The two are not mutually exclusive concepts – there is no correlation between being a “good Muslim” and being a “modern British woman”. In fact, both terms are so difficult to define and mean totally different things to different people. What makes a good Muslim and what makes a modern British woman? How should I measure whether I am being “good” enough, “Muslim” enough, “modern” enough or “British” enough? For me, being Muslim and being British are both completely valid and important parts of my identity – and I love them both. It is not a fight between the two – they are both simply who I am.
How did you start your career and what challenges did you face at the beginning?
I fell into my television career completely by accident – it was never part of my plan. I was an English teacher and I absolutely loved writing. Whilst at work, I started writing blogs about issues that mattered to me. The BBC found my blogs and contacted me about taking part in ‘Muslims Like Us’. For a long time, I was very sceptical and denied participating; I didn’t trust the media, nor did I want to be a part of it. In the end it was actually my father who convinced me – he said that I had an important voice and a unique perspective to share – and that if I wanted to make a difference, this was the way to do it; that’s how it all started.
Is it easy being a Muslim woman in the media industry? Have you ever experienced racist abuse in your media career and, if so, what has been your reaction to it?
It’s not easy being in the industry in general because of the immense scrutiny you face – every word you say has to be right. If you make a mistake, the whole world is watching. Being a Muslim woman, however, definitely makes it harder. Often when my projects come out, I face criticism from the non-Muslim community; telling me I’m an “immigrant” and therefore shouldn’t be on British television; or that I’m trying to convert everybody to Islam – and at the same time, I am scrutinised by the Muslim community for “not being Muslim enough”. It’s hard and often feels like a no-win situation. It is though, also very rewarding.
How has your TV career panned out so far? What are you currently working on?
Alhamdullilah, I am proud of everything I have created and been a part of so far. I pick my projects very carefully and have often turned work down if I felt it didn’t sit right with my principles and my beliefs. I am still very new and have a lot to learn – but the journey has been incredible. I am currently filming a new BBC1 Science series about cosmetic surgery as well as a BBC2 documentary about the UK wealth gap.
Do you feel that Islam gives you the ability to be free and venture into careers you feel were difficult before?
Islam encourages women to become independent and educated. As long as you don’t compromise your religious and moral principles, there is nothing that Islam stops you from doing. On the contrary, it empowers you.
When people say you are a bad Muslim, how do you react?
People will always have opinions about what you are doing – it is inevitable. I ignore the comments people make – because most of the time, their opinions are completely unfounded. What people think of how you practice your religion is irrelevant – faith is a personal thing. It is your relationship with God; the only opinion that matters in regards to this is yours.
Where do you want to be in your career in five years?
I have no idea where I want to be in five years’ time – I left a stable career in teaching to join TV and now I just want to take risks and explore all avenues. I just want to be successful and respected.
What motivates you in life?
My family: They have worked so hard and supported me through all my crazy adventures – it’s time for them to enjoy the benefits.
‘Muslims Like Us’ won the ‘Reality & Constructed Factual’ BAFTA TV Award in 2017 – how did that feel?
UNREAL – it cemented what I already knew: that it was a brilliant and important program. The next morning, however, I was back to reality, teaching a Year 11 GCSE masterclass at 7am!
How do you stay focused through Ramadan, earlier this year?
I used to fast but moan the whole day about being hungry – but now I realise the bigger picture of Ramadan. It’s not just about starving yourself: I remind myself how lucky I am to see another holy month all the time. I strive to find a spiritual connection with Allah SWT through the holy month.
Is it hard to fast and work at the same time?
Yes! Especially now that I travel a lot for work, it can be very difficult.
What is your usual routine through Ramadan?
Eat sehri, pray, back to sleep, up and work, pray, work, pray, work, pray, work, eat, pray, sleep.
What are your top five things to eat and drink through Ramadan?
I must open with a date and lemon water!
Quick Fire Round
Favourite destination to travel to with friends?
I’d love to go to Dubai!
By Natasha Syed