Why as Muslims we can’t support Noor Tagouri’s decision to feature in Playboy

Noor Tagouri’s recent decision to be featured in Playboy and her remarking that it was an honour has sent controversial shockwaves throughout the social media world. Muslims are torn in different directions on how they should feel about the issue which is a problem in itself. No longer are we basing our stances and opinions on our faith, but rather our whims and desires.

A few centuries ago societies were dominated by religion. In religious societies, religious teachings are the most important thing, usually above science and business, and so the religious clergy were usually on top of the hierarchy of that society. They taught the people to emphasise God, to emphasise the soul (the unseen mysterious part of our selves which me must save), and they emphasised on the concept of the afterlife. Whether it be resurrection, incarnation or heaven and hell, people understood that there was something after this world. This is true of Islam as well.

After the French Revolution and the separation of church and state, this changed drastically. The ideologies that came forth in Europe at the time changed the scope of history.

These concepts were now to be replaced in the minds of the Europeans with tangible matter. God was replaced with the universe, the soul was replaced with the body, and the afterlife was replaced with political science, sociology, anthropology, public relations and human sciences. This ideology was soon to be spread across the entire world, but there was something dangerous underlying it all. The most destructive weapon in all of this was that this ideology doesn’t tell you not to believe in God, but that even if you do, it doesn’t matter. The universe is real. The body is real. Sociology and psychology are real. If you want to believe in God that is up to you, but when it comes to the world you play by our rules, you play by what matters, ‘the real world’. Believe in God but keep him to yourself.

Throughout the ages people were born into different faiths but they acted the same way. Their faiths didn’t really manifest. We all congratulate each other when we buy new houses, our lives are revolved around the material. Our families tell us education is our number one priority in life and not religion (although in truth they can overlap, but in modern education they do not) yet we still wear hijabs and grow beards.

Noor’s actions are not a one-off instance. This is a result of Muslims attempting to integrate into the wider modern society at the expense of their Islamic principles. It is the attempt to gain a position in the world through the use of religion. To many Muslims, their religion no longer plays a real role in their life. It has become synonymous with being a minority race which is not dependant on an ideology. Not eating pork, staying away from drinking wine and moving in an up-and-down action 5 times a day are often the only things that separate the modern Muslim from a non-Muslim, and this is a deep problem. We have accepted to keep God to ourselves, as he plays no significant role in our inner revolution. We merely use Him for our individual comfort in times of need, and that is not what Islam was sent forth to do. If Islam is not being manifested in the lives of its adherents then truly, what is the point?

People have made Islam what they want it to be according to how it suits their lives, and if those people of tradition have anything to say about it they are immediately labelled as fundamentalist and extreme. They are labelled, ironically, as judgemental.

Last year I wrote an article entitled A response to ‘Practicing Islam in Short Shorts’, and one blogger had something to say about it:

‘Why does a guy think he can have an opinion on whether a girl can or can’t practice Islam in shorts?”

‘Makke’s idea on “religion” and “spirituality” is false, shallow, and incomplete.’

‘Makke claims that some of El-Naggar’s views “contradict the religion” (when what he should have said is that they contradict his understanding of the religion), and that “you cannot be truly spiritual in Islam without following its law. It’s one and the same.” It would have been honest of Makke to point out that this is merely his take on how religion and spirituality operate.’

These are but a few excerpts of that article. The underlying notion that one notices here is that religion is what we make it, and no one has a monopoly over what it means; that we all have different understandings of our religion and they’re all right. However, this forces us into relativism and no longer are there universal tenets that Muslims can unite on. The faith is lost. The very point of the religion would be defeated. There is a tradition of over a thousand years that these people are ignoring.

Although I agree that there is no one absolute truth that we can adhere to without an infallible guiding us, we have more than enough within a rich creed by which to guide our principles. Should I stay silent on this because I seem to be offending people by stating that? When news of the Playboy article spread and Muslims debated back and forth on social media concerning the issue, those who were against the article were called judgemental for their stances. Why? Because they no longer want to stay silent whilst the lines of Islam are made even more hazy every single day? The fact that people claim offense when a Muslim speaks their mind about their worry of their faith being manipulated is in itself a painful irony.

The last time I wrote an article about an issue similar to this readers had a problem with it because a man wrote it, so I have decided to share the thoughts from Facebook of sisters who are usually pushed to the side-lines whilst being the ones who are truly attempting to adhere to the tradition:

Zahraa Makke: ‘So I take it that many individuals are offended by some of our reactions to the recent Playboy interview. With a tired breath I say, you absolutely have no right to be because that right is reserved for us: for the sisters that wake up every morning and deal with the struggles of upholding a dignified hijab only to be met with headlines like “Playboy magazine features hijab-wearing woman for the first time ever” and “Muslim designer rocks catwalk with beautiful hijab fashion at NYFW”. And as everyone stands by and applauds this alleged progression, we hold our breath. We make a silent prayer. But we are tired. Enough.

We are not judgmental, nor are we narrow-minded; having principles that don’t waver does not make one such. Why must we always blur the lines of principle in order to accommodate new trends? Not in my name, not in my religion’s name, and certainly not in the name of the very hijab that was preserved through blood, sweat, and tears. I am done with being silent. How dare they attempt to hijack my hijab and the hijab of my sisters and twist it to push their agenda forward?
We won’t let that happen.’ 

Zainab Chami: ‘No one should dehumanize anyone else. So countering dehumanization through questionable means is only hurting us.

If we are so desperate to be humanized by the dominant culture, let us consider what being featured in a publication like Playboy will really communicate:

“We as Muslims are not a threat because we will engage with you in your risqué mediums, even though they have degraded human dignity for generations, building names for themselves as a counter to decency. Even though they violate principles of Islamic modesty by their very existences, we as Muslims don’t take have to take our principles too seriously when it comes to humanizing ourselves, and we can even discuss them in these vulgar, profane mediums.”

Okay. BUT the real problem lies in what is not said: that Islam itself is too rigid, and that it remains a threat to your way of life, liberal takfiris. That if we adhere to our Islamic principles, it’s okay to dehumanize us because, sheesh, who likes a practicing Muslim?? I agree with you, liberal takfiris, these “religious” folks are too much, and because I’m not down with them, I’m more like you. Therefore, I’m a human. Therefore, they’re not humans.

Do not claim to care about the faith as a secular marker of identity. None of us are perfect Muslims, and we don’t have to be, but we have to strive toward the moral perfection that is Islam–that’s the purpose of our lives here. If you disagree, fine, but as a Muslim who sees Islam as sacred, I ask you not to try to strip it of its essence.’

Fatemah Meghji: ‘I’d like to ask a few questions (and write my own thoughts) because I think we really need to question some of our assumptions (myself included): 1. We often seek representation and visibility as though representation has some sort of value or is inherently moral. What does representation mean and why should we seek it? Is representation in and of itself moral (according to God’s standards, not a warped version of morality based on moral relativism)? Is having representation and visibility in oppressive structures worthy of celebration? Is having Muslim women represented in the fashion industry, on the cat-walk, in famous brands, or in pornographic magazines (porn is not limited to nudity for those arguing Playboy is changing its colours- please) a measure of progress? What does progress truly mean for us, and where and how should we be seeking representation? Did having a black man as the President of the USA change things for black lives in America or did it only serve to embed the oppression deeper and to obfuscate our already rose-coloured lenses?

Representation in oppressive structures often means nothing and does nothing to help us. 2. We claim that we should take advantage of all mediums in order to get our message across, to reach a demographic that we would not be able to reach otherwise. My question is why choose mediums that are glamourized and usually involve compromising our principles and morals? We need to be a little more creative and innovative than that. We have more options, let’s not limit our minds.  

Our Prophet (s) accessed every class and every member of the hierarchies that existed in his day and he did so in a principled fashion, without compromising his morals. There are creative ways that we can access and speak to demographics that we might not be exposed to usually that don’t involve promoting trash (I will not be apologetic about calling Playboy trash and neither should you). There is no pride and honour in being respected and hailed by Playboy. If we want to reach a disenfranchised or different demographic, maybe we should try visiting women’s shelters, prisons, hospitals, or the poorest parts of our neighbourhoods. Or is that not glamourous enough?  

Real change doesn’t come with how glittery something seems on the media or by how much media representation and visibility we get. We need to rethink our definition of change and what we’re really trying to say about what matters and is important to us. Shaytan takes advantages of misplaced good intentions—let’s not forget that. He comes at us from all sides. When we’re saying that playboy isn’t that bad—I don’t even know where to start or what kind of repercussions this will have.’

After all the relativists and their academic counterparts’ diseased opinions on the matter I feel compelled to say that I am sick to my stomach of people who are using the religion of Muhammad (s) to further their personal agendas and positions in society – whilst not only knowing/practicing next to nothing of the religion of Muhammad (s) but ironically jeopardising the principles of the religion of Muhammad (s).

If you feel this is directed at you then it probably is. You act as if you represent this faith. You are riding on the blood of millions of martyrs and rivers of ink of the scholars who sacrificed decades of their lives to preserve the Islamic principles that you so self-righteously attempt to represent through your own world view – throwing away whatever does not correlate with your personal perception of right and wrong.

If there is any yearning for truth left in your heart – even an ounce, then I beg of you to answer this question between yourselves and your Creator; What have you given this faith, and what have you gained from it? Your answer should tell you much.

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