Editorial: Noor’s decision to feature in Playboy was ill-advised but…

Everything that has happened on Muslim social media over the weekend regarding Noor Tagouri‘s Playboy interview has been very interesting. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and here are just a few of my (hopefully non-controversial) thoughts on the matter…

Personally, I think her decision to feature in Playboy was ill-advised. Playboy is synonymous with pornography. It has been at the forefront of the objectification, sexualisation and commodification of women for decades and just because they’ve softened their image, it doesn’t mean we can begin to engage with the platform and jump on board. You could be writing or talking about the virtues of our beloved Prophet but the ends simply don’t justify the means in my opinion.

Aside from Noor, Playboy approached both Linda Sarsour and Amani Al-Khatahtbeh from MuslimGirl. It would appear that they (Playboy) weren’t interested specifically in Noor, but were looking to feature a hijabi who was breaking the mould. It makes me feel that Playboy were using a hijabi to help soften their image. By one of us doing the interview, we fulfilled their agenda. Whilst the interview was used for a secondary purpose (ours) of exposure, talking about modesty and reaching out, it is still secondary.

When we do things in the media, it needs to be on our terms not theirs. It needs to fulfil our agendas, not theirs. Good may come of this interview for Muslims in the West (and some bad perhaps also) but we know it’s fulfilled Playboy’s agenda for sure. That is what troubles me.

We have served to soften Playboy’s image. We have said that decade’s of objectifying and degrading women is OK and that we have forgiven and forgotten the irreparable damage you’ve done to society.

I think it must be stated that whilst I disagree with Noor’s decision ideologically, I still have immense respect for what she has managed to achieve in her short career thus far. Sisters like her, Linda and Amani have given massive amounts of visibility to hijab-wearing Muslim women in the West. What’s been troubling online is the fact that people are unable to respect having ideological differences with someone and resort to personal attacks, name-calling and general disrespect. Just because I disagree with her decision, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to sit down to discuss it as well as all her achievements, her future ambitions etc.

Hijabi or not, bearded or not, I feel that the second we step into the public sphere, we have a responsibility to represent. Whether it’s representing your culture, family, gender, faith or whatever it is that you stand for, we are ambassadors whether we like it or not.

I just got back from Hajj and one of the standout points from the experience was that the pilgrimage is really about the social impact we have when we get home. Very few Muslims get the opportunity to go annually; a fraction of the Ummah. We replicate the actions of Prophet Ibrahim, a social reformer whose life was dedicated to serving the people and bettering society. A man who despite suffering at the hands of the people throughout his life, built the Kabaa, a house for the people; the same people that wanted to burn him alive. We’re meant to pledge to come back to our society and push beyond the routine of the 9-5. We’re meant to strive to have a social impact. We’re meant to vow to reform. That responsibility is there not only for the scholars and the media personalities but for every single Muslim present. So when it comes to our everyday lives, regardless of who we are and what we do, there is a responsibility on our shoulders whether we like it or not. For this reason I don’t buy the argument that ‘it’s her decision, what is it to you?’, because we all have people looking up to us, some more than others, and as such I feel we have increasing levels of responsibility.

I also disagree with the argument that men shouldn’t be speaking about women’s issues and that it’s all duplicitous misogyny. YES there are men who think they are superior to women and who have double standards on hijab, but that’s not the case with all of us. I’m finding Muslim women will no longer listen to Muslim men talking about anything directed at women (whether it is gender-related or not) and this for me isn’t the right attitude to have. A while ago I learnt that you definitely won’t agree with a lot of what people say, but that doesn’t mean you ignore them. Even in your enemies or the most backwards of people there are lessons to learn from their words, whether direct or indirect. Honestly I used to go to the mosque and if speaker X was talking I’d simply sit and play Candy Crush. That was arrogance. Just because I perceive someone to be backwards doesn’t mean he can’t teach me something… Doesn’t mean that he won’t come out with even one good point over the course of a Ramadhan series. Yes I’d rather go elsewhere, but if you find yourself getting lectured at or spoken to by someone you don’t like, be humble enough to listen.

There’s no conclusion to this ramble, because it’s an extremely nuanced debate and one that will go on for many days/weeks/years. What’s crucially important for me is that we are able to have these discussions and debates with the utmost respect for one another. I can ideologically disagree with you and will happily have it out with you but at the end of the day we need to maintain that respect and love for one another that we need to always maintain for all of humanity.