Quick! When you think of what married life is in the Middle East, what comes to mind? Women clad in black burkas, abayas (robes), hijabs, and face veils, sticking close to home, raising kids and following the lead of her dominating Arab husband? A relationship where the man is in charge and the woman sticks to the roles of wife and mother?
Not according to “Noor,” a popular Turkish soap opera that’s gaining huge viewership across the Gaza strip and in Saudi Arabia. It features a handsome protagonist names Mohannad, a blue-eyed Arab heartthrob married to Noor, who aspires to be a fashion designer. And get this–Mohhanad supports her goals! According to a Newsweek article, women across the Middle East are swooning for this atypical Arab hero against the wishes of strict, conservative Arab-Muslim clerics who are urging people to tune out the “un-Islamic” show.
Setting aside the character’s obviously un-Islamic practices, I think the relationship shown in “Noor” is one that’s very Islamic. The Islam I was always taught says a woman’s first priority is to make sure her family is taken care of in the best way. And after that, she is encouraged to do more–get educated, contribute to society, work. And her relationship with her husband is one of love and consideration–not domination. If I got “Noor” in the U.S., I would probably watch.
Some women are advising their husbands to learn from Noor and Mohannad. In the Newsweek article, 24-year-old Heba Hamdan, a housewife who married straight out of college, told her husband, ” … learn from him (Mohannad) how he treats her, how he loves her, how he cares about her.” Hamdan, who lives in Amman Jordon, said “Noor” has inspired to go out and look for a job.
“Noor” is an interesting mix of Muslim, Western, and Arab practices and traditions. The characters observe the fasting month of Ramadan, the title character’s marriage was arranged by Mohannad’s grandfather. But strict Muslims are riled because the couple drinks alcohol with dinner and had sex outside of marriage. (The husband had a child with an old girlfriend.)
But it is a Turkish soap opera, from a country that’s less conservative than its Muslim counterparts. And conservatives seem powerless to stem the tide of “Noor’s” popularity. In Saudi Arabia, three to four million watch the show daily according to Saudi satellite channel MBC.
The show will wrap up before the start of Ramadan (when religious programming takes over in the Middle East) at the end of August.