Muslim women in Latin America becoming online influencers

In a region where Christianity is still seen as the norm, Islamic influencers face great challenges to succeed in the digital sphere. (File/Twitter)
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In a region where Christianity is still seen as the norm, Islamic influencers face great challenges to succeed in the digital sphere. (File/Twitter)
Muslim women in Latin America becoming online influencers
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Amira Ubaida Sanchez. (Supplied)
Nallely Khan. (Supplied)
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Nallely Khan. (Supplied)
Nallely Khan. (Supplied)
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Nallely Khan. (Supplied)
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Updated 13 April 2022

Muslim women in Latin America becoming online influencers

Muslim women in Latin America becoming online influencers
  • ‘I am combating religious intolerance with my work,’ Mariam Chami tells Arab News
  • ‘Most viewers look for such videos with curiosity and the wish to learn,’ expert tells Arab News

SAO PAULO: With millions of views, videos in which Latin American Muslim women talk about their faith and show their personal lives have become more and more common on social media over the past few years.

In a region where Christianity is still seen as the norm, Islamic influencers face great challenges to succeed in the digital sphere. 

Some of them are managing to do it, with creativity, charisma and humor. One such influencer is Mariam Chami, a 31-year-old nutritionist from the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo. 

The daughter of a Lebanese father and a Brazilian mother who converted to Islam, Chami was educated in a Muslim school and only felt the weight of wearing a hijab in a Catholic-majority country in adulthood.

“In the beginning, I made videos for Muslim girls who didn’t have much knowledge about religion,” she told Arab News.

“But then I started to produce content with the goal of explaining Islam and reducing the prejudices that Brazilians have against Muslims.”

On TikTok, where she is followed by 1.1 million people, Chami discusses controversial topics for a very liberal country like Brazil such as burkinis — the clip where she wore one had more than 900,000 views — or why her sister-in-law, who is also Muslim, does not wear a hijab. Chami does all that with humor.

“I’ve been supported by my community and by religious leaders,” she said. “Given that I reach many people, I am — along with other Muslim influencers — combating religious intolerance with my work, and making more people admire our religion.”

One of Chami’s concerns is to show that Muslim women are not the oppressed victims of men, something that comes to mind among many Latin Americans when they see a woman wearing a hijab. Feminist movements in Brazil still cultivate that kind of prejudice, she said.

“I believe feminism is selective: It struggles for a woman’s right to be whatever she wants, but if she decides to be Muslim and wears her (Islamic) garments, she’s put aside and oppressed by those (feminist) women,” she added.

Colombian lawyer and digital influencer Amira Ubaida Sanchez also tries in her videos to deal with the most common misconceptions about Muslim women in her country.

“Me and my sister studied law together. Seeing us with a hijab, people in the university would frequently ask us, with an expression of surprise, if we as Muslim women are allowed to study,” she told Arab News.

In her work as an attorney, the 24-year-old usually represents Christian Colombian women who have been abandoned by their partners with their children and no money.

The daughter of a Colombian man who converted to Islam 40 years ago and became a Muslim leader in Bogota, she received a religious education that she now uses to convey complex messages in two-minute clips. 

On TikTok, her account @conelvelo — “with the headscarf” in Spanish — has 43,600 followers. 

Her father, Imam Carlos Sanchez, said: “I’ve never told any of my daughters to do this or that. Amira decided for herself to talk about Islam, which she does with great competence. I couldn’t be prouder.”

Making Islam known in Latin America is not an easy task, he added. Until the end of the 20th century, Catholicism was the official religion in countries such as Colombia. 

Cultural differences also complicate Latin Americans’ understanding of Islamic concepts.

That is why Amira always uses straightforward language and includes funny elements in her videos.

“Many people want to disseminate Islam in Latin America, but they talk about ‘sunnah’ and ‘hadith,’ and nobody knows what those words mean here,” she said.

Nallely Khan, a 30-year-old Mexican who lives with her Muslim husband in India, said it is not easy to deal with Islamic issues on the internet for a Latin American audience.

“My goal isn’t so much to discuss Islam, but to show the way of living that we have, our daily life. At times I have to explain religious matters, and Latin Americans may disagree,” she told Arab News. “Some people don’t like Islam.”

Khan was born in a Catholic family but converted to Islam as a teenager. She said it was difficult to find materials about it in Mexico, but “now we have many organizations working on the dissemination of Islam in the country.”

Her YouTube channel Nana India Vlogs has 147,000 subscribers. She mainly portrays her life in India with her family, with a focus on the cultural differences with Mexico. But the Islamic dimension can be seen in many of her videos. 

Her biggest hit until now has been the series “India and my love story,” in which she describes how she converted to Islam, how she met her husband, and how she discovered that he had a first wife only after their marriage (the woman ended up divorcing him). The three videos have had more than 2.5 million views. 

“I don’t consider myself to be an influencer because I know I’m not a perfect person. I always try to become a better Muslim,” she said.

“I just hope to keep showing my life, my family, and the fact that Muslims lead normal lives.”

According to Arely Medina, a professor of social sciences specializing in Islam in Latin America at the University of Guadalajara in Mexico, the emergence of Muslim women as digital influencers in the region is part of a “strategy of presence in the public space.”

She told Arab News: “Over time, women developed different ways of making themselves visible on the street. This way, people would know them and see that they aren’t repressed women only because of their religion.” The same dynamic is happening now online.

“Of course the audience can stigmatize them, but I think most viewers look for such videos with curiosity and the wish to learn,” she added.

Medina said the internet has been a fundamental tool for young people interested in Islam in Mexico and other Latin American countries that until recently did not have large Muslim communities. 

“Twenty years ago, many young people who wished to learn about Islam were only able to do so by chatting with Muslims from other countries and searching for online content about it,” she added.

Some would even convert to Islam this way, with the help of Muslims by phone or online chats — a process Medina calls “autonomous conversion.”

Now, she said, “women who discovered Islam with the help of the internet are using it to talk about Islam to large audiences.”


Netflix launches Because She Created writing program in Egypt

Netflix launches Because She Created writing program in Egypt
Updated 16 August 2022

Netflix launches Because She Created writing program in Egypt

Netflix launches Because She Created writing program in Egypt
  • The streamer will work with Sard, a regional hub for scriptwriters, to help local women develop their creative writing and storytelling skills
  • Netflix wants to create ‘more diverse content to ensure that women are represented both on screen and behind the camera,’ said Ahmed Sharkawi, its director of Arabic series

DUBAI: Netflix has partnered with Sard, a dedicated hub for scriptwriters in the Arab world, to coach women in creative writing and help them to develop their storytelling and creative-expression skills through the latest in a series of Because She Created programs.

It is the latest development in an initiative launched last year as a virtual panel discussion to give female Arab filmmakers a chance to talk about the evolving role of women in the regional film industry. Netflix then teamed up with the Cairo International Film Festival for a second Because She Created event, which was a fireside chat with renowned Tunisian actress Hend Sabry.

In July this year, the company used the platform to present a specially curated collection of 21 Arab films designed to shine a light on the work of Arab women in film. 

The writing program, which will take place in Cairo, is designed to provide an incubator for the untapped talents of 20 women from outside of the city and introduce them to the creative tools and industry insight they need to advance their creative and professional development.

“Sard believes that expressing oneself through writing is the first step to self-discovery and we’re proud to have discovered talent through this program that we feel will one day become the scriptwriters of the future,” said Mariam Naoum, the founder and CEO of Sard.

Although Egypt and the wider Arab world is “ripe with talent,” the region needs a “concerted effort and professional support” to help that local talent grow, she added.

“Women in the region, in particular, need this kind of incubation and technical support to gain access to opportunities that advance their professional growth in an industry where their presence is still limited,” said Naoum.

“Sard is trying to achieve this through the work we do and through partnerships with organizations like Netflix that help steer talent in the right direction.”

The five-day program will include storytelling classes, sessions on creative expression, and discussions and talks led by established professionals in the entertainment industry. It will also feature daily activities, including trips to the theater and cinema.

“At Netflix, we recognize that being part of the creative communities comes with responsibilities and that includes the need to develop the talent pipeline and give new voices a chance to be heard,” said Ahmed Sharkawi, director of Arabic series at the streaming service.

The company wants to create “more diverse content to ensure that women are represented both on screen and behind the camera,” he added, and “partnerships like this allow us to equip them with the skills they need to tell the best version of their stories.”

The Because She Created writing program is an initiative of the Netflix Fund for Creative Equity, which aims to create new opportunities for underrepresented communities within the entertainment industry through training and skills development.


Russia fines streaming site Twitch over 31-second ‘fake’ video — agencies

Russia fines streaming site Twitch over 31-second ‘fake’ video — agencies
Updated 16 August 2022

Russia fines streaming site Twitch over 31-second ‘fake’ video — agencies

Russia fines streaming site Twitch over 31-second ‘fake’ video — agencies
  • The court accused Twitch, a U.S.-based live-streaming service popular with video gamers, of failing to remove a 31-second clip of a girl from Bucha

LONDON: A court in Russia has fined streaming service Twitch 2 million roubles ($33,000) for hosting a short video containing what it calls “fake” information about alleged war crimes in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, Russian news agencies reported on Tuesday.
Russia has repeatedly threatened to fine sites — including Google, Twitter and Wikipedia — it accuses of hosting “fake” content related to its military campaign in Ukraine.
The court accused Twitch, a US-based live-streaming service popular with video gamers, of failing to remove a 31-second clip of a girl from the town of Bucha, the Kommersant newspaper reported. It did not specify the content of the video.
Twitch, which is owned by Amazon, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ukraine and its allies accuse Russian forces of committing atrocities in Bucha, a satellite town of Kyiv, after Moscow launched its invasion in February. Russia denies the charge.
Earlier, RIA reported that Telegram messenger was hit with two fines totalling 11 million roubles ($179,000) for refusing to delete channels which allegedly showed how to “sabotage” military vehicles and hosting “unreliable data” about Russia’s progress in what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.


Judge orders Twitter to give Elon Musk former executive's documents

Judge orders Twitter to give Elon Musk former executive's documents
Updated 16 August 2022

Judge orders Twitter to give Elon Musk former executive's documents

Judge orders Twitter to give Elon Musk former executive's documents
  • Kayvon Beykpour is considered one of the executives “most intimately involved with” determining the amount of spam accounts, which have become a central issue in the legal fight

LONDON: Twitter Inc needs to give Elon Musk documents from a former Twitter executive who Musk said was a key figure in calculating the amount of fake accounts on the platform, according to a Monday court order.

Bot and spam accounts on Twitter have become a central issue in the legal fight over whether Musk, who is Tesla Inc's chief executive, must complete his $44 billion acquisition of the social media company.

Twitter was ordered to collect, review and produce documents from former General Manager of Consumer Product Kayvon Beykpour, according to the order from Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick of the Delaware Court of Chancery.

Twitter and lawyers for Musk, the world's richest person, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Beykpour, who left Twitter after the social media company agreed in April to be acquired by Musk, was described in Musk's court filings as one of the executives “most intimately involved with” determining the amount of spam accounts.

Beykpour did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent through LinkedIn.

McCormick said in her order on Monday that she was denying Musk's request for access to 21 other people with control over relevant information.

Musk's legal team had written to McCormick last week asking her to order Twitter to hand over employee names so they could be questioned. read more

Musk accused Twitter earlier this month of fraud for misrepresenting the number of real active users on its platform, which Twitter has denied. The company has accused him of breaching his agreement to acquire the company and wants McCormick to order him to complete the deal at $54.20 a share.


OSN+ to stage 1,000-drone airborne light show in celebration of ‘House of the Dragon’ premiere

OSN+ to stage 1,000-drone airborne light show in celebration of ‘House of the Dragon’ premiere
Updated 15 August 2022

OSN+ to stage 1,000-drone airborne light show in celebration of ‘House of the Dragon’ premiere

OSN+ to stage 1,000-drone airborne light show in celebration of ‘House of the Dragon’ premiere
  • As well as the display over Riyadh Boulevard as part of Gamers8, the streaming service announced a screen takeover and fireworks display to herald debut of ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel

DUBAI: Middle East streaming platform OSN+ is celebrating the upcoming premiere of new HBO series “House of the Dragon,” a prequel to the international hit “Game of Thrones,” by staging an immersive drone show at Riyadh Boulevard on Aug. 18, as part of the ongoing Gamers8 festival.

In addition to the airborne light show, featuring 1,000 drones, the special celebration will include a complete screen takeover at Gamers8 and a fireworks display.

“OSN+ is excited to launch a spectacular drone show, as part of the Gamers8 festival, ahead of the highly anticipated release of ‘House of the Dragon’ on Aug. 22 in the Middle East,” said Ashley Rite, vice-president of marketing and growth with the streamer.

“Alongside an expansive screen takeover and firework display, the gaming festival will provide an engaging and immersive platform to celebrate the premiere of the first episode of the ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel with fans, both within the Saudi Arabian capital and across the Kingdom.”

The first season of the 10-episode HBO Original drama will air exclusively in the region on OSN+ from Aug. 22, with the first episode available at the same time as its US premiere and subsequent episodes released weekly.


Mastercard partners with Gamers8 to promote the gaming industry in Saudi Arabia

Mastercard partners with Gamers8 to promote the gaming industry in Saudi Arabia
Updated 15 August 2022

Mastercard partners with Gamers8 to promote the gaming industry in Saudi Arabia

Mastercard partners with Gamers8 to promote the gaming industry in Saudi Arabia
  • Mastercard will sponsor the event, hosting a selection of daily tournaments and experiences for gaming enthusiasts

LONDON: Mastercard announced on Monday a three-year partnership with the Saudi Esports Federation, which will see the US company becoming an official sponsor of Gamers8, the largest gaming and esports event worldwide.

Under the new deal, Mastercard will curate and deliver a diverse range of activities, highlighting the company’s “commitment to delivering meaningful, one-of-a-kind experiences for consumers, gamers and gaming enthusiasts across the Kingdom” and strengthening its presence in the country.

“Gamers8 is shaping up as a truly unique and history-making event — one that showcases the Kingdom’s growth as a leading digital hub and provides people access to a wholly immersive experience,” said Adam Jones, country general manager for the Middle East and North Africa at Mastercard. “We are delighted to be working with the Saudi Esports Federation and our network to deliver the greatest esports and gaming event ever.

“Our goal is to fully realize the potential of Gamers8 as a unique event — one that invites people to embark on a journey of discovery, fuel their passions, build memories for a lifetime and start something priceless.” 

Organized by the Saudi Esports Federation, Gamers8 is a global gaming and esports festival running daily until Sept. 8 at Boulevard Riyadh City.

The event, which has a rich program that includes music concerts, tournaments and esports forums, is expected to attract over 2 million visitors and aims to create an immersive experience that appeals to people from all over the world.

“The Saudi Esports Federation was established to nurture the Kingdom’s elite gaming athletes and develop its gaming community and industry,” Ahmed Al-Bishri, chief operating officer at the Saudi Esports Federation, said in a statement.

“Our partnership with Mastercard represents a significant and timely step forward, one that will not only help us keep pace with the rest of the world but propel us to the leading edge of gaming.

“Together with Mastercard, we look forward to delivering truly rewarding experiences and creating lasting memories for people across the country to revel in. This promises to be a game-changer for all players,” Al-Bishri continued.

As part of the agreement, Mastercard will sponsor the event, hosting a selection of daily tournaments and experiences for gaming enthusiasts to participate in over the course of the esports showpiece.

The partnership comes at a very significant moment for the gaming community in Saudi Arabia as the Kingdom seeks to bolster the digital infrastructure and marks the latest step taken by local authorities to accelerate the country’s digital transformation.