Diaspora ministries to Muslim Women in the West is varied and much more complicated than relating to women in their country of origin. There is the merge of 2 or more cultures, languages and expressions of Islam. Wouldn’t it be great to have some windows into how Muslim women in the diaspora see themselves? Well Halal Gurls is just that! The following is a taste of what you can find if you get a chance to watch this candid comedy series where three 20-something Hijabi women navigate multicultural living in the midst of a clash between their Islamic traditions and their desires.
For many people humour is an antidote to pain, suffering and injustice. God seeing us and encountering God during pain and injustice is an even greater antidote. Through the last 17 years of my journey with Arabian women I have been touched by how resilient and strong my friends (Christian and not yet Christian) have been. They have been an inspiration to me. They stand in the line of Hagar who said ‘You are the God who sees me, I have now seen the One who sees me’ (Genesis 16:13). God saw Hagar in the midst of her isolation and pain and commanded her to walk in His ways, He then honours her with many descendants (Genesis 16:9-10). One of the things that Hagar’s descendants have today is humour which helps them cope with injustice, pain and the constant threat of shame.
One of my most enjoyable experiences recently was watching the hilarious mini-series Halal Gurls by Vonne Patiag. Halal Gurls is a 6 episode mini-series of about 8 minutes each. Throughout the series Muslim women’s culture, religion, sexuality and forms of expression are questioned as a Lebanese family negotiate life in Western Sydney. Watching Halal Gurls is not just fun it is also a helpful way to experience and understand some of the issues Muslim women from an Arabic background experience while living in the west, the rest of this blog will touch on some of the themes these episodes explore.
The theme of naseeb (luck, destiny, fortune) and it’s impact on everyday life, relationships and personal responsibility is explored. Different characters respond to and use the concept of naseeb in different ways, some women struggle against it proactively as they can while others are more willing to accept that things are out of their control. Watching Halal Gurls prompted me to talk with my friends about the beliefs we each have about our own naseeb. One friend blames Allah (and men) for all her troubles and it is out of these discussions that we have watched Magdalena and hopefully in the future The Shack.
Another topic explored throughout the series is negotiating cultural expectations of marriage while living in a western society which advocates gender equality in the workforce. The mini-series explores this through the eyes of the main character, Mouna and her fiancé, Tarek. It was interesting seeing the impact on men who are negotiating relationships with women who are trying to work out what it means to be a fulfilled woman amid social and cultural norms. The experiences of my friends trying to work out who they are and then who they are in relationship with many broken expectations and hurts only deepens my respect and love for both Arab men and women.
Understanding what it is like for Muslim women who know about gender equality has become hugely important for me as I listen to my friends sharing their experiences within their families and communities. Understanding their desire to be the women God created them to be has helped me to appreciate the way God connects with women through the Bible. I am now sharing Biblical truth through the women in Scripture and as a result, my friends have been struck by the way Jesus treated women and have asked what the Bible says about marriage.
Another issue explored in Halal Gurls is the dynamics of relationships within the family. The value of family relationships, where the daughter deeply wants to honour her mother in both her work, marriage and religious duty is expressed. It also explores the many ways that women are required to maintain family honour and that in order to survive the sisters need each other to navigate the various religious expectations, community expectations, careers, online abuse of men and providing for their mother. The resolution of the crisis that each daughter faces is made possible through the strength of their united sisterhood. This spurs me on to be a true loving friend, to be like a sister who is concerned about my friends physical, social, mental and spiritual wellbeing. That has meant to me visiting the second-hand shops, food banks, filling in government papers, discussing job applications, introducing her to Christian community, Christian psychologists, talking about parenting, singleness and marriage as well as sharing Christmas dinner, Bible stories, Church and prayer together. What does it mean for you to be your friend’s sister?
As expected, the issue of fulfilling one’s Islamic duty during Ramadan in a Western world is raised. Courageously the author also chooses to highlight how some women use the rules in Islam to bully other women within the Arabic community where everyone’s business is common knowledge and maintaining one’s family honour is a major concern. Sharing times when I have felt these same pressures to conform to Islamic religiosity has led to being a safe person who can understand when my friends share how they are mistreated by friends, community, family or husbands.
Many other cultural, religious and social aspects of life for Muslim women are explored, helping the viewer develop a deeper understanding of life for Muslim women in the West.
The worldview of honour and shame is the lens through which these dramas are presented. Interestingly, the stereotypes of multicultural Western Sydney characters are also presented to the audience as they are understood through the honour/shame worldview of Western Sydney Lebanese women who are navigating themselves through strong family and community expectations. In most western drama the climax is usually when right defeats wrong, but in Halal Gurls, the climax is that the girls honour is maintained and relationships in the workplace, family and community are restored.
When you are relaxing next, I strongly recommend sitting back with some pumpkin seeds in your hand and a friend by your side to watch Halal Gurls. https://iview.abc.net.au/show/halal-gurls (If you are not in Australia you may not have access – but try it out)
Featured image: https://iview.abc.net.au/show/halal-gurls
(c) When Women Speak… March 2020
CH is an Australian who grew up living overseas and has lived the last 13 years in the Middle East with her family. She now lives in multicultural Australia working with Culture Connect, Interserve providing training in Cross Cultural communication and understanding.