How about we just listen to Muslim women?

I don’t want to be known as the guy that keeps going on and on about this sort of stuff but, my name is Yusuf Tamanna and I have something to say.

Over the last few days Channel 4 (it’s always them, isn’t it?!) has been embroiled in an alleged race-row after the trailer for their new show My Week As A Muslim pissed off a lot of people.

The trailer showed Katie Freeman, a white woman, having her skin darkened – which many have claimed is ‘brown face’- wearing with a prosthetic nose to emulate Pakistani facial features and is dressed in traditional Islamic garb. This is all to help her ‘look the part’ as she lives alongside a Muslim family in Manchester immediately after the Arena Bombings back in May this year.

Freeman herself admits to holding anti-Islamic views prior to changing her appearance. Of Muslims she said: “You see them and think they’re going to blow something up.” Driving through a Muslim neighbourhood, she says: “You wouldn’t even think this was England.”

The idea behind it is that Freeman learns just what it’s like to be a Muslim woman in the UK today and understands the struggles and prejudices they face everyday.

It’s a valid investigation as just after the Manchester Arena Bombings Islamophobic attacks went up 500% in Manchester alone. The Home Office also said earlier this month that hate crimes in the UK have risen by a third in the past year, crediting Brexit and the spate of terrorist attacks across the UK as the reasons behind the spike.

Now here is my big question: If Channel 4 really wanted to know what it’s like for Muslim women living in the UK today, why didn’t they just ask them?

It’s ridiculous that Channel 4 thought the only possible way to get the experiences of Muslim women heard on a large scale was by getting a bigoted white woman to dress up as one.

Being a Muslim woman doesn’t boil down to having a darker shade of skin and wearing a hijab and abaya (full length gown). All this does is reinforce racial stereotypes of what all Muslims supposedly look like. It also doesn’t factor in that Muslim women are black, white, brown, albino – whatever. And with skin colour comes a whole host of other challenges and experiences.

Freeman will never understand or even comprehend what it’s like for Muslim women in England. She gets to go back to being a white woman after a week, but these women have to live with being called terrorists, oppressed, brainwashed and ‘not really British’ everyday.

And even I am well aware that I’ll never understand what it’s like for British Muslim women today. I’m a gay British Pakistani man raised in a Muslim family and yes I have an insider’s perspective, but even I can admit I’ll never be able to put myself in their shoes.

I’ll never know the fear some Muslim women feel just by walking down the street wearing their hijab. I’ll never know what went through my friend’s mind when a stranger pulled her hijab off on Oxford Street and no one came to help her. Or how my sister feels every time she comes to London and gets on public transport and she’s met with stares and whispers.

When Muslim women tell their stories and recount their experiences how about we just listen to them? No one needs a white woman playing dress up with Muslim women’s identities like they’re Halloween costumes and then speaking on their behalf because she suddenly ‘gets it.’

If Channel 4 were really serious about highlighting the normalisation of Islamophobia, especially towards women, in British society then why not talk to Channel 4 News presenter Fatima Manji? She’s already had her position as a journalist questioned just because of her hijab and has spoken about being called a ‘fucking paki’ in public, which left her in tears.

But I guess the fact they went with an Islamophobic white woman instead and felt playing dress up would be more effective shows they were never serious to begin with.

My Week As A Muslim airs on Channel 4 at 9pm on Monday
Image courtesy of Digital Spy


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