She is always smiling and has a natural gift to speak in front of the camera, although she assures to be shy and feel “stressed” when she is surrounded by many people. That is why she gets nervous when someone recognizes her on the street. This young lady from Barcelona (Spain) who graduated in Business Management has more than 38,000 followers on her YouTube channel, Ramia Schannel.
Ramia Chaoui shows and speaks about all kind of things there: from make-up or how she got to know her husband to sharing the traditions of her other homeland, Morocco, or the problems Muslim people -like her- face in Spain.
She was recently invited to open a high-level meeting to counter Islamophobia, organized by the European Commission in Brussels. “We need to stop asking people like me how to integrate, because we don’t need to integrate in our own home”, she requested in front of the Justice European Commissioner, Vera Jourova, and other politicians representing European countries.
“We need to stop asking people like me how to integrate, because we don’t need to integrate in our own home”
She speaks with Salam Plan on the phone from Barcelona before going to work. For all those afraid of Muslims, Ramia points out “Islam is totally compatible with democracy, it just needs to be well understood”. For her, “being Muslim is trying to be a better person for oneself and for the others and everything that surrounds us”.
In your videos, you always greet by saying “salam zyonat”. What does that mean?
“Hi, beauties”. “Zeyn” is like beauty. I liked to open with something in Arabic, which also represents another part of my identity and my culture. I like to say hello that way, because it defines me. “Salam” means “peace” and is part of the Muslim greeting, and than all my videos are in Spanish, which is my mother tongue and the one I can better express myself in.
What made you open your own YouTube channel?
The lack of representation in mass media, searching for a place where I could express myself and talk about the issues where nobody listened to us, to have there my version of events without it being sweetened or censored.
Also, a little bit from an educational perspective. I listened to many questions around me about things I thought people knew well, stereotypes. Whenever I talked to new people who were hardly in touch with Muslims, I was very surprised to see the image they had about that part of the society.
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On Ramia Schannel you talk about all kind of things. What are the issues you like to speak more about?
At the beginning I made a lifestyle and entertainment channel, about how to combine the spiritual life with the non- Muslim Western normal life like any other girl of my age.
Now I have changed the focus to separate it a bit from the personal sphere and take it more to the activist field [against Islamophobia], but in a lighter way, not so hardcore. I have young followers and don’t want to be preachy.
I try to make the videos entertaining but at the same time with a message or moral of the story, or to explain something about Muslims, a Muslim festivity… so that people have a window to look into the life of a Western Muslim person and how our life is.
Earlier you said that one of the reasons to star your channel was tackling stereotypes about Muslims. Which ones would you highlight?
To get turned into a foreigner, that is one of the things which annoys me the most. For example, me living in Catalonia, that people speak to me in Spanish or slowly so that I can understand them… Those kind of things which people may do with good intentions, but I belong to the people who think that we’ve been here for a long time already and migration is nothing recent.
The fact that people are surprised that you have a degree, that you speak well the language, that you don’t have any accent…
And what affects me the most is the issue with the lack of equal opportunities and the discrimination, especially in the labour field for Muslim women.
“One of the things which annoys me the most is to get turned into a foreigner. Me living in Catalonia, that people speak to me in Spanish or slowly so that I can understand them”
In fact, there is a video in your channel where you explain that you are considering to take off your hijab.
It’s something you always bear in mind. Not now, but it’s true that all these years I have been wearing it, you ask yourself and weigh up: “Wow, it is really affecting me”. But well, than you remember why you put it on in the first place and what it means to you and you try to look ahead.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t have moments of doubts and difficulties… and understanding that other women face the same difficulties and finally take it off due to social pressure.
What difficulties have you encountered due to the hijab?
Mainly, being able to do job interviews and getting a job. They will choose someone who doesn’t wear it if you are equally qualified, or not so equally: you may be a bit more prepared or may be speak more languages. Nevertheless, the scales seems to tip to the other side.
The issue about doing a traineeship to get your degree, I get many messages from girls. Many of them see themselves forced to take it off or not doing the traineeship. I think Education should come first. Later in the labour market, I can understand that a company may be free to choose who it hires. But if a company chooses to offer traineeships to the students, it shouldn’t make a difference: they’re not your workers, they’re people who come to learn and will leave.
Me personally, I have seen myself obliged to accept another king of jobs, because I couldn’t choose the same way my fellow students did. I thought that was the way it goes. Although it might not have convinced me, I took the job to have one.
“The issue about doing a traineeship to get your degree… I get many messages from girls who see themselves forced to take the hijab off “
You have more than 38,000 followers. What kind of profile do they have?
They’re mainly female, 80% approximately. Spaniards and from other European countries, also from Mexico. Between 18 and 30 years old.
What kind of questions or comments do they have?
More than that, I think they see me a bit like an inspiration. If you see you’re not the only one facing problems or suffering, you don’t feel so lonely.
What happens sometimes is that these things stay in the community or within the family, you don’t speak about them that much. And you think it isn’t happening to nobody else and that you are the unlucky one.
I think that sharing and speaking about it, helps to fight against it. I try to motivate. There are girls who have even asked me why they should study if they’re not gonna get a job anyway. Loosing motivation like this is worrying.
I try to change the approach of the youngest girls. Feeling ashamed of your culture, of your religion, because they’re always speaking bad about it, because you don’t see positive examples, no examples of people who overcome [the problems]… But to see someone who -achieving more or less- follows her dreams, trying to change a bit -as much as possible-, I think it is good for our young ladies.
“There are girls who have even asked me why they should study if they’re not gonna get a job anyway”
You just mentioned something key, I think: that some people feel ashamed due to what is happening around them.
I have seen girls in their first adolescence years telling their mothers not to pick them up from school because she wears the veil and they don’t want to be seen with them.
Or now I see my little sister, who is very proud of her culture, but I remember that when I was little, I felt ashamed and didn’t want to go to school after our holidays in Morocco with henna on my hands. I tried to wash it off, because the kids told me it was pooh and laughed at me.
On the contrary, I now see generations, the youngest, who are very proud of their culture, with henna on their hands, wearing the veil… I think we should appropriate our culture again and be proud of who we are. Because it’s true that sometimes we have tried to hide to get unnoticed, without causing a stir: go to work, feed our children, sleep and back again to the beginning.
And it’s our generation now who is vindicating more the richness of having a diverse identity, a diverse origin, being from here but also from there and being a richer person thanks to that.
“Sometimes we Muslims have tried to hide to get unnoticed, without causing a stir: go to work, feed our children, sleep and back again to the beginning”
You recently shared your experience opening a high-level meeting in front of the Justice European Commissioner, Vera Jourova, and other politicians of the EU countries. There were also other Muslim activists and civil representatives. Do you think it was useful?
I am always very optimistic. I don’t know if I’m so optimistic that I’m naïf, but I want to think that it was indeed. And if it is useless from the political point of view, I think that the civil society there are loads of things being done. I was very happy and proud to see that representation, mainly a female representation, in that meeting. Whenever I see Muslim ladies, so trained and ready to fight, I feel proud as if it was a personal achievement. Whether it is useful or not, I have learned a lot.
That meeting was in the European capital. There are Europeans afraid of Muslims not respecting democracy. What would you tell them?
I’d tell them that Islam is totally compatible with democracy; it just needs to be well understood.
I think there is much misinformation or confusion around terminology related to Islam. Nobody studies it in depth, the only interest is to take those paragraphs or alleyahs [Q’ran verses] out of context which may benefit someone politically to sow fear and get votes. In the end, it’s this manipulation and using Islam as a weapon to get personal benefit.
In fact, a well understood Islam promotes democracy.
“A well understood Islam promotes democracy”
For example, if we simply focus on the prophet Muhammad’s life, we can see that he always consulted people surrounding him, he always asked for advice, and that being -as we understand it- God’s envoy. One of the main pillars of democracy is the public query, what the majority thinks.
In the recent regional elections in Andalusia (southern Spain), Vox’s party got 12 seats and Muslims are a key part of their politics. In their election platform, they devote a chapter to Muslims under the title “Defence, Security and Borders”.
[She laughs slightly]. Ok, how funny, how nice. I prefer to think that the majority of people doesn’t read the election manifesto nor is very well informed of what they vote, because otherwise, we wouldn’t drift in the current direction.
The defence of Spanish unity doesn’t need to go hand in hand with harming and loosing civil rights nor with more confrontation. I believe people who voted for Vox voted for Spanish unity.
Vox stands for issues like “shutting fundamentalist mosques” or the “expulsion of imams who spread fundamentalism, the despise of women or Jihad”.
With “expulsion” I guess they mean foreign imams, but there are Spanish imams. What do we do with that? And “despise of women”, it’s them who want to repeal the bill on gender violence. I think it is a cheap, simplistic and superficial populism.
How do you think Islamophobia Will evolve in the next years in Spain?
I think there is more consciousness and people are getting to know more about Islamophobia. I think it will keep that direction. I hope politicians will be more careful in their discourses. I hope the situation will get better: the integration of so many women with veil who are already working, including me; that normalization of seeing Muslim women in each and every sphere of society.
Your channel is also for non- Muslim people who want to know more. If you were to explain in just a few words what it means to you to be Muslim, how would you describe it?
Being Muslim is being like any other person, but having in the centre of his or her daily priorities -or values- to try to be a better person for oneself and for the others and everything that surrounds us; also being beneficial and contribute to society.