Muslim women in Latin America becoming online influencers

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In a region where Christianity is still seen as the norm, Islamic influencers face great challenges to succeed in the digital sphere. (File/Twitter)
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Amira Ubaida Sanchez. (Supplied)
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Nallely Khan. (Supplied)
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Nallely Khan. (Supplied)
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Updated 13 April 2022

Muslim women in Latin America becoming online influencers

  • ‘I am combating religious intolerance with my work,’ Mariam Chami tells Arab News
  • ‘Most viewers look for such videos with curiosity and the wish to learn,’ expert tells Arab News

SAO PAULO: With millions of views, videos in which Latin American Muslim women talk about their faith and show their personal lives have become more and more common on social media over the past few years.

In a region where Christianity is still seen as the norm, Islamic influencers face great challenges to succeed in the digital sphere. 

Some of them are managing to do it, with creativity, charisma and humor. One such influencer is Mariam Chami, a 31-year-old nutritionist from the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo. 

The daughter of a Lebanese father and a Brazilian mother who converted to Islam, Chami was educated in a Muslim school and only felt the weight of wearing a hijab in a Catholic-majority country in adulthood.

“In the beginning, I made videos for Muslim girls who didn’t have much knowledge about religion,” she told Arab News.

“But then I started to produce content with the goal of explaining Islam and reducing the prejudices that Brazilians have against Muslims.”

On TikTok, where she is followed by 1.1 million people, Chami discusses controversial topics for a very liberal country like Brazil such as burkinis — the clip where she wore one had more than 900,000 views — or why her sister-in-law, who is also Muslim, does not wear a hijab. Chami does all that with humor.

“I’ve been supported by my community and by religious leaders,” she said. “Given that I reach many people, I am — along with other Muslim influencers — combating religious intolerance with my work, and making more people admire our religion.”

One of Chami’s concerns is to show that Muslim women are not the oppressed victims of men, something that comes to mind among many Latin Americans when they see a woman wearing a hijab. Feminist movements in Brazil still cultivate that kind of prejudice, she said.

“I believe feminism is selective: It struggles for a woman’s right to be whatever she wants, but if she decides to be Muslim and wears her (Islamic) garments, she’s put aside and oppressed by those (feminist) women,” she added.

Colombian lawyer and digital influencer Amira Ubaida Sanchez also tries in her videos to deal with the most common misconceptions about Muslim women in her country.

“Me and my sister studied law together. Seeing us with a hijab, people in the university would frequently ask us, with an expression of surprise, if we as Muslim women are allowed to study,” she told Arab News.

In her work as an attorney, the 24-year-old usually represents Christian Colombian women who have been abandoned by their partners with their children and no money.

The daughter of a Colombian man who converted to Islam 40 years ago and became a Muslim leader in Bogota, she received a religious education that she now uses to convey complex messages in two-minute clips. 

On TikTok, her account @conelvelo — “with the headscarf” in Spanish — has 43,600 followers. 

Her father, Imam Carlos Sanchez, said: “I’ve never told any of my daughters to do this or that. Amira decided for herself to talk about Islam, which she does with great competence. I couldn’t be prouder.”

Making Islam known in Latin America is not an easy task, he added. Until the end of the 20th century, Catholicism was the official religion in countries such as Colombia. 

Cultural differences also complicate Latin Americans’ understanding of Islamic concepts.

That is why Amira always uses straightforward language and includes funny elements in her videos.

“Many people want to disseminate Islam in Latin America, but they talk about ‘sunnah’ and ‘hadith,’ and nobody knows what those words mean here,” she said.

Nallely Khan, a 30-year-old Mexican who lives with her Muslim husband in India, said it is not easy to deal with Islamic issues on the internet for a Latin American audience.

“My goal isn’t so much to discuss Islam, but to show the way of living that we have, our daily life. At times I have to explain religious matters, and Latin Americans may disagree,” she told Arab News. “Some people don’t like Islam.”

Khan was born in a Catholic family but converted to Islam as a teenager. She said it was difficult to find materials about it in Mexico, but “now we have many organizations working on the dissemination of Islam in the country.”

Her YouTube channel Nana India Vlogs has 147,000 subscribers. She mainly portrays her life in India with her family, with a focus on the cultural differences with Mexico. But the Islamic dimension can be seen in many of her videos. 

Her biggest hit until now has been the series “India and my love story,” in which she describes how she converted to Islam, how she met her husband, and how she discovered that he had a first wife only after their marriage (the woman ended up divorcing him). The three videos have had more than 2.5 million views. 

“I don’t consider myself to be an influencer because I know I’m not a perfect person. I always try to become a better Muslim,” she said.

“I just hope to keep showing my life, my family, and the fact that Muslims lead normal lives.”

According to Arely Medina, a professor of social sciences specializing in Islam in Latin America at the University of Guadalajara in Mexico, the emergence of Muslim women as digital influencers in the region is part of a “strategy of presence in the public space.”

She told Arab News: “Over time, women developed different ways of making themselves visible on the street. This way, people would know them and see that they aren’t repressed women only because of their religion.” The same dynamic is happening now online.

“Of course the audience can stigmatize them, but I think most viewers look for such videos with curiosity and the wish to learn,” she added.

Medina said the internet has been a fundamental tool for young people interested in Islam in Mexico and other Latin American countries that until recently did not have large Muslim communities. 

“Twenty years ago, many young people who wished to learn about Islam were only able to do so by chatting with Muslims from other countries and searching for online content about it,” she added.

Some would even convert to Islam this way, with the help of Muslims by phone or online chats — a process Medina calls “autonomous conversion.”

Now, she said, “women who discovered Islam with the help of the internet are using it to talk about Islam to large audiences.”

Three Palestinian journalists injured in Israeli strike on Gaza’s Nuseirat camp

Updated 1 min 1 sec ago

Three Palestinian journalists injured in Israeli strike on Gaza’s Nuseirat camp

  • The 3 reporters were taken to Shohada Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah
  • Journalist Sami Shehada lost his leg in the attack

GAZA: Three Palestinian journalists were injured in an Israeli airstrike on the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza on Friday.

Sami Shehada and Sami Barhoum were covering the events for the TRT Arabic TV channel, while Ahmad Harb was on duty for Alarabiya TV at the time of the incident.

All three journalists were first taken to Al-Awda Hospital, a small facility in the north of the enclave, but later transferred to Shohada Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.

Shehada lost a leg in the attack, which reportedly directly targeted the media team.

“(We) were in a (relatively) safe spot, wearing our press armor and helmets,” Shehada told Arab News. “Even the car I arrived in was labeled ‘TV,’ and I’m a civilian and a journalist — they targeted us.”

Since Oct. 7, at least 122 journalists have been killed by Israeli strikes, according to UN figures, and many more have been injured.

UN experts said in February that they were “alarmed at the extraordinarily high numbers of journalists and media workers who have been killed, attacked, injured and detained in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in Gaza, in recent months, blatantly disregarding international law. We condemn all killings, threats and attacks on journalists and call on all parties to the conflict to protect them.”

Media watchdogs urge independent probe into Israeli attack that injured Gaza journalists

Updated 12 April 2024

Media watchdogs urge independent probe into Israeli attack that injured Gaza journalists

  • ‘Assaults on hospitals have further restricted the ability of the press to work safely,’ says NGO official

LONDON: Media watchdogs have called for an independent investigation into an Israeli attack on Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Gaza that injured eight journalists.

The strike on March 31 also killed four people and injured nine others.

“Israel’s March 31 attack on a hospital compound where journalists were sheltering and working must be independently investigated,” said Committee to Protect Journalists Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna in New York City.

With media offices facing widespread destruction in Gaza, journalists in the enclave have increasingly sought refuge in hospitals.

However, attacks on Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital and the March 18 assault on Al-Shifa Hospital, where journalists were arrested and faced violence, have rendered even hospitals unsafe for press personnel.

“Assaults on hospitals have further restricted the ability of the press to work safely,” added de la Serna.

Reports show that on March 31, an Israeli drone strike hit a tent encampment outside Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir Al-Balah, central Gaza, near a tent provided by the Turkish Anadolu news agency, where journalists had sought refuge.

The attack targeted a command center belonging to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, resulting in the deaths of four militants and injuries to 17 other people, including eight journalists, according to multiple media outlets and the Palestinian press freedom group MADA.

Items including cameras, laptops and mobile phones belonging to journalists were also destroyed in the strike.

The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate in central Gaza has warned of deteriorating conditions for journalists in the enclave, leading many to seek refuge and access to electricity in hospitals in order to file stories.

But recent attacks have eroded confidence in the safety of hospitals across Gaza.

During the Israeli operation in Al-Shifa Hospital on March 18, Al Jazeera Arabic reporter Ismail Al-Ghoul was detained for almost 12 hours alongside several other journalists.

Witnesses reported that soldiers assaulted the group of journalists, destroyed their tent, and damaged equipment and press vehicles.

Battleground: Jerusalem
The biblical battle for the Holy City

Mali’s junta bans the media from reporting on political activities in a deepening crackdown

Updated 12 April 2024

Mali’s junta bans the media from reporting on political activities in a deepening crackdown

  • Maison de le Press, an umbrella organization of journalists in Mali, said it rejects the order and called on media to continue with their work
  • Col. Assimi Goita, who took charge after a second coup in 2021, has failed in his promised to return the country to democracy in early 2024

BAMAKO, Mali: In a deepening crackdown, Mali’s ruling junta on Thursday banned the media from reporting on activities of political parties and associations, a day after suspending all political activities in the country until further notice.

The order, issued by Mali’s high authority for communication, was distributed on social media. The notice said it applied to all forms of the media, including television, radio, online and print newspapers.
Mali has experienced two coups since 2020, leading a wave of political instability that has swept across West and Central Africa in recent years. Along with its political troubles, the country is also in the grip of a worsening insurgency by militants linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group.
The scope of the ban — or how it would be applied in practice — was not immediately clear. It was also not known if journalists would still be allowed to report on issues such as the economy, which are closely tied to politics and who would monitor their work.
The umbrella organization that represents journalists in Mali responded with an unusually stern rebuttal.
The group, known as Maison de le Press, or Press House, said it rejects the order and called on journalists to continue to report on politics in Mali. It also urged them to “stand tall, remain unified and to mobilize to defend the right of citizens to have access to information.”
Mali’s national commission for human rights also expressed regret and profound concern over the decision in a statement published late Thursday. It warned the junta the decision could prove harmful.
“Instead of calming the social climate, these restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms could potentially stir up trouble and tension, which the country does not need,” it said.
The clampdown on the media followed a similar action on Wednesday, when the junta ordered the suspension of all activities by political parties until further notice, citing a a need to preserve public order. The news was broadcast on state television as the population was celebrating Eid Al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan during which observant Muslims fast from dawn till dusk.
Analysts said the move was likely a backlash against political figures, civil society and students who have expressed frustration with the junta’s failure to return the country to democratic rule as promised.
“Recent weeks saw mounting pressure by political parties and figures,” Rida Lyammouri of the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based think tank, told The Associated Press. “For the first time, the public and politicians have publicly criticized junta leaders and accused them of a lack of seriousness.”
Col. Assimi Goita, who took charge after a second coup in 2021, promised to return the country to democracy in early 2024. But in September, the junta canceled elections scheduled for February 2024 indefinitely, citing the need for further technical preparations.
The junta has vowed to end the insurgency that emerged in 2012 after deposing the elected government. It cut military ties with France amid growing frustration with the lack of progress after a decade of assistance, and turned to Russian contractors, mercenaries from the Wagner group, for security support instead. But analysts say the violence has only grown worse.
The United States said it was “deeply concerned” by the ban on political activities. “Freedom of expression and freedom of association are critical to an open society,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters in Washington.

Palestinian flag emoji sparks Apple controversy

Updated 12 April 2024

Palestinian flag emoji sparks Apple controversy

  • The latest iPhone software updates automatically suggest the Palestinian flag when users type "Jerusalem" in Messages
  • Jerusalem’s status remains highly contentious, with both Israel and Palestine claiming it as their capital

LONDON: The inclusion of a Palestinian flag emoji when users type “Jerusalem” has sparked controversy for Apple, with accusations of antisemitism leveled against the American tech giant.

The issue emerged after a recent software update automatically suggested the Palestinian flag emoji, drawing criticism from British TV presenter Rachel Riley, an outspoken supporter of Israel.


Riley took to social media to highlight the anomaly, noting that other capital cities typically do not trigger flag suggestions.

She wrote on X: “Dear @‌Apple @applesupport @tim_cook I’ve just upgraded my software to version iOS 17.4.1, and now, when I type the capital of Israel, Jerusalem, I’m offered the Palestinian flag emoji.

“This didn’t occur on my phone immediately before this update.

“Below is a (non-exhaustive) list of capital cities that do not offer their nation’s flags, let alone the wrong one.”

Riley accused the Cupertino company of “double standards,” which she views as a “form of antisemitism” when referring to Israel.

One social media expert suggested that the issue could have resulted from “human intervention.”

“There is nothing inherently wrong with associating Jerusalem with Palestinian belief, but Apple's choice of default settings warrants justification, especially considering the potential discriminatory implications of this decision,” said Tom Divon, a researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in an interview with The Telegraph.

The iPhone maker said the change made to the keyboard was unintentional and followed a recent software update.

A spokesperson for Apple explained that the Palestinian flag was the result of a “bug” within predictive emoji, adding that it would be fixed in the new iOS software update.

Jerusalem’s status remains highly contentious, with both Israel and Palestine claiming it as their capital.

Map of the Old City of Jerusalem. (AFP/File)

The city is divided, with Israel controlling the western part and the eastern part viewed as Palestinian territory by the UN, although Israel has repeatedly been accused of exerting extensive power and using violence over the area in an attempt to gain control.

Former US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 further fueled tensions, drawing condemnation from the international community and Palestinian leaders, who described the move as “deplorable and unacceptable measures (that) deliberately undermine all peace efforts.”


Protesters in Eurovision host city call for boycott of Israel

Updated 11 April 2024

Protesters in Eurovision host city call for boycott of Israel

  • Eurovision organizers European Broadcasting Union has so far resisted calls for Israel to be excluded from Eurovision over Gaza war
  • EBU said Eurovision is not a contest between governments and that Israeli broadcaster KAN met all competition rules

MALMO: Protesters waving Palestinian flags and banners on Wednesday called for a boycott of Israel at the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest in the Swedish city of Malmo that will host the event next month.
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which organizes Eurovision, bills the song contest as a non-political event.
But the global political backdrop often weighs on the contest, which this year takes place amid protests and boycotts over the devastating Israeli military campaign in Gaza, triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, affecting cultural events across Europe.
“I think there is no way that Israel should be able to participate in Eurovision and it’s complete double standards that they let them participate when they kicked Russia out,” said Malmo resident Mats Rehle, 43, who works in a bookshop.
Protesters outside Malmo city held a banner calling for the boycott of Israel above the Eurovision logo, while another banner featured red stains to look like blood and a pair of scissors cutting the chord to a microphone displaying an Israeli flag.
The EBU in 2022 banned Russia from Eurovision after several European public broadcasters called for the country to be expelled following its invasion of Ukraine.
The union has said it suspended the Russian broadcasters over “persistent breaches of membership obligations and the violation of public service values.”
The organizers’ decision to include Israeli broadcaster KAN has sparked protests from artists and ministers, but the EBU said in January that Eurovision was not a contest between governments and that KAN met all competition rules.
The union has so far resisted calls for Israel to be excluded from Eurovision, and on Wednesday urged people to refrain from online abuse directed at some participating artists.
“We have all been affected by the images, stories, and the unquestionable pain suffered by those in Israel and in Gaza,” the EBU said in a statement.
“However... we wish to address the concerns and discussions surrounding this situation, especially the targeted social media campaigns against some of our participating artists,” it added.

Battleground: Jerusalem
The biblical battle for the Holy City