The social media stratosphere has been atwitter with news of the birth of Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik’s daughter. Although our obsession with fame and celebrity culture has waned over 2020, with the societal focus shifting away from pop culture and onto systemic issues begging for change, it’s nice to see your favourite celebrities celebrating their new experiences. Both Gigi and Zayn have, at some point, acted as spokespeople for the Arab and Muslim communities. Gigi, as a Palestinian herself, is not one to shy away from advocating for the Palestinian cause. Hadid was one of a handful of celebrities to speak up against Trump’s Muslim ban. When Zayn, raised a Muslim, shot to stardom, it was, for many Gen Zers, the first time they’d seen positive Muslim and minority representation in the media. Zayn also faced death threats for tweeting #FreePalestine back in 2014. Hadid & Malik are more than just a power couple for modern Arabs and Muslims living in the West; they are of the few celebrities to openly reference their heritage and “controversial” political convictions. This raises the question “Is Gigi Hadid normalizing children out of wedlock in the Arab community?”
They may not serve as your mainstream Arab or Muslim couple, but they represent what it’s like to exist as an individual in between East and West, a space many third culture kids find themselves in. So, it got me thinking: with all this heritage in common, just how alike are we? Like humans, they may share culture and tradition with us, but as celebrities, how much of said culture and tradition are they obliged to follow? Let’s step away from Hollywood for a second.
We’re back home in (insert Arab country). Your neighbour’s 25-year-old daughter has just given birth to her first child, out of wedlock, fathered by her tattooed Pakistani boyfriend. Now whilst this is nothing to write home about in Western cultures, it certainly would be the topic of conversation at every judgemental khalto’s afternoon shai break. A young unmarried Arab woman knocked up in this day and age is still very much headline news, but not for the same reasons as Gigi’s.
So why is no one talking about it? As a world-renowned supermodel and an ex member of one of this century’s biggest boybands, both Hadid & Malik benefit from celebrity privilege. As elite members of society, they’re able to enjoy parts of the culture, with none of the backlash of the day to day judgements many young Arabs or Muslims face. That’s not to say there is no downside to openly embracing your Arab/Muslim heritage as a celebrity. They carry the burden of representing their minority backgrounds in public, but we don’t see their imposition of conforming to cultural norms as publicly.
Although the average age of both brides and first-time mothers is increasing, the pressure to get married and have children in the Arab world is unrelenting. From a young age it’s ingrained in our minds: get a degree, get married, have a baby. But what if it doesn’t happen in that order? With the shedding of traditional gender roles, women are embracing their independence and enjoying their lives without the pressure of searching for a man to give them a child. And with ever-growing advances in the medical field, many women are finding they don’t have to make the choice between being single and being a mother.
Will having children outside of wedlock ever be normalized in the Arab culture? Even now it’s unheard of: how many Arab women do you know have chosen to have children before marriage? And of those women, how many do you know have done so, without being ostracized by their social circles? Of course, all three of the Abrahamic religions condemn sex before marriage, and in the Arab culture, religious rulings are taken more seriously in comparison with western cultures. There is no grey area on having a child out of wedlock, so the social attitudes towards it are unlikely to change in Arab countries as long as the church and state remain very much connected.
All three of the Abrahamic religions condemn sex before marriage, and in the Arab culture, religious rulings are taken more seriously in comparison with western cultures. There is no grey area on having a child out of wedlock, so the social attitudes towards it are unlikely to change in Arab countries as long as the church and state remain very much connected.susan AL-SAFADI on the CLOSE CONNECTION BETWEEN RELIGION and THE ARABIC CULTURE
But for Arabs living in the west, the jury is still out. Culture is not as heavily influenced by religious practices, and with the separation of church and state, we’re in a unique situation where we can cherry-pick parts of the religion, adapting them to suit our lifestyles. Gigi and Zayn are not the first couples of Arab or Muslim origins to have a child before marriage, but they may be the first to do so in public without the negative feedback from our resident Haram Police.
The cultural paradigm of what it means to be an Arab in the modern world is shifting on its axis. The idea of the ‘perfect’ Arab is slowly fading, with interpretations of that concept evolving with each generation, specifically for those living in the west. So, with big names like Hadid and Malik openly acknowledging their Eastern/Muslim heritage whilst simultaneously openly living their “Western” lifestyle, what does this mean for the narrative in the Arab world? Is Gigi Hadid normalizing children out of wedlock in the Arab community? Gigi serves as living proof that the two identities can exist at once: that Arabs can, and do, adopt western cultures whilst also holding on to eastern traditions at the same time.
Gigi serves as living proof that the two identities can exist at once: that Arabs can, and do, adopt western cultures whilst also holding on to eastern traditions at the same time.SUSAN al-safadi ON ADOPTING BOTH ARAB AND WESTERN VALUES
For many third culture kids growing up balancing age-old traditions with modern practices, the birth of Gigi & Zayn’s baby brings with it a level of acceptance; a middle ground where the Venn diagram of religion and the west meet, and in which we can exist, free of the pressures of traditional social, familial and religious obligations. With Gigi Hadid normalizing children out of wedlock in the Arab community, we’re only more excited to see what Bella Hadid and the rest of the Hadid family members have in store.
by Susan Al-Safadi