What Selena Did Wrong
Recently the internet has been abuzz about Instagram photos posted by Selena Gomez. These photos show her and her friends at the Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The group, including celebrities like Kendall Jenner, Cody Simpson, and Shay Mitchell, was in the United Arab Emirates to celebrate the New Year.
The first photo of concern was of Selena wearing an abaya (traditional Muslim garb) while suggestively revealing her ankle. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque etiquette states women must wear an abaya, but while they don’t explicitly say it must be worn appropriately, it can be assumed that the Mosque does require the abaya in order for bare body parts to be concealed. Evidently, Selena didn’t follow that rule.
The second photo was of Selena and the group all posing in traditional garb while smiling and laughing. The Mosque requires shoes to be removed and visitors to maintain silence for the sake of those in prayer. The photo clearly shows yet another ankle and a member of the group wearing shoes. It can also be assumed, judging by the group’s excited facial expressions and poses, that they weren’t exactly silent while taking the photo.
Both photos are understandably drawing negative attention. Opponents argue that the mosque is a holy place, which demands a solemn atmosphere. By disregarding that so publicly on Instagram, the group is disrespecting the mosque. As of January 14, Selena has deleted the first photo from her account, but has left the group photo posted. She has not responded to the criticism.
Some people are defending Selena, claiming that it is not necessary to follow the cultural norms of foreign locations. Selena is clearly a tourist that doesn’t know the cultural norms, so her actions are excusable.
But the situation is not about the necessity of following norms. It’s not a question of “should we have to follow the norms of other cultures?” It is an issue that she broke a norm. Now what? Selena hasn’t fought for her right to go against cultural standards. It would be an outrage if she had denied any fault due to lack of knowledge of (or worse, lack of respect towards) the mosque’s rules. She evidently felt the backlash of her breaking norms because she took down a photo.
The point is: she didn’t make a statement or apology. There was no “I apologize for doing this”, “I shouldn’t have behaved in this way”, or “I realize I made a mistake”. She silently took the photo down. If she had made a statement, I personally think the situation would’ve been wholly resolved. She did not need to make a long-winded apology, but perhaps should have said, “I acted inappropriately in a holy place and I am ashamed of my behavior. I apologize to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the Islamic community.” The least she could have said was, “I realize the photo was offensive to some. I should’ve taken better care to act appropriately in the mosque. I’ve taken the photo down and I apologize to those whom I’ve offended.” Simple, but covers all the bases.
It’s unrealistic to expect that all tourists would thoroughly research the etiquette of their destinations, but in the case of a place of worship, it’s the least one can do to do a quick Google search of general etiquette.
Alicia is a 20 year old junior at The College of New Jersey, with a major in Psychology and anticipated minor in Women's and Gender Studies. In addition to Her Culture, she is a writer for The Prospect and secretary of TCNJ Barkada (Filipino club). Her interests include wearing black, playing Skyrim, appreciating her identity as Asian/Filipino, and knitting hats for stuffed animals. She values practical education over academic excellence and (as an introvert) the idea of speaking "only if it improves upon the silence" (Gandhi). Her goals include reaching self-actualization, building a successful and stable career, and benching her own body weight (85 lb).