Your Female Slaves: A Syrian soap opera rocks Ramadan
Ramadan means many things in the Muslim world: it mostly involves fasting and prayer, of course, but it is equally a month of parties, happy times spent with family and friends, and sometimes violence. Unbeknownst to most people in the West, it also means a period of elaborate soap operas specially produced to fill the long nights of feasting before the sun rises once more and the fasting begins anew. This year, the Arab world is being treated to a Ramadan musalsal (soap) of a different kind: Ma Malakat Aymanokom, a drama of love, sex, adultery, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexual violence, loss, intrigue, and – most shockingly – graphic Muslim-on-Muslim terror.
The title is derived from a Koran surah and can be translated as “Your Female Slaves” or “All that Belongs to You.” Produced by Syria’s national TV, it not only provides viewers in several Arab countries with high drama, but also targets its message on young Arabs who may be tempted to take up arms for al-Qaeda or other extremist groups. The series’ director, veteran Syrian filmmaker Najdat Anzour, says: "The person who is still neutral and has not decided yet to be an extremist or not, this is our target audience. But for those who carry weapons and have already chosen that way, this series will do nothing for them. The majority of society misunderstands this issue. Jihad in Islam is a holy thing and it is one of the five pillars of Islam, but there are misunderstandings regarding Jihad, where it is applicable and the condition under which it should be undertaken. It is a complicated and sensitive issue and we have tried to present it objectively.”
Anzour has a reputation throughout the Arab world not only for high quality films and TV series, particularly elaborate historical dramas, but also for his treatment of sensitive contemporary issues and his uncompromising rejection of extremism. His films include Al-Hour al-Eyn ("Beautiful Virgins") from 2005 about the 2003 terror attacks on Riyadh, in which he ridicules notions that suicide bombers will attain instant paradise, and a scathing film called Renegades about the 2005 London attacks. In 2007 he created a TV soap opera concerning the Danish cartoon crisis. His message: while the Muslim world suffers from a world of problems, terrorists are cold-blooded killers who primarily murder Muslims.
Your Female Slaves, which started airing this week, depicts al-Qaeda militants who kill civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and also stage a bloody bombing in Damascus. They systematically abuse their wives and sisters and pretend to be moral - while breaking every ethical rule in the Koran. It shows how easily young people can fall into the fundamentalism trap and how hard it is to get out again.
Anzour consistently courts controversy and has received many death threats for his outspoken positions. This time he is launching a direct attack on two of Islam's most sensitive points: the subjugation of women and violent extremism. TV stations in Syria, Lebanon, and Libya are showing the program, while a number of other Arab broadcasters have chosen not to offer this digital dynamite out of plain, unadulterated fear. But fear has never stopped Anzour, and if he and his cast survive the next thirty days, they will have given the Arab world a Ramadan it won't soon forget.
This is an excerpt from Anzour's 2005 film The Beautiful Virgins: