TV Soap Dramatizes Islam’s Cultural Clashes

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NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–Most weeknights since March 8, 21-year-old college senior Alia Dahhan has rushed home to tune in to "El Clon" to watch her favorite character Jade on the Spanish-speaking network Telemundo.

"As a Muslim woman, I feel it is almost a duty to watch the show, not only for entertainment purposes but to be able to discuss my opinions with other non-Muslim and non-Arab viewers of the show," said Dahhan, who attends Pace University’s Lubin School of Business in New York and is president of the Muslim Student Association at the university.

She’s been able to tune in to the show recently since Telemundo began airing the program in New York in Spanish. Dahhan said her Mexican mother and her father, who is of Syrian and Egyptian descent, both enjoy the show.

"It is especially interesting for me to see how the Mexican side of my family is quite captivated by the story. The Arab side of my family does not follow the story but this is most likely because of the language barrier–the show is in Spanish," she said.

Telemundo, owned by NBC Universal, provides English subtitles for every weeknight show for English-speaking audiences to follow.

"It’s extraordinary to encounter an audience of multiple nationalities who follow our telenovelas by English subtitles," said Roberto Stopello, one of the show’s writers, in an email interview.

"I remember last year the subtitles were eliminated and there were numerous calls, letters, emails and communications from the general public," he added. "That became overwhelming, requesting us to go back and subtitle the novellas, and that is what we did."

Shandra Anaid, 35, a cardio belly dance instructor and performer in Connecticut, is also a fan of the show. "The most enjoyable for me is the belly dance scenes," she said.

But the plot mainly belongs to Jade, a young Muslim woman caught in a forbidden love with Lucas, a non-Muslim man.

Juxtaposition of Different Worlds

Jade started her life in Miami, but after her mother’s death was sent to live with her uncle in Morocco.

The two worlds offer chances to juxtapose different worlds and contrasting stereotypes about women, with scenes of Muslim women seductively belly dancing for their husbands jostling against bikini-clad women on Miami beaches.

The 150-episode, one-hour drama also treats such controversial matters as irreverent attitudes towards Islam, alcoholism and machismo.

Cross-cultural attitudes towards virginity come up on Jade’s wedding night, when her conservative family stands outside the bedroom door waiting for the newlyweds to produce a bloody sheet that proves her virginity. Her husband knows she is not a virgin and cuts his hand and uses his own blood to protect her.

"I believe the story introduces people to a world they do not understand or are downright afraid to," Dahhan said in an e-mail interview. "It allows viewers of different cultures to understand from a number of Muslim women’s perspectives."

Mexican actress Sandra Echeverria plays the part of Jade.

"I hadn’t seen a project where you can see more of the Muslim culture than this one," Escheverria told Women’s eNews in an e-mail. "To play a Muslim girl and learn about the culture and this other world is completely fascinating for me."

Upholding Devotion to Islam

Tio Ali, or Uncle Ali, a devout Muslim and a part of the religious elite in Morocco, requires that Jade follow the culture of Morocco and religion of Islam.

Dahhan said she deeply admires Uncle Tio. "Tio Ali is tested throughout the story in defending Jade and upholding his devotion to God and Islam at times of conflict," she said.

"We are making a very modern treatment of the Muslim issue and showing the world that what makes us different is our religious beliefs," "El Clon" writer Stopello told Women’s eNews. "Other than that, we are all the same."

"El Clon" was launched in Portuguese in 2001 as "O Clone" for the Portuguese and Brazilian viewers and later dubbed into Spanish for the U.S. Hispanic audience on Telemundo. Soon afterwards, it was dubbed into several languages and aired in over 90 countries.

The Spanish-language remake that Dahhan watches is co-produced by TV Globo and Telemundo International and has been exported to 13 countries in Latin America, according to press accounts. Globo TV International is said by press reports to be looking next for airtime in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Rima Abdelkader is a New York-based multimedia journalist. If there’s a story you’d like her to cover, she invites you to email her or send her a tweet on Twitter.

For more information:

"El Clon," Telemundo:
http://msnlatino.telemundo.com/novelas/El_Clon/

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