‘Skam’ Is The Hijabi Representation We Needed

The hijab stays ON in this one.

By

Najaha Nauf
Art - Merna Ahmed

If you’re tired of trying to gouge your eyes out every time a hijabi on screen molds herself to white supremacy, you’re not in this alone. I like my TV shows with a bit of diversity that retains itself and keeps things fresh and controversial. 

So if you’re anything like me, Skam is about to become your new favorite series. 

This Norwegian teen-drama is a web series that follows the daily lives of teenagers. It deals with some heavy themes including mental health, homosexuality and in our case, religion. 

Skam in Norwegian literally means shame so you can expect quite a few topics to surface through all four seasons which by society’s standards are considered “shameful,” like sexual assault, breaking gender-stereotypes, and belief in a faith the world thinks is “extreme.” 

Here’s five reasons why Skam is the hijabi representation we needed: 

Screen grab from 'Skam'

1. Sana Bakkoush is a fierce hijabi with her own season. 

Now, if you’re not familiar with how Skam works, each season tells the story of a different protagonist but the cast remains the same. This way, everyone gets a bit of representation and everyone’s story is told. 

Sana Bakkoush is the protagonist of season four, and she’s a practicing Muslim teenager who wears the hijab and struggles to find a balance between high school, faith and family life. You get a thorough run-down of how Sana finds herself in crossroads with religion and self-identity, despite seeming at the beginning to be the physical embodiment of faith-assured. 

It’s the most realistic portrayal of a hijabi I’ve seen in modern day TV. She doesn’t give up on Islam to do the things she likes or get with the people that she likes: what more could a fellow hijabi want the world to know and comprehend?

Screen grab from 'Skam'

2. Her attitude about Islam

While most TV shows hint at Muslim characters feeling forced to deal with the hijab, Skam portrays it as it is: you have this honest, realistic, level-headed hijabi going about her day while being authentically herself. She does not compromise her prayers during the show. She isn’t trying to glorify Islam or defame it. 

Skam includes several scenes where stereotypes are challenged. One of my favorite scenes is when Sana’s introduction occurs and she wants to join the other girls to be a Russ. If you aren’t familiar, russefeiring is a high school tradition in Norway, where students in their last year celebrate their final spring term through means of a parade. It’s usually linked with drunkenness and public disturbances. 

When Sana tries to join, Vilde asks her if “Muslims are allowed to be a Russ” to which Sana jokingly replies with “it’s punished by stoning.” 

While being a Russ is certainly NOT punishable by stoning, western media has made Islam seem more extreme than it actually is and a lot of people truly do believe that Muslims are punished regularly for things that bring them joy. Skam helps burst that bubble and bring to light the truth behind almost everything through Sana’s wit.

Screen grab from 'Skam'

3. The friend group

Every great TV series has a great friend circle, and honestly, Skam has one of the best portrayals of friendship I’ve seen in a long while. While Sana is the only hijabi in her predominantly female circle of friends, there is nothing else that makes her any different from the rest of them. They’re all strong, even-minded females with every bit of teenage angst we know and love. 

In particular, I really loved how the show suggests that hijabis aren’t loners by nature. Sana is an extrovert who isn’t the meek hijabi girl popular stereotypes love to shove down our throats. She’s a genius of her own caliber and her friendships with the other girls are not conceded in any way. It’s nice to see hijabis fitting in, especially in places we were always told we wouldn’t. Bonus points for Sana playing basketball like an absolute legend to reiterate the fact that the hijab is not an obstacle.

Screen grab from 'Skam'

4. Not a damsel in distress 

Although it’s true that Sana’s potential love interest is introduced in season four, her story has more depth to itself than just that aspect. Her struggle with her beliefs and possible relationships plays an important role in reminding us that just because we’re hijabis doesn’t mean we don’t fall in love. We’re Muslims, not monks. The idea that a hijabi girl can fall in love and withhold a relationship so that it adheres with the religion she’s known her whole life is a ray of hope for most of us who have been in similar situations. 

Skam takes a wholesome approach where Sana challenges the norm and uses her religion to make good choices. As early as season one, when sponsors come in for their Russ bus, Sana makes a claim that most people would not believe hijabis are capable of making: she speaks up about sexism and the double-standards people have for women when it comes to earning money through sexual favors. There’s a fine line of appreciation reserved for the way in which this show hints, continuously, of how thinking women owe men anything is a primitive mentality.

Screen grab from 'Skam'

5. Quotes you can plaster your walls with

I have yet to hear of a person who does not willingly quote Skam after watching it. It has these one-liners that give you a very realistic idea of how conversations regarding the hijab, religion and friendships should really go. 

Some of my favorite quotes are, unsurprisingly, Sana’s, mostly because she speaks it as it is and that’s not easy to come by in a time where overly-dramatized lines are the norm. With regards to being asked about Islam being a hateful religion, Sana’s quick to say, “Islam says what it always says… Hate doesn’t come from religion, it comes from fear.”

I believe that’s a timeless line we need in our lives, as a constant reminder that religion doesn’t hate. No religion, especially not Islam, would promote hate. For a teen drama series to capture the essence of Islam so wonderfully is a feat worth many accolades. 

When it comes to defending her friends, Sana likes to use words people have used against her, against them. When a group of girls calls Vilde a slut for hooking up with William, Sana is quick to defend her friend. After the defense she says, “That’s how it’s done in my Muslim gangster world,” air-quoting the words “Muslim gangster” and continuing with, “You don’t judge your friends and you stand up for them, no matter what,” which I believe is as important for hijabis as it is for teenage girls who find themselves in situations where they are pitted against their own friends. 

With regards to the hijab, Sana’s response is easily the most frequent line I’ve used in University every time someone asks me if my parents are forcing me to wear the hijab: “No one is forcing me to wear it. I wear it because I want to.” Could it get any better than this? 

Skam is the hijabi representation we needed and we will continue to need more shows like Skam for a long time to come. It’s wholesome and hilarious in its own way and its range is unparalleled. This is not to say it has no faults: Sana Bakkoush isn’t the poster hijabi or the blueprint other shows need to copy because she has her own shortcomings. However, while there are many ways in which this representation could have gone horribly wrong, they managed to pull it off with quite an impressive character. Hijabi representation in TV series is scarce and most often misplaced but Skam is one of the shows that got it right. And if they can do it, so can everyone else. 

 

READ MORE: 5 Scenes From Hulu’s ‘Ramy’ That Start Important Conversations For Muslims