New Netflix drama ‘Elite’ explores Islamophobia in Europe

A still from new Netflix drama 'Elite.' (Image supplied)
Updated 06 October 2018

New Netflix drama ‘Elite’ explores Islamophobia in Europe

  • 'Elite' is based on a prestigious private school in Spain where three newly enrolled working-class students upset the status quo
  • The show highlights prejudices toward the working class, HIV and Islamophobia

MADRID: After the success of “Casa de Papel” (Money Heist), Netflix premiered its latest Spanish language teen drama, “Elite,” this week.
The story is based on a prestigious private school in Spain where three newly enrolled working-class students upset the status quo — among them, an ambitious Muslim-Palestinian girl.
As the plot unravels around spoilt, rich teens clashing with the newbies and the death of one of their classmates, the show — which has been compared to “13 Reasons Why,” “Gossip Girl” and “Pretty Little Liars” — highlights key issues, among them prejudice toward the working class, HIV and Islamophobia.
In the first episode, Nadia, played by Mina El-Hammani, is ordered to remove her headscarf by the principal or face expulsion in a scene that plays heavily on the debate over whether to ban headscarves in schools that has gripped Europe in recent years.
In 2004, France banned the wearing of all noticeable religious symbols in public schools, which affected those wearing headscarves in schools. Meanwhile, in 2016, a young Muslim woman missed a week of classes because she refused to remove her headscarf.

There was also widespread controversy when a primary school in London banned pupils from wearing the headscarf earlier this year only to later back down from the ban.
It is in this context that the show’s co-writers sought to use Nadia’s character to highlight the challenges some Muslims face when integrating into European society.
“We wanted to work with this character because it’s something that is happening in Europe. This is the reality that we see every day,” co-writer Dario Madrona told Arab News.
“(Nadia) reflected the idea of what Muslims have to face in Europe every day. Because you are part of a different culture, you don’t know if you can integrate. People look at you funny sometimes,” he added.
During the series, Nadia is also faced with hateful comments from her fellow classmate Lu, played Danna Paola, who refers to her as “Taliban.

 

 

Nadia’s brother, Omar, played by Omar Ayuso, faces his own challenges in the show. In one episode he his confronted by his friend Samuel, played by Itzan Escamilla, about his drug dealing.

Samuel advises Omar to join him at the restaurant where he works, to which Omar reminds him that although they both handed in their resumes, only Samuel received a call back.
Aside from Islamophobia and ethnic discrimination, the show also explores the identity crisis some teenagers go through in high school.
El-Hammani explained that, like Nadia, she comes from a Muslim background but struggles with the culture clash that comes with living in Spain.
“My parents are from Morocco, they are Muslims, so I know what it is like to live in a closed environment. Nadia is from Palestine so it’s different, but the same clash of cultures can be felt in both cases,” El-Hammani said.
“I have had a childhood that was very similar to what Nadia has lived (through). Although I was born in Spain, when I go back to Morocco I am a Spaniard and when I am in Spain I am the Moroccan girl. So, you always wonder, ‘Who am I?’”

FASTFACTS

Born in Spain, Mina El-Hammani is of Moroccan origins and began her acting career in 2014. She is known for Spanish TV shows “El Príncipe” and “Servir y proteger” and British TV series, “The State.”


Art and passion: Creative secrets of the Kiswa calligrapher

Updated 30 July 2020

Art and passion: Creative secrets of the Kiswa calligrapher

  • Mokhtar Alim Shokder tells Arab News about his remarkable journey and influences

RIYADH: With a steady and sturdy hand, a calligrapher’s passion and commitment to the art of the written word can be displayed through various mediums, but none more honorable than displaying that passion on the Holy Kaaba’s Kiswa (curtain).

Mokhtar Alim Shokder, a calligrapher at the Kiswa Factory of the Holy Kaaba in Makkah, fell in love with calligraphy at a young age and developed his skill over the years, which landed him the prestigious and honorable position he is in today.

As a third-grader, he joined a three-month calligraphy course during the summer of 1977 held in Makkah’s Grand Mosque. At the outset, he showed extraordinary skills, which impressed his teachers, and he was made a calligraphy teacher the following year.

With practice and determination, Shokder fell more in love with calligraphy and felt happier when his skills improved.

“I would practice for long hours each day because I loved Arabic calligraphy. My classmates would come and ask for tips on how to improve their handwriting,” he recalled. “I felt overjoyed, with a strong drive to perfect my skills. My colleagues and I would spend long hours training nonstop, with full focus on the tasks at hand to perfect our work.”

Mokhtar Alim Shokder, a calligrapher at the Kiswa Factory of the Holy Kaaba in Makkah, fell in love with calligraphy at a young age and developed his skill over the years. 
(Supplied/ Reuters)

His preferred type of font is Naskh, a sans-serif script that is characterized by the lack of “hooks” on the ends of ascending and descending strokes, considered to be one of the earliest forms of Islamic calligraphy and which is used in the Holy Qur’an. However, he uses the Thuluth font more often, because it allows for curved and oblique lines and slopes, and is used for writing on the Kiswa.

Shokder said that Kiswa writing methods had developed immensely, noting that the calligraphy takes a lot of time and requires patience and precision. 

He was influenced by several calligraphers, especially the 19th-century Ottoman calligrapher Sami Efendi, whose works were prominent during his time for its attractive design for vowel signs, decorations, and numbers. Heavily influenced by his work, Shokder was impressed the first time he saw one of Efendi’s works, calling him a role model for all calligraphers.

After teaching calligraphy for several years at the Grand Mosque, he enrolled at Umm Al-Qura University’s Art Education Department in 1989 to hone his skills. He said he benefited most from Muhammad Hassan Abu Al-Khair, a professor at the department and a famous calligrapher known to participate in several competitions and exhibitions. 

FASTFACTS

  • As a third-grader, Mokhtar Alim Shokder joined a short course during the summer of 1977 held in Makkah’s Grand Mosque. His preferred type of font is Naskh, a sans-serif script that is characterized by the lack of ‘hooks’ on the ends of ascending and descending strokes.
  • Due to his extraordinary skills, he was made a calligraphy teacher the following year.
  • After teaching calligraphy for several years at the Grand Mosque, he enrolled at Umm Al-Qura University’s Art Education Department in 1989 to hone his skills.
  • His preferred type of font is Naskh, a sans-serif script that is characterized by the lack of ‘hooks’ on the ends of ascending and descending strokes.
  • However, he uses the Thuluth font more often, because it allows for curved and oblique lines and slopes, and is used for writing on the Kiswa.

“The artistic works need a lot of patience and precision. For example, to write five words using calligraphy can take you two to three months and sometimes longer,” said Shokder. “It is the execution of the work that takes a long time. Some people think that such an artwork that has three words can take an hour but this is not true.”

According to Shokder, calligraphers will spend long hours working and have to bear the pressure associated with executing such works, to hone and perfect skills with years of practice and training.

In 2003, he was appointed the sole calligrapher for the Kiswa, a position his father saw in a dream, a moment he cherishes deeply. “It was one of the happiest moments of my life and a great blessing from God, for which I will always be indebted. My father’s dream came true,” he said. 

The methods of writing on the Kiswa have developed over the years. The late calligrapher Abdulraheem Ameen Bokhari, Shokder’s predecessor, used chalk to write the script on the silk cloth. In later years, silk-screen printing was introduced which allows the calligrapher to save the script and preserve it on a computer, a method which allowed the Kiswa’s calligrapher to improve the script.

Mokhtar Alim Shokder, a calligrapher at the Kiswa Factory of the Holy Kaaba in Makkah, fell in love with calligraphy at a young age and developed his skill over the years. 
(Supplied/ Reuters)

“In older times, ink was used to write the words on papers, then the edges of the letters would be punched with a needle, the papers would be placed on a black fabric, the surface of which would be used for writing,” said Shokder. “Later, a transparent bag made of cloth would be filled with white powder that would be used together with the papers to punch letters on. An embroiderer would use a thread to identify the outside edges of each letter then start his process of embellishing.”

Shokder noted that the process of developing the writing methods was only approved after thorough studies had been conducted on the methods.

Writing on the Kiswa requires strong skills and long hours of training to master the skill. Another challenging part of his job would be the compound and overlapping texts, which require the calligrapher to try several times before reaching the desired outcome, which should be beautiful and with the logical order of words and combine all the elements of the art.