" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, TBA, San Francisco . Smeeta Mishra, “’Saving’ Muslim women and fighting Muslim men: Analysis of Representations in The New York Times,” Global Media Journal, Volume 6, Issue 11: Fall 2007.