Last year, Playboy made a public decision to shake nude photographs from the brand. The announcement was initially met by skepticism, but since then, the magazine has successfully enhanced the place of actual journalism within its pages. In the latest issue, Playboy reporters wrote about race in a feature on Paul Beatty, a black novelist. They discussed activism in an interview with rapper Vince Staples. And, for the first time ever, Playboy featured a Muslim American in the magazine. Journalist Anna del Gaizo interviewed aspiring news anchor Noor Tagouri about the American-hijabi (headscarf or veil-wearing) experience, her aspirations, and the current political climate. It was a great opportunity for a Muslim woman to get some visibility.
But none of what she talked about seemed to matter to the droves of critics Tagouri, a reporter for Newsy, subsequently encountered online. Articles published in large outlets question whether or not she let Muslims down. On Twitter, users called her ugly names like #hoejabi. One Muslim publication even questioned her commitment to God. As a Muslim man, I try to avoid speaking for Muslim women, as that happens enough as it is. But right now, in a campaign season during which the Republican party has made white supremacy and Islamophobia central to its platform, this controversy around a wonderful interview of an awesome Muslim woman demands a response.
Far too often, Muslim women are being told how to dress and behave by groups who are neither women nor Muslim. Men in Saudi Arabia have constructed laws forcing women into a strict dress code that is simultaneously banned by men in France. Men are using the government to enforce their own principles on an issue that ought to be up to a woman’s free will.
For Muslim women who choose the hijab, the outward presentation of their faith makes them vulnerable to both sides of an increasingly polarizing and politicized conversation about the rights of women. That is why when someone like Noor Tagouri speaks out and treads new ground as an individual, she deserves the full support of the entire Muslim community.
We can talk about modesty, or Playboy’s history, or feminism, or anything else, but those conversations should not detract from the power of Tagouri’s interview. Veiled women bear the brunt of the animosity the entire Muslim community faces in America. We should encourage Muslim women to be a source of perspective on their unique experiences representing the most misunderstood faith on the planet—not just for the betterment of the average Muslim, but for the advancement of dialogue. As Muslims, we have a responsibility to protect each other, sometimes even from one another. Criticizing Playboy magazine’s role in controlling women’s lives seems very hypocritical when debating a Muslim woman’s right to share her story with a journalist working with that publication. Sadly, it’s just another example of a Muslim woman being told how to live her life. We need more representatives like Noor, and I, for one, support her.