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August 11, 2008

Millions of Muslims Tune-in for Subversive Soap 'Noor' - WHY?!?

It is from the sofa in my living room that I have, three or four times now, found "Noor" (a 'soap' based on an affluent Muslim family in Turkey) next in line on satellite channel MBC4, after half-watching some other program – which is how it happens that I have developed a few thoughts on what has been described as an 'obsession' to millions of viewers - particularly, apparently, in Saudi Arabia. Anyhow, after reading a recent Washington Post article on the subject of Noor, I decided to give voice to those sentiments. Of course, as some of you may also know, I do not, for the most part, understand Arabic, but a person doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to understand what is in front of their eyes… Excerpts from Washington Post article with my comments: COMMENT 1: Subject title - our obsession with Noor is reported on in Washington Post The only part of this program that I can understand might be worthy of 'obsession'/emulation is the fact that it has initiated discussion of the contrasts found in the intimate relationships between the husband and wife lead characters (it's the only relationship in the series that sets out the concept of compassion) and, apparently, what other viewers find lacking in their own relationships. How sad, however, that we are not more enamored or inspired by the countless examples of the compassion found in Prophet Mohamed Salla Allahu 'Alaihi Wa Sallam. COMMENT 2: Article Title - A Subversive Soap Roils Saudi Arabia Subversive was an excellent choice of words. COMMENT 3: The show has become the subject of angry Friday sermons in this strict Islamic kingdom, and the country's chief cleric recently issued a fatwa calling it "decadent" and sinful to watch. Decadent and sinful – quite frankly, I do not believe their sentiments are unjustified. Is this program indicative of 'progress'? I do not think so – from where I sit, it is nothing less short of a step backward. COMMENT 4: "Noor" has had such a deep influence because, unlike American or Mexican soap operas broadcast here, it is about a Muslim family living in a Muslim country. EXACTLY why I feel the way I do in comments 2 and 3 – Muslim family living in a Muslim country – seriously? I would never have guessed… I have not seen anything in the story that even remotely indicates that the characters are "Muslim". I have not seen one incident where the story line included a single family member excusing themselves for prayer; the men leaving the home to go to the mosque; I have not seen even one female character dressed, whether it was for leisure, work, business, or at home, dressed in either jelbab, hijab, or abaya. On the contrary, the cast wardrobe consists entirely of street clothes that you would find people wearing in any other country not proclaiming itself to be "Islamic" or "Muslim". Personally, I am saddened that this program has become an 'obsession'. Is this what we want to present/support as demonstrative of life in the Muslim world? Life according to the true teachings of Islam? Or are we just supposed to swallow it hook, line and sinker as Muslim Reality TV? Astifurallah Al-Azeem. Sure, we are all human, and it is not to say that we don't have similar thoughts, feelings, and experiences with life choices – but why not produce a program with similarly charismatic characters, demonstrating how to make better choices? Wouldn't it be something if THAT became an obsession! Note: In one of the more recent episodes, the soulfully blue-eyed lead male character (Turk), is shown sporting a rather large tattoo on his upper right arm – that's 'Islamic' – imitating the custom of another society vs. showing reverence for religious/Islamic teachings. Seriously? Astifurgallah Al-Azeem. Ah, and then there was this week's stunning moment: a female lead character awakening from her abortion while her husband, who was at home babysitting and playing with the couple's daughter, runs across the "conveniently left in a place where your husband – who you want to hide something from – will find it" (duh) positive pregnancy test result, and is suddenly thrilled to learn he will have a second child – but will ultimately be devastated to learn his joy was 'premature'. So much for that marriage… COMMENT 5: The show is also dubbed in an Arabic dialect, not classical Arabic, which makes it easier to understand and feels more intimate to viewers. So glad the article's writer mentioned the dubbing. I have never in all my life seen a program where every single character's lines were dubbed. Seriously, it is painfully ridiculous to watch. COMMENT 6: According to several local newspapers, Saudi men have divorced their wives after finding photos of Muhannad on their cellphones or because they found their wives too taken with the Turk with the soulful eyes. Now THAT'S ISLAMIC…N-O-T! As to Turk's 'soulful eyes' – geez – they're blue – so what! And while we're, again, on the subject of Turk, a few days ago the program offered a scene during which we observe Turk dressing to out. The amount of time given to this scene, and the unabashed love the character displays for himself as he looks repeatedly in the mirror, was nauseating (not unlike the Saudi men with their headgear - as I often observed - while 'checking' it's arrangement on their heads through a reflection in a mosque window). Anyhow, all I could think was, "Dude, GET OVER YOURSELF!!!" COMMENT 7: But clerics say the national obsession is unhealthy and detrimental to Saudi society's traditional culture. Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper quoted a prominent cleric, Abdul Mohsen al-Obeikan, as saying the show erodes Muslim values and asking satellite channels not to air it. Quite honestly, I am wildly curious as to why the cleric(s) are even having to ASK why this program is allowed to air on satellite channels in Saudi Arabia – if there was truly an uproar about the program the government could/would block it in a nano-second. COMMENT 8: "When young people, who have all become fascinated with this show, watch Muslims like themselves engaging in premarital relations and having children out of wedlock, that is more dangerous than if they see Westerners doing those same things…" Which begs the question – why does Saudi Arabia – in complaining of the influence of the 'west' invite the 'west' into the homes of its citizens via satellite in the first place? Again, the government has the power to block these images/programs – and yet they don't – so what is the complaint, REALLY???? And why does the 'west' have to bear the brunt of the blame for choices made within the confines of the Kingdom in the first place? The west is the west, as is the east the east – if western influences are not welcome do not allow or invite them in – if it is felt necessary to restrict the Kingdom's people to that degree. If not – then do not complain of the guest you have invited after the welcome mat has been laid out for him. COMMENT 9: The show's finale, after 140 episodes, will be broadcast at the end of August, right before the start of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. Al-hamdulillah for that.


  1. The clerics need to get a life and worry about the real social problems that exist in society, instead of some bad soap that has flopped in Turkey. The characters are Muslims but religion has nothing to do with it and they dont have to dress in a certain way in order to be Islamic. People can relate to it because of cultural resemblance, for example Muhanad being forced to marry Noor by his parents and the syrian dialect it is dubbed in. Noor is not different to any other Arab soaps out there except of the leading man who is considered handsome (european looking)and romantice, caring partner. Maybe it is popular because people want to escape from reality, i cannot fault them. The clerics just want to have a say in everything, i am glad no one listened to them in this instance because most of the time they are hypocrites. Eight Nepalese women were raped in Saudi in the last 3 months, some of them gang raped, any clerics taking their cause up?

    Alhamdullilah? Ramadan is the time a lot of people watch hours of Egyptian soaps, it is the time popular shows come on TV. Most channels have already started advertsing soaps that will be aired during Ramadan. Soaps done by famous actors usually air during Ramadan as well.I do not advocate banning as an answer. Let people watch whatever they want, Noor does not interest me, i will stick to my Egyptian soaps.

  2. Dear sister Aisha,

    I came across to your blog rather accidentally, and the first post was about Noor, the turkish soap opera. I read your comments on the article about the series, and I would like to make a further comment: Me, being a Turk, have learned about the series from the dailies for the first time. It strikes me as rather funny and saddening at the same time, how this whole series affected people so much, and I wonder why on earth the production companies agreed upon this specific turkish soap opera, among at least 30-40 tv series broadcast in Turkey, to be dubbed into Arabic and sold to an arab channel. There are much better (and more 'islamic') series broadcast on turkish tv channels, both in quality and in cast and performance. Not to mention very quality series like The Fifth Dimension, also shown on a turkish-American channel called ebru tv, with english dubbing.

    Last but not least, people should know that the series in no way represent turkish family values or an average family living in Turkey.

    Best wishes from Turkey, salaams.