UAE | Media

Oprah appearance remarks land Emirati doctor in hot water

Dr Lamees Hamdan, who appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show earlier this month, aired personal views that made her the subject of an internet debate among Emiratis that has turned into a personal campaign in some cases.

  • By Abbas Al Lawati, Staff Reporter, Gulf News
  • Published: 00:00 November 14, 2009
  • Gulf News

Real-time row
  • Image Credit: Supplied
  • A screen grab of the Oprah Winfrey show. Remarks of Emirati doctor Dr Lamees Hamdan on the show about Islamic women's dress have triggered a row on internet.

Dubai: Views on Emirati culture and lifestyle aired by a Dubai-based doctor on American talk show Oprah have sparked a controversy among Emiratis who have said they are not representative of the UAE.

Dr Lamees Hamdan, who appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show earlier this month, aired personal views on Oprah that made her the subject of an internet debate among Emiratis that has turned into a personal campaign in some cases.

A number of Emiratis have taken offence to her claims that the abaya [black full-body outer layer of clothing] and shaila [loose veil, partly covering the head] are "cultural" and not religious, and that Emiratis do not pay utility bills. However, a group of supporters among Emiratis and expatriates has also emerged, defending her right to speak her mind.

A number of Arabic language internet forums have harshly attacked her for her statements, with some resorting to personal attacks. Others attacked Winfrey for being "anti-Arab" and "anti-Muslim".

American audience

Lamees did not however refer to the hijab in the Oprah segment, which is a full head covering that most Muslims consider to be obligatory for women. The shaila she spoke of refers to a scarf that is often worn loosely on the head, leaving the top exposed.

She declined Gulf News' request for an interview but earlier told Dubai-based Emarat Al Youm that her comments were intended for an American audience "that had misconceptions about the Arab way of life", and stood by her views on the shaila.

A twitter user, elzubeir, defended Lamees as an intelligent and articulate person, making him and Dubai "proud".

eSheikha tweeted: "now, I'll think 1232323 marrah [times] before doing anything in public!" referring to the controversy surrounding Lamees' statements.

The campaign against Lamees led Mohammad Sultan Al Habtoor to print T-shirts that read "Leave Lamees alone. She will pay our bills", in reference to her claims about utilities being free of cost.

The shirts, selling for Dh250, have been criticised on the internet, but Al Habtoor says he is not profiteering from the incident and insists that he stood behind Lamees in airing her views.

"I would like to see Lamees wear the shirts too. But I'll stop this if she asks me to. I support her and have even made a Facebook group in her defence," he said, adding that she had been treated very unfairly. He did not say how many T-shirts have been sold. Even Debbie Schlussel, a radical anti-Muslim blogger from the US, took issue with Lamees' comments about the veil. "It's a flat-out lie. Clearly, the headscarf is, indeed, religious," she wrote.

Under a blog entry entitled "Daytime TV's Jihadi Sister Now Dubai's Propagandist" she called Winfrey, a "career-long Islamist" for airing what she considered a positive perspective of Muslims.

In 2007, an episode of the popular Emirati animated series Freej caused controversy after touching on the topic of religious extremism, which some viewers found to be insulting of Islam.

In the episode, one of the characters, Umm Khammas, turns to an extreme interpretation of Islam upon realizing that she has 10 days to live.

In an apparent mockery of Islamic tele-preachers, Umm Khammas starts to issue fatwas [religious edicts] on television.

The episode resulted in angry calls on radio talk shows that led Mohammed Saeed Hareb, producer, Freej to go on air to explain his intentions.

Queen Rania of Jordan also caused controversy when in 2007 she told an Italian newspaper that imposing the hijab on women was "contrary to the teachings of Islam".

Do you think Dr Lamees was right about the abaya and shaila? Do you think the campaign against her is fair? Was Lamees speaking for a minority of Emirati women?

Comments (11)

  1. Added 18:59 November 15, 2009

    I happened to watch that Oprah episode and, while some of the things she said were a bit brow-raising (DEWA, head covering, among others), the overall impression was quite in line with everything Dubai is: a modern city who is still in touch with its traditional Islamic roots. This whole controversy over that episode simply reveals the social conflict that has hit Dubai and other progressive societies: How do you balance modern ideas and traditional values? Apparently even Muslim communities cannot seem to agree which head covering is required and which ones aren't...this based on the comments above. I don't think the good doctor did anything to destroy the image of Islam nor of Dubai. In fact I admire her for not falling to the pressure of being under a stereotype of how we want Emiratis to be. She was a mother, a sister, a daughter, a wife, and, above all, a woman.

    Bob, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  2. Added 22:59 November 14, 2009

    im a uae national and think she did a great job i was one of the first to see it as im in the states and watched it live while being aired and was just overjoyed on having an emarati woman come on Oprah! she didnt say anything wrong and was representing her point of view, i wear the scarf myself and think it is difficult to represent all women and points of view in Dubai and she was catering to her audience! she did a great job and i applaud her.

    Fatima Kazim, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  3. Added 21:43 November 14, 2009

    Dr Lamees has the right to express herself!

    M. T., Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  4. Added 20:11 November 14, 2009

    Putting one's views across in decent manner in one thing and protesting against one's views is another. I think this should be seen as views of a 21st century arabic persons views.

    Tejas, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  5. Added 19:51 November 14, 2009

    Everyone has the right to express. By giving hype to such comments, we are making unneccassary propaganda. Every person is responsible for what he/she expresses, so let be. I believe that Islam is the most modern of all religions - that covers-up everything

    Mahmoud Ali Khan, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  6. Added 15:38 November 14, 2009

    The Sheila and Abaya are just 2 forms of clothing which is yes cultural. Islam asks women to be covered head to toe with exception to forehands and face only. 'Aurah' means those areas which are private for each individual. That can be covered with any kind of clothing which is of course not revealng or tightly fit. The egyptians, syrians, iranians and even some indians have different types of such clothing. Its common sense that clothing is cultural, but the purpose to cover head to toe is religious obligation on Muslim women!

    Sara, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

  7. Added 14:28 November 14, 2009

    Muslim cultures always have an essence of religion in them, let it be Abaya, burkha, head scarf of sheila its all cultural because its part of Muslim faith or recommended dress code for Muslim women prescribed by holy Quran, Sunnah and Ahlulbait "Family of Prophet Mohammad" (PBUH) .

    Ali Sayani, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  8. Added 13:56 November 14, 2009

    I have watched the show and was astonished to know the utilities were free in UAE. when did it happened? I am a convert-Muslim and i always wear hijab because of my religion and not of the culture i am adopting with. Wearing Hijab is a sign of modesty, and respect of oneself as a woman with great religious value and belief.

    Eman mmya, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

  9. Added 13:30 November 14, 2009

    I strongly agree with Dr. Lamees. The abaya and sheila nowadays are worn as as cultural thing, no longer "religious". Especially the Abaya, you will not find in the Qu'ran anything that says you have to wear an abaya, but how to cover up, as in not showing your hair, your legs, arms...etc. Also the sheila is worn in a way that is not religious. If it's going to be worn religious, you will not see an ounce of a hair! As for the electricity bills I care to disgaree. Some Emirati families do pay and some don't. I'm Emirati, and I know my family pays for water and electricity. And I don't wear the Abaya either, because I don't have to wear it. Because "IT IS" a cultural thing.

    Amna, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  10. Added 13:18 November 14, 2009

    she meant the black abaya is an emiraty traditional attire because the non emiratis or non Gulf muslims do not wear black abaya and sheila for religion sake its clearly a Gulf traditonal, they wear normal clothes with different long as they are covered islamically, from what I know islamic religion does not specify the colours women should wear or that its a must to wear abaya, most important is to wear loose clothes which is not showing a womans body structure and covers their full body and head. So leave her alone people!

    Naseem, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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