Why the hijabi character in ‘Quantico’ confuses me

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Let me preface this post by saying that we do not yet know the complete story of Quantico’s Nimah Amin, so the following will only be based on the few episodes that have been released.

SPOILER ALERT: For those who haven’t yet watched “Quantico” and plan to do so.

For those of you who don’t already know, Nimah Amin, played by Egyptian-Palestinian actress Yasmine Al-Massri, is an FBI trainee at the Quantico facility in Virginia. Unbeknownst to her fellow trainees, Nimah is actually a twin, with her identical twin sister Raina simultaneously playing her part as the same FBI recruit. As “the first experiment of its kind,” Nimah and Raina Amin seek to join the FBI as a duo who simultaneously gather and report information back to the FBI.

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Nimah and Raina are Muslim Americans with Lebanese heritage. They don the hijab, even as the recruits train in the toughest of conditions. They’re covered head-to-toe in their underwater exercise and wear turbans in their undercover exercise. They don’t give anyone any excuse to criticize them for not being able to fulfil their duties as FBI agents simply for being Muslim and female. They are just as tough and rough, and even more so, than the other recruits. They are strong, powerful, confident and witty.

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More recently, however, the show shifted their plotline to that of a love story. In episode six, Raina (the twin the trainees don’t know about) takes her crush on a fellow recruit, Simon Asher further. In the scene, they discuss boundaries, she takes her hijab off and he kisses her.

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This scene baffled me and left me questioning the show’s intentions. Yes, Muslim women can fall in love and be loved, and yes, Muslim woman can be beautiful with or without hijab. However, the “unveiling” scene simply fetishizes the hijab. It makes a religious choice and commitment into nothing more than a piece of cloth that’s easy to take off and easy to put on, which it is most definitely not. As a Muslim American woman, this scene offended me. I wear hijab as a commitment to God and him alone. I’ve made my choice to only remove my hijab in the presence of my father, brothers, uncles, grandfathers, children and my husband, should I get married. To have Raina remove her hijab in front of someone she has no formal relationship with is sending the message that hijab is nothing more than an oppressive piece of cloth shielding Muslim women’s ability to love. This is a direct conflict with the show’s storyline for Nimah, one that includes Muslim women being able to do whatever other women can do.

Keeping this context in mind, Nimah Amin does however remain a strong, leading Muslim American character that has an in-depth and complex storyline. She speaks her mind and is not belittled by her colleagues. We haven’t seen many, if any, Muslim characters on American television that have actual substantial backstories and more than two speaking lines in the script.

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So, the choice is yours. Whether you think “Quantico” is good for Muslim American women or not is up to you. For me, I’m a bit confused because on one side you have a strong, independent and beautiful Muslim female character and on the other side, you have a character reduced to nothing more than “the girl” in a fast-expiring relationship. You’ll have to wait until the first season is over before I make my final decision. Until then, I’ll keep tuning into “Quantico” and play it by ear.

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Rawan Elbaba is a digital storyteller and blogger in the Washington, DC Metro area. She is the co-founder and Executive Editor of Layali Webzine. As a graduate of Communication and Graphic Design, Rawan hopes to use both written and visual content to tell the stories happening around her. Rawan previously interned at Al Jazeera and BBC in their news production units. She is currently the Digital Media Associate at the Arab American Institute in Washington, DC.

10 Comments

  1. Agree with your analysis-but also would like to point out the show makes a mockery of all the “strong” women on it and makes it difficult to hold them in esteem for too long. Miranda is weakened by her maternal instinct, Alex is like a loose teenager with loose morals, Shelby is the doe eyes teenager.. All too weak in other areas outside quantico..

  2. Well I think the concern is moot anyway because she is pretending to be a devout Muslim because it allows her to pull off the twin charade. I also would not expect Hollywood to ever portray any religion properly other than humanism.

  3. I find it disrespectful to the Muslims because the character wears a hijab YET wears skin tight clothes that expose the breasts. That is not modesty. Similarly, kissing a man she is not married to is immodest according to Islamic values. Thus, the character is NOT in a state of hijab. SImply wearing a scarf around your hair does not mean you are a hijabi, the body needs to be protected as well, otherwise you look like a hypocrite. This show has simply attacked the hijab, not strengthened it.

  4. I believe that Raina is not as devout to traditional Muslim practices as Nimah actually is. I think they are trying to show the contrast between the twins. In episode 3 or 4 (I forget which) when Raina ran away, Nimah was emotionally distraught at gun training because she was missing her morning prayers.

  5. *Ep. 3 or 4. I mixed up the twins. But I think the idea is clear.

  6. I don’t feel the show fetishizes the hijab, rather, it implies that the character is acting out of her own free will. She wears it as a tenet of her faith, but also removes it in front of her love interest as an act of “opening up” to him. Would you rather have the show picture Nimah as an oppressed Middle Eastern woman who was forced into hijab by her male family members? The reality is that whether a woman chooses to wear hijab or not, and chooses to remove it at times — her body and hijab are her own to dictate.

  7. I think that is really confusion also but perfect view
    If we considered that doing what she had done a mistake , it is exist and ok as
    Showing that even being Muslim woman is not meaning a particular shape
    You could be Muslim and make mistakes at the same time as every one expected Muslim woman to be perfect and if she did any mistake according to anyone view it would be considered unMuslim. actually we could be Muslim and different from other Muslim woman it is OK we are human we suppose to do mistakes so don’t judge anyone …..

  8. Hakeem Haroun

    Good point and I certainly understand your sentiments. However you must realize there are ‘good Muslim’ women who wear the hijab and have sex outside marriage.

    Expecting all hijabis to live by your own personal expectations are is not right.

    I know many muslims who would feel its against the Koran to have your picture on the internet for all unrelated men to see.

  9. Maximilian Berbechelov

    A person getting so much butthurt over a show can only happen in 2016 … I am afraid what will happen in years to come. Everything offends people. Everything offends Muslims, everything offends homosexuals, everything offends everyone … And if everything offends everyone then no TV producer or filmmaker or whatever in the world needs to take into account that because you will always butthurt someone and someone will always be deeply offended in their soul.

    If you are so uncertain in your faith and your self-esteem as a Muslim is so unstable that it gets shaken by a moment in a Fictional Television show, then maybe you’re looking in the wrong way for the reason.

    Best regards and my sincere deepest respect for your faiths and beliefs,
    Max

  10. This is just my own perspective, but that scene helped me understand just how significant the veil was to Raina. That she was exploring her interest with this man, and as a sign of trust she took it off in front of him (but no one else except her sister). It obviously wasn’t a decision taken lightly for her, and I think that makes it even more powerful. I have so much respect for both of the twins.

    I think one of the beautiful take-aways from the show is that all the characters have their flaws (male and female) and individual (and often quite unique) struggles. But those struggles give depth to their characters and generate a strong respect for what they go through. I’m looking forward to watching more.

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