Before I really, a brief summary (of what I've seen so far): Basically, there's this set of twins named Lucas and Diego, both of which are incredibly handsome. Lucas is a good boy, very romantic and sweet and gentle, whereas Diego is the typical "bad boy," and is also very promiscuous. The central plot follows their two stories. Diego hooks up with his dad's girlfriend (without knowing who she is), while Lucas falls in love with a Muslim woman named Jade, who has just moved to Morocco after her mother's death. Their love is expressly forbidden, but they still decide to pursue it. There are parallel story lines, but the twins' story is most central.
The first thing that I find really interesting about this telenovela is that it is centered around the Muslim culture in Morocco, juxtaposed with the Mexican/American culture (most of the main characters being from either Miami or Morocco). This is important because Muslim culture and religion tends to be strict, more regimented, and more radical than the religion that we typically see in America. Obviously, the two cultures are not exclusive, but the typical, non-Muslim American has a hard time comprehending the culture. This is one of the first challenges that the telenovela faces, and I think it does a pretty good job of making the Muslim culture accessible and understandable to the viewer.
Along those same lines, the telenovela also squares off with the issues that face Muslim women. The main story line focuses on Jade, who is essentially forced into the radicalized religion. She is shocked to learn that Muslim women have to cover themselves once they begin menstruating. Furthermore, Lucas comes across her in a state of undress, and Jade's uncle retaliates by threatening to gouge her eyes out and lock her up until her death if she continues to disobey him and Allah. However, when Lucas comes to apologize to Uncle Ali, he is easily forbidden. Jade's struggle with the Muslim faith serves to exaggerate the restrictiveness of a woman's role in more traditional Muslim communities. Furthermore, Lucas comes across her in a state of undress, and Jade's uncle retaliates by threatening to gouge her eyes out and lock her up until her death if she continues to disobey him and Allah. However, when Lucas comes to apologize to Uncle Ali, he is easily forgiven. This illustrates perceived double-standard within the religion- that men are more freely forgiven, whereas women are more frequently condemned.
Jade's story is juxtaposed with two other stories- the first is the story of her cousin, Latiffa, who is being married off to a young man. Latiffa, unlike Jade, is very excited about the prospect of marriage to a stranger. She even says that not being married off into a good family is a tragedy. The woman who is not married off, Latiffa says, lives her life serving other families, and taking care of children that are not her own. This really stood out to me as a clear commentary on the restrictive role of women. Essentially, a women's only options are to (a) have her own children and take care of them or (b) not marry and instead work as a nanny of sorts for other people's children. The second story Jade is juxtaposed with is Dora's story. Dora is engaged to a very flirty man. Dora's desire, first and foremost, is to be a mom. She's willing to abandon her fiance, who already has two children and does not desire anymore. Instead, she ventures off and decides to have a child on her own. She serves as an example of perceived female strength and independence. Latiffa could never, ever have a child without having a husband, or she'd be stoned in the streets. Dora, however, does it happily. The juxtaposition of these three women shows a clear preference for the more modern, Americanized woman.
The issue with this telenovela, however, is that it does over-generalize the Muslim faith. Uncle Ali, the only strict-Muslim character, physically assaults Jane and frequently threatens her. His friend even comments that Ali uses religion to keep his household under her "tyrannical" rule. To me, this representation of the strict Muslim abides more by stereotypes than it does by reality. Obviously, the abuse of women under the Muslim faith is a serious issue, but it's unfair to portray the only Muslim man on the show as an abusive control-freak. I find this representation to be dangerous, especially considering the anti-Muslim movement that arose from 911 and terrorist attacks after. There needs to be a balance. I would be more comfortable with the criticism of the Muslim faith through Ali's character if there was also a criticism of American/Western prejudice against Muslims. So far, I'm not seeing that. Let's hope that it comes about soon!
Thanks for reading!