Hit TV show Bodyguard has been criticised by an Islamic feminist scholar for its stereotyping of Muslim women.
Ziba Mir-Hosseini said the character of Nadia – stopped by the show’s hero David Budd from detonating a suicide vest on a packed train in the opening episode – was initially portrayed as a weak woman oppressed by her jihadist husband.
By the series finale, one stereotype had been swapped for another, she said, with Nadia being revealed as a skilled engineer who had built the bomb that killed Home Secretary Julia Montague.
Nadia told police: “You all saw me as a poor, oppressed Muslim woman. I am an engineer. I am a jihadi.”
Dr Mir-Hosseini, an Iranian-born legal anthropologist, said she found writer Jed Mercurio’s plot “really puzzling”.
“I loved that series and I was following it. I was really surprised how they ended it like that,” she said.
“Why we had to make this woman Nadia, who is so timid and everything, which was a stereotype of Muslim women, and then suddenly she became a stereotype of another Muslim woman, one that is a jihadist.
“That was really puzzling for me. Why a film like this has to do that, which actually says a lot to us about how the image of Muslims are made and projected.”
Dr Mir-Hosseini, speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival during an event on Islam and feminism, said shows like Bodyguard do not help the struggle Muslim feminists face daily around the world.
“How we, without questioning it, we are getting indoctrinated into it. Feminist voices in Islam just can’t… it is an oxymoron… because that is the image we have,” she said.
“Islamic feminists face a lot of resistance, especially in Muslim majority countries. When you argue for equality in the family, men feel threatened and it is like the whole of society is going to collapse.
“You also face accusations that you have been brainwashed by the West because you are asking for equality and feminism. At the same time you face resistance from those Muslim women who see arguments for equality and justice within Islam as a betrayal.
“What was heresy in one time can become orthodoxy. Change will come.”
Aliyah Saleem, a British-born Pakistani who is now an atheist, said Muslim women today have to overcome many stereotypes and prejudices.
“There is a sterotypical view of Muslim women as passive, as lacking in autonomy, and Muslim men are brutes,” she said.
“That is very problematic and it is old. It is not a new thing and it has only come about because of 9/11.
“At the same time, not talking about the way Muslim fundamentalism is genuinely damaging the lives of Muslim women around the world is also a problem.
“How do you find the fine balance? I try and speak about both sides as equally as I can.”
The ex-Muslim, who is the co-founder of advocacy group Faith to Faithless, said the debate on whether woman should wear the hijab is more complicated that it appears.
“You can say that, Islamically, you do not have to wear a hijab, but that doesn’t deal with the shame or the guilt that women feel,” she said.
“To say that Muslim women are all oppressed by it is to take away their autonomy and to see them as stupid children.
“But to not talk about that there are millions of children living under laws that force them to wear hijab is disingenuous and demonstrates an ambivalence and I think it is one of the real struggles facing Muslim women today.”