Muslim Hollywood Representation: To be or not to be?

Mahad Arshad

January 7, 2021



In the name of Allah, the Most merciful, the most just. All glory, praises, and gratitude belong to him.


We are living in a very interesting time period when it comes to the entertainment


industry, especially for those who are not seen on the big screen often. Yes I am talking about the infamous representation movement that has taken Hollywood by storm. The outcry from these underrepresented minorities has had such an impact that even the “prestigious” Academy Awards have implemented rules and developed different criteria that films have t


o meet in order to reach a certain level of a standard if they want to be nominated for the awards. For example, to meet Standard A, “At least one of the lead actors or significant supporting actors must be from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group: Asian Hispanic/Latin, Black/African American, Indigenous/Native American/Alaskan Native, Middle Eastern/North African, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, Other underrepresented race or ethnicity.” This is just one example of one category and the full-page on their website outlines all the finer details.


Furthermore, it is made to look like every minority group in this country is just screaming at their televisions to see themselves be represented in their favorite movies and shows, it begs the question: where does this leave us, the Muslims? For the sake of time let us put aside the fatwa or rulings of whether or not Muslims should even be participating and or getting involved in such an industry in the first place and let's look at what it has done for us thus far. Especially our sisters since they are always used by the media as the damsels in distress who need a white savior from the clutches of “Islam’s oppressiveness”.


Let us take a look at a few examples beginning with the Apple TV+ film “Hala”. The

google synopsis of the film says “Seventeen-year-old Pakistani American teenager Hala struggles to balance desire with her family, cultural, and religious obligations. As she comes into her own, she grapples with a secret that threatens to unravel her family.” If that does not sound like the most typical, redundant and clichéd plot about a Muslim woman than I do not know what is. Aside from the graphic sexual scenes involving Hala and despicably exaggerated characterization of her father as an abusive and cheating husband, Hala being Muslim adds absolutely nothing to the narrative. She could have been from literally any other ethnicity or religious faith and the film would still be as bland and boring of a production. The film ends with, of course, the hijab coming off and Hala walking into the distance as she feels “liberated” from her religious obligations. Nevermind the whole film, this final scene alone portrays such a disgusting message and is an insult to all the Muslim women around the world who struggle everyday wearing the hijab in the fear due to the rise in Islamophobia. The director, Minhal Baig, did an atrocious job of handling such sensitive material and she should publicly apologize to the Muslim women for it.


Next up is the show 9-11. The google synopsis for this character reads as follows,

“Natacha Karam will play Marjan Marwani, a devout Muslim firefighter, who is also described as an adrenaline junkie”. Unlike Hala, I have not seen this show to provide an in depth look into it but I did come across a scene which was circling on Twitter when the show was trending because. You can just go to youtube and search “9-11 lone star hijab scene” and you will find it there. On the one hand it may seem like the scene is helping Muslims by showing hijabi women on the big screen as a brave firefighter and in this scene where her hijab falls off, her co-workers huddle around her so she can fix her hijab to cover her head. Thus creating this image of mutual respect between all of them and while I understand this as a possible motive behind the scene, I also really cannot look over the possibility that this is just another attempt of Hollywood trying to make the masses believe that this is what Muslim women want. That she wants to be saved from Islam which is hindering her progress at her job. If this is beginning to sound problematic, it is just the beginning.


In an article on The Metro, Mariam Khan writes about the Netflix series Elite, “Nadia

Shano, played by Mina El Hammani, is an intelligent and focused scholarship student… In a key scene in season two, we see Nadia walk into a bar, looking undeniably fierce as she crosses the floor of the club. She's not wearing her hijab. She goes on to drink alcohol, and finally, she has the courage to get with the rich boy – the Chuck Bass of the show – and white savior, Guzman. The message seems to be that suddenly, after removing her hijab, Nadia is free. Free from supposed oppression and being submissive.” I do not need to add much to this, Khan basically encompassed everything what was needed to be said .


As if trying to strip down Muslim women was not enough, now Hollywood is entering its

next phase and attacking the very special religious month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan. “A devout Muslim living in West Hollywood makes an unexpected connection with an actor during the holy month of Ramadan” says the google synopsis about “Breaking Fast”, a film about a gay muslim falling for another man. Just the general concept of this show is so offensive and extremely disrespectful to the nearly 2 billion muslims around the world who observe this very special month that tens of pages could be written about it. Hollywood’s obsession and fetish of trying to constantly remove the hijab and degrade muslim women is in broad daylight for all to see. It is clear that this industry is not a friend of the Islamic faith nor will it ever be. The consistent subliminal and at times explicit messages of portraying Muslims following their desires and apostatizing as opposed to staying true to their faith is outrageous to say the least. Rather than calling for representation, there should instead be protests to outright prohibit Hollywood from further exploiting our faith in the way Muslim characters are portrayed in films and shows.


I believe that Hollywood is no place for Muslims to be calling for representation. If you

look at what it has brought us so far, how they belittle the faith and disrespect it at every chance they get, I do not think this is the best place to say that we want to see ourselves in. I do not believe that we need their representation, nor do we need their validation. We have all the role models we need that we should aspire to follow such as Maryam (AS) the mother of Jesus whom Allah SWT honors in the Quran. “And as the Angels said, "O Maryam, surely Allah has elected you and purified you and has elected you over the women of the worlds. (Quran 3:42) From the mother of Jesus Maryiam, to the Prophet’s most beloved wife, Khadijah (AS), to the founder of the first ever university, Fatima bint Muhammad Al-Fihriya Al-Qurashiya, we have no shortage of role models for both the brothers and sisters to look up to and follow other than and including the Prophets, Peace be upon them all.

Have you seen he who has taken as his god his [own] desire, and Allah has sent him astray due to knowledge and has set a seal upon his hearing and his heart and put over his vision a veil? So who will guide him after Allah ? Then will you not be reminded?” (Quran 45:23)




“ACADEMY ESTABLISHES REPRESENTATION AND INCLUSION STANDARDS FOR OSCARS® ELIGIBILITY.” Oscars.org | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 10 Sept. 2020, www.oscars.org/news/academy-establishes-representation-and-inclusion-standards-oscarsr-eligibility.


Khan, Mariam. “TV Needs to Stop 'Empowering' Muslim Women by Removing Their Hijabs.” Metro, Metro.co.uk, 15 Nov. 2019, metro.co.uk/2019/09/13/tv-needs-to-stop-empowering-muslim-women-by-removing-their-hijabs-10723969/.



168 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All