In last night's BBC One documentary Islam, Women and Me, 28-year-old Mehreen Baig set out to answer a difficult question: Can you be a 'good' Muslim and a strong, independent woman at the same time?
Baig starts at home, where her father enforces a strict curfew on his daughter and demands constant updates on her whereabouts (but not her brother's). Her father's old school reasoning is this: “Whatever our parent, our guardians, our elders said was to be be obeyed.”
Next, Baig turns her attention to marriage. She signs up to MuzMatch, a dating app for Muslims, and meets with three men. It’s clear from her dates that there is no one version of how a 'good' Muslim woman should look or act. Each man has a different opinion on how they would want their wife to behave and dress. One is uncomfortable with the niqab (the face veil that leaves only the eyes visible), while another would expect his wife to dress modestly. What becomes clear to Baig is many of the things expected of Muslim women aren't based on Islam itself, but men's interpretation of it.
While at dinner with a group of Muslim women, they explain to Baig that it's tiring to defend wearing a headscarf. The majority wear it out of choice, not oppression, they argue. One of them explains: “Of course some women are forced to wear the hijab, but there’s so many other women that haven’t been. If someone tells me that I have to wear it, I’m taking my hijab off. I wear this out of love, this is my identity, and it’s not something I do because my God tells me to do it, everything my God tells me to do, he gives me a choice.”
Later in the programme, Baig sits in on a panel at the Sharia council in Birmingham. Women come there to petition for a divorce. One unidentified woman hasn't seen her husband in five years but he refuses to divorce her. The process is inherently sexist – women have to share intimate details, while their husbands aren't required to attend. A divorce granted under Sharia law is not legal in civil law either.
In her concluding statements, Baig asks: “Why is it that women’s rights in general are almost hidden, and men’s right’s are emphasised?”
Judging by the Twitter reaction to the show, viewers were divided on the merits of the show. Take a look...
Islam, Women and Me is now available on iPlayer