Netherlands: Photographing Muslim women

Netherlands: Photographing Muslim women

Muslim women don't want to be photographed, or demand a female photographer? How far do photographers go in respecting these principles?

Last week Trouw photographer Jörgen Caris was not permitted to photograph a Muslim girl. She was allowed by her father to be photographed only if it would be taken by a woman. Not such a big concession, Caris thinks. "If that man has a rule that no strange man go into his house, then I won't infringe upon it. What would be the additional value of the photo?"

According to orthodox Muslims, non-erotic contacts between man and women are not allowed, if they're not family, says Nahed Selim, writer on Islam and women's emancipation. News agency GPD already send female photographers in advance to Muslim women. The head photo editor, Rob Croes, says that it goes more smoothly that way. "I don't see it as submitting to another man's principles, but as taking precautionary measures in order to reach a particular goal".

He responds differently to the wishes of famous Dutch people. Croes: When they make demands regarding who takes the photo, I say: we decide how it will be photographed and by whom. Why two standards? Croes: I think the uniqueness of a culture or religion is different than the press restraints of a soapie [actor appearing in a soap opera]".

Nahed Salim doesn't agree, and prefers making a principle choice of a photographer. She says that if a male photographer isn't allowed in, then such a Muslim woman won't be photographed. The Netherlands should see how dogmatic these women are. She thinks it's more harmful when orthodox Muslim women, such as the Halal Girls (Meiden van Halal) take on the appearance of modernity and emancipation.

Photographer Joost van den Broek works for De Volkskrant, focusing mainly on the multicultural society. He's never had to deal with Muslim women who didn't want to be photographed because he's a man, though he did have to deal with those who did not want to be photographed at all. He was recently in the Rif mountains [Morocco] and there he had stones thrown at his head when he took photos of women. Some Muslim women keep to the tradition that no picture should be taken of people. Mira Media, an organization that wants to encourage diversity in the media, think that's a pity. "Diversity in the media becomes more visible when women appear in the photo," says Giovanni Massaro of the organization. "This refusal has a restraining effect".

Joost van den Broek looks for possibilities to get Muslim women on camera. He says that if their requests have little influence on the image that he wants, he will take it into account. Sometimes they're already reassured if he won't take a close-up of their face.

Van den Broek also takes it into account if a photo has personal consequences for a woman. If it causes her problem, then the image needs to serve a greater goal for him to take it. Wanting to change the image of Dutch Muslim women can be such a goal. Van den Broek says that if you want that image to be complete, you must photograph them, from orthodox to free.

Ikram Akachaou Achaffaye did not want to be photographed for Trouw. She has no problems with photos, whether they're taken by a man or woman. She does understand that there are Muslim women who do not want to be treated by a male doctor, or don't want to shake hands with a man, since there's physical contact involved. But a photograph doesn't touch you, and she sees no reason to think why somebody would have problems with it.

The 20year old TV and journalism studies student does shake men's hands. Regarding the tradition of not being photographed, she says it's unclear to her, though she didn't study it herself. Photographs are inevitable in the Western world, and so you must be photographed for your passport.

Source: Trouw (Dutch)

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