Representing normative Muslim culture in the media is the responsibility of the community, not the mainstream media. We have to focus on creativity not protest to create the change.
By Ibraheem Ali
The issue of authentic media representation has been in the hearts and minds of many minority communities who live in the west, especially in the midst of movements like BLM. The Muslim community are no strangers to the discussion, especially in the decades of the ‘war on terror’ and fear mongering media campaigns.
For the longest time, our choices of ambassadors or icons in the media landscape have been very slim and negative. There’s the disgruntled Arab on a crusade against “freedom”, the repressed hijabi longing to escape her cruel, traditional family, or the angsty blacksheep looking for acceptance in his bigoted society. All of them inaccurate, lazy and toxic stereotypes, and yet loved by mainstream producers and channels.
None of these cliched caricatures really reflect our community. None of them honour or speak to our values and all of them are condescending and offensive. Yet here we are in the year 2021, still dealing with outdated and damaging narratives. In as much as we can point the finger at failing media institutions, we have more than enough blame to carry upon our shoulders. For years we’ve delegated our cultural representation to those who have no interest in or understanding of what it means to be a Muslim. Not surprising that it’s been a ‘turn off’ disappointment. We’ve complained, petitioned, and argued instead of asking ourselves “why don’t we just do it ourselves?”.
Over the 1442 years of its history, the Islamic world has interacted with and shaped cultures across the globe. There is a myriad of art, architecture, literature, food, fashion, and all sorts of creative expressions marked with the unique signature of this beautiful culture. Importantly these influences are not confined by books of history, rather they exist and continue to thrive around us.
We are as much a part of that glorious past as we are of the present. It need not be the case that we shut the door on all the cultural achievements of Muslims past, nor that we ignore the creative work being produced by Muslims today. Alchemiya’s mission is to curate and showcase films and programs that speak to the Muslim experience, that highlight the beauty and diversity of the Islamic world and that authentically represent Muslim life.
Fashionista’s of the ’90s might remember the popular clothing line “FUBU”, which stood in the face of established brands as the champion of the streets. Their motto “For Us, By Us” evoked a spirit of raw authenticity. Similarly, we here at Alchemiya believe in Muslims reclaiming their cultural narrative. That’s why we strive to celebrate television for Muslims, by Muslims.
Ours is but one of many initiatives, there’s a variety of talented individuals within the Muslim community who are not receiving the support and encouragement they need. Part of reclaiming our cultural narrative is recognizing these creatives and giving them the means and love to flourish.
In curating our library of films, documentaries, and tv programmes, we aim to rekindle the imaginations of Muslims globally and demonstrate to them the artistic potential we have within our community. Our intention in sharing these works, is that our viewers – Muslim and Non-Muslim alike- can learn to appreciate the beauty of this diverse and colourful culture.