Opinion – Muslim Women Need More Representation On Screen 

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The Bodyguard’s season finale was a real tense affair, with a lot of great twists and turns right to the bitter end. Finally, the BBC drama that didn’t depict a Muslim woman (Nadia) as a weak, subjugated woman living in fear and carrying out orders on the say so of a controlling, oppressive man. Sadly, what they depicted instead was a homicidal, jihadist who decided to use her engineering degree to create and sell complex bombs for the highest bidder.

So why are writers for mainstream TV dramas consistently failing to get it right when it comes to Muslim women? It can’t certainly be for a lack of access or information?

When I look around me, I know of many female teachers, accountants, lawyers, property developers, businesswomen, doctors, neurosurgeons and even vets who also happen to be Muslim but are neither oppressed or secret jihadis hating the West. These are simply amazing women who have normal everyday lives as mums, daughters, wives, friends and sisters.

Why can’t Muslim women be portrayed in this way on our screens?

Such nuanced characterisation would help normalise Muslim women, to bring them into the fold.

Recent reports have shown Muslim women bearing the main brunt of Islamophobic attacks in the wake of a re-emergence of the far right. We are clearly seen as easy targets by some, and this is not helped by mainstream TV programmes constantly ‘othering’ us by offering single dimensional characters that viewers simply cannot relate to.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some very good BAME characters in the Bodyguard: Louise Rayburn (Detective Sargeant) Deepak Sharma (Detective Inspector) and Tahir Mahmood (PR advisor to Home Secretary) We also had many female characters in strong leadership roles such as Julia Montague (Home Secretary) Anne Sampson (Head of Counter Terrorism) and Lorraine Craddock (Chief Superintendent) too so the landscape wasn’t all dominated by white, middle-aged men. 

But the only Muslim protagonists in the Bodyguard were all linked to or victims of illegal terrorist activity (Nadia and her strange husband who had allegedly helped to strap her into her suicide vest at the beginning but wasn’t a committed enough jihadi to grow his beard plus the ones who blew themselves up outside the primary school) Tahir Mahmood, a victim, was initially suspected of being the bomber who blew Julia Montague (and himself) to Kingdom come but was cleared after footage showed he was merely responsible for triggering the bomb (made by Nadia and sold to crime boss Luke Aitkens, who must have been storing it on ice until planting it under Julia’s feet)

So what can we do to address the lack of plausible, everyday Muslim women on TV? Some writers I know are writing their own scripts and plays but they still face the uphill struggle of getting through the doors of production companies who will agree to turn their more diverse stories into fodder for the small screen.

I only ask that TV bosses allow Muslim women a chance to show a more human, relatable side that doesn’t want to either hide from nor blow up the world.

Opinion article 

Aisha Ali-Khan 

Women United Blog

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