Women, Islam and the media are topics often found in close conjunction, and not always in the happiest of circumstances. So in a canny move, the University of East Anglia (UEA), which often gives better-known institutions a run for their money in terms of column inches, has developed a course entitled exactly that.
The 12-week module, which the university claims is the first of its kind in the UK, will cover the often inflammatory topics of veil wearing, arranged marriage and “honour” crimes – looking at how they are portrayed in contemporary film, TV and other media, and how this reflects cultural biases in both the east and west.
It launches this week and 18 third-year students have enrolled. Roughly equal numbers of men and women have signed up.
The course was developed by Dr Eylem Atakav, a graduate of Ankara University and lecturer at UEA. “Lots of people have written about women and Islam, lots of people have written about Islam and media or women and media, but they haven’t been brought together before,” she said.
Atakav said the course would be an important way of changing perceptions of Islam. Study materials include films and TV programmes from around the world, including Iran, the US, Turkey and China. “We will look at how the media talk about ‘honour’-based violence, for example. If it’s a Middle Eastern woman who happens also to be a Muslim woman it’s called an ‘honour crime’. But if it’s a British woman who was killed because her husband was jealous because she was having an affair with another man, it’s called murder.
“These crimes happen everywhere in the world, it’s not just a Muslim, or just a Middle Eastern thing.”
Journalist and broadcaster Nabila Ramdani agrees there is a need to challenge stereotypes. “The media caricatures [Muslim women]. It is the same kind of media treatment which sees Muslim men portrayed as swarthy types with beards or – at worst – potential terrorists,” she said.
Atakav said the course had added relevance in the light of the Arab spring and new forms of political activism by women.
This week Germany’s first university department of Islamic theology opened in the city of Tübingen. Three further institutions are planned across the country, designed to train future imams and teachers. Germany’s education minister, Annette Schavan, hailed the scheme as an antidote to “hate preachers”, according to Deutsche Presse-Agentur. Thirty-six students have enrolled for bachelor degrees.