SOCIETY TALK

Don’t judge a Muslim by her dressing

Magoha told Muslim journalist: 'If you are representing al Shabaab, I will not answer you'

In Summary

• As a Muslim woman and journalist, I condemn CS Magoha’s incendiary remarks

• Don’t judge a Muslim woman by her dressing; modesty is part of our culture

Education CS George Magoha addresses the press during an inspection of CBC classrooms construction at Bomu Secondary School in Mombasa
Education CS George Magoha addresses the press during an inspection of CBC classrooms construction at Bomu Secondary School in Mombasa
Image: LABAN WALOGA

Breathe… Relax… I must compose myself…

No. Screw that! I’m pissed!

The incendiary remarks by Education CS George Magoha towards a Muslim journalist have shaken me to my core. In the video that has since gone viral, Magoha is seen cutting off his speech abruptly before turning to a Muslim female reporter (assumedly in modest attire), saying “Kwanza wewe unatoka wapi? (Where are you from?). Who are you representing because if you are representing al Shabaab, I will not answer you," Magoha said.

The small uncomfortable laughter that broke out spoke volumes. Even from the journalist herself, I understood. It was as though he was speaking to a younger version of me; a Muslim woman dressed modestly, a journalist. My ambiguous facial features have often confused people into thinking I am Somali. What would I have done in that moment? Would I not have laughed it off as well? There was a power hierarchy in that moment and the reporter was not in a position to stand up for herself. So we will.

I chose to become a journalist long before completing high school. Most people, including my family and friends, were confused. Their only idea of journalism were news anchors, which at the time, the only female Muslim representation on TV was Jamila Mohamed from NTV.

I was convinced that journalism was the only profession for me. Journalism is the Fourth Estate, the ombudsman of the three estates. Our former lecturer and Nation Media veteran Joe Kadhi died recently. He instilled in us the watchdog role of a journalist and the ethics and principles of journalism.

I know if he were alive, he would have strongly condemned the statements. This is the man who roared, “Publish and be damned!” at us every single lesson. The man who defied former President Moi and exposed his Saba Saba atrocities and paid dearly for it. I would be letting my mentor down if I did not speak on this issue.

I might not be a field journalist, you might not see my face on TV like my old classmates, friends and colleagues, but I am a journalist. That is my identity. I have studied and trained in every aspect of the field, from media law to radio to television and print media to the academic theories of journalism. I have friends in the field who are women, who dress modestly, and they are some of the hardest working people I know! They have earned prestigious awards from around the globe and received them in their modest garb.

To have gone through all that slogging work just to be profiled by a government official in my own home country would be the most disheartening things in my career

I am an accredited member of the Media Council. I pay to have my press pass renewed every year. While I might not be a practising reporter now, I can still do the job. I can go to a press conference, show my card, ask questions and report on the matter. I can’t imagine the level of disappointment and anger I would have had if I interviewed you and the first thing you thought of was if I am affiliated to a terror group because of my dress code. Does a small woman in a black loose dress scare you?

My choice of dress shows the world I am a Muslim woman, but it does not show the world my higher degrees in journalism and my vast experience in the field, stretching for more than a decade. To have gone through all that slogging work just to be profiled by a government official in my own home country would be the most disheartening things in my career.

Of course, I have faced similar comments or snide remarks during my time in the field, but everyone expects better from an Education CS of a vastly diverse country. Our country is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, diverse in tribes, religions and languages, but the Constitution is what binds us together as Kenyans.

As Muslim women especially, we face all kinds of discrimination when we travel abroad, but the moment we return home, we relax and think, “This is my home, I am safe here.” If we cannot be safe working in our own country, and on national TV no less, where else can we be safe?

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