The victory of Nadiya Hussain, a Bangladeshi Muslim Brit, in the latest season of the Great British Bake Off did not come as a surprise to the avid fans of the show. However, the explosive media attention that followed Hussain’s win was unexpected.
British Muslims have been slowly gaining positive visibility in the media such as the latest H&M ad where a hijabi model was featured or the reoccurring Muslim character of Shabnam Kazemi (known also as Masood) in EastEnders. However, the majority of the representations of Muslims in the media have been negative with many Muslim advocacy groups, organisations and academics arguing “Muslims in the British media are persistently negative, unfair and discriminatory and have subsequently contributed to establishing a climate of fear or a moral panic ‘with the Muslim folk devil‘ at its heart.” Thus, the winner of such a widely popular television programme as GBBO, being a Muslim hijabi woman was an important shift on how Muslims have been portrayed in the media. Not only did Hussain finish the competition victorious she also became a favourite amongst fans, a Twitter phenomenon, with her hilarious facial expressions, self-deprecating humour and overall relatability as a mum of three from Leeds.
In an interview with the Guardian she is quick to emphasise that being Muslim was not her only feature, she states, “I knew I represented different people – stay-at-home mums, Muslims, the [British] Bangladeshi community … [and] for each and every bit of me someone has said: ‘You have done a really good job for us; she seems like a good mum, she’s done well for Muslims and the Bengalis are proud.” What is key in her comments is that she wasn’t burdened with the responsibility of representing Muslims in the UK; moreover, she should not have been anyway, as her religion isn’t the only aspect of her.
Yet, following her win news outlets such as the Daily Mail were quick to attribute her victory to her being Muslim and the BBC’s agenda of multiculturalism, with columnist Amanda Platell commenting if the white contestant Flora Shedden had baked a chocolate mosque, she would have had a better chance in winning.
Despite some of the negative backlash, the outpour of support for Hussain has over shone, with Hussain having more than eighty thousand Twitter followers and a line-up of book and TV opportunities. The presence of a multi-faceted Muslim in British media such as Nadiya Hussain is rare, Nadiya stresses she isn’t just representing Muslims but also “Bangladeshis, Luton, Leeds, stay-at-home mums, wives, mothers, the list seems to get bigger, but it’s actually a fantastic thing that so many people on so many levels can relate to me. That feels like quite a privilege.”
With more than 13 million people having watched the final episode of GBBO Nadiya has been a game-changer of British Muslim representation in the media, not because she represented millions of Muslims which is impossible, but because for the first time a regular British Muslim was given space in mainstream media paving the way for a more wholesome and better representation of Muslims in British homes across the UK.