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Noor Tagouri: the first Muslim to appear in Playboy magazine

At the same time that a heated debate in Europe about the hijab is emerging, activist and journalist Noor Tagouri has made a distinct statement in the US. As the first Muslim ever featured in the magazine, she is appearing in the October edition of Playboy, proudly wearing her hijab.

Whoever is now imagining sleazy pictures involving red velvet and dimmed lighting is far off the track. On the contrary, Tagouri gave an interesting and profound interview for the ‘Renegades’ series on her activism for Muslims, accompanied by tasteful pictures in which she is fully clothed and her head is, as always, covered in a scarf.

However, this move has evoked a outcry in both social and print media. Tagouri’s interview has attracted just as much criticism and animosity as it has admiration and support. Online, the comments below the article range from expressions of praise for Tagouri to derogatory remarks – for example: “whether hijabi or nun, every woman has a price. Playboy came calling and all of her so-called values went out the window.”

Certainly, Tagouri is not prone to denying public attention. On her YouTube and Twitter channel she keeps the public updated on her life on a daily basis, and has recently even decided to start designing her own clothing line. Some people are suggesting that, for a journalist, especially one calling herself a ‘storyteller’, Tagouri might be too focused on telling her own story instead of somebody else’s. Malicious tongues could accuse her of having anticipated and calculated the media outrage the interview would cause and using it for her own benefit.

The real reason that the public reactions were so radical, however, seems due to the fact that the hijab has been in the centre of discourse for quite some time now. Ever since pictures surfaced of French police forcing a woman to remove her burkini on a Nice beach, conservative Muslim clothing has become a particularly popular topic of interest. Similarly, the public atmosphere was heated in Germany when there was talk about prohibiting burkas to be worn in the streets.

One point often made in this context is that the hijab can be construed as a symbol of religious female suppression. Ironically, this claim often came from individuals who are unfamiliar with Islamic religion and culture. So, Tagouri’s decision to talk to Playboy about her goal to be the first hijabi news anchor in the US naturally churned the waters again.

The fuss might have been only half as big had it been a different magazine, but choosing Playboy to promote the fight for Muslim and women’s rights just did not add up for Tagouri’s opponents. Playboy, associated mostly with soft pornography and Hugh Hefner’s mansion of ‘bunnies’, does not seem for many to be the appropriate medium for someone who wants to be a role model for young Muslim girls, as Tagouri claims in her interview. In their perhaps hasty responses, most critics forgot to consider that Playboy has actually moved away from its dirty image. Even since its original roots, the magazine has been publishing serious journalistic context as well as short stories from renowned writers. This year they also made the decision to refrain from full frontal nudity, thus moving further away from pornography and closer towards respectable journalism.

So whether or not Playboy is the right medium to talk about Muslim activism might not be the question to ask right now. Rather, we might question as to what the reactions to the interview reveal about the society we currently live in. For a debate that is held as agitatedly and with as much ignorance as the current discussion on hijabs and burkinis, a hijabi journalist speaking about why she wears it and what Muslim values mean to her may be exactly what is needed.

Image: State Dept./Erik A. Kurniawan

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