On being The First Hijab- wearing Muslim Newscaster in Philippine TV History

Princess Habiba Sarip- Paudac on the set of PTV News (Photo by Princess)

On August 8, 2012, Filipinos witnessed a history flashing in front of their TV screens- the first Muslim woman with hijab delivering the news for PTV (People’s Television Network) was airing live. It was a moment of dramatic victory for the Muslim population.

Before Philippines was conquered by Spain in 1500’s, it was an archipelago of a Muslim majority estimating to be 75% of the total population. But when the Spanish came with unprecedented military might, the Filipinos were eventually subdued. The muslims who fought hard were executed and some were forced to convert. Others were able to flee to Mindanao where the large Muslim concentration is today. Slowly, over the years of occupation and series of wars, the Muslim population narrowed and today there is only about 5% in the country. The Muslims in Philippines faced discrimination and suppression most of the time. Although there are Muslims in the politics, their rules are often limited and subdued especially when it is meant to rightfully represent them. Therefore, when the sight of a woman with hijab in a national TV, it was an epoch-making.

That Muslim woman was Princess Habiba Sarip- Paudac.

She was born of Maranao descent; a large muslim group in the Philippines mainly living on areas of Lanao. Her childhood was spent on Saudi Arabia where she grew up and they eventually decided to go back to Marawi. Princess is married to a lawyer and has two beautiful sons. Before becoming a news anchor, she worked as grade school teacher, as a college Professor, and as an NGO who serves the community.

We have been honoured to have been graced with an interview with her;

Princess on a Thailand trip ( Photo by Princess)

You are the first Muslim hijab- wearing TV news anchor. How did your career as a TV news presenter/anchor start?

It was year 2012, when the only government TV station was looking for the 1st Muslim Hijab-wearing TV News Anchor.

I was in Mindanao that time and was about to fly in Hongkong when I tried my luck for the audition in Metro Manila. To cut it short, I joined the audition and still flew to HK same day. Upon boarding, I received a call that I got the job and you can just imagine what a treat to myself I was looking forward on a holiday in HK after the call.

So after I got back from a vacation, there, I reported immediately to People’s Television, Inc,. PTV, and the rest is history

Is becoming a TV personality your dream ever since? 

Not in my wildest dream.

What were the challenges you faced back then when you were just starting (as a TV personality)

I was really nervous. Honestly, the last thing I was thinking that time is where to stay/live (Haha) I think I was just thinking of how to survive on the first newscast.

Of course, broadcast journalism is far from teaching. Here, you will have to be full of energy, look smart and make sure there’s no mistakes in what you are saying. So in this job, you have to be very careful with the current issues, you have to be well-rounded about it and as much as possible, research everyday. So everyday, there were always be a challenge, and I am just happy that I was able to overcome those as time goes by.

You were working as an anchor once with one of the biggest news network in Philippines, how was the experience? what was the reason you stop? 

PTV is the only government TV station in the country. And up to this day, I was humbled to be one of its News Anchors.

The experience was life changing. Aside from people treats you like a celebrity, it was a source of new light in our community. Being their voice makes me stronger, their support gives me confidence and a reason to still be on TV to do more for them, for us. There, I was able to represent the minority Muslim Filipinos. I was able to write stories about us and correct mistakes as much as possible in the mainstream media about Islam at large. Even in that simple way, they had given me an experience I could never trade with anything else. Leaving or stopping from news was not on my plan, not that early.

But when the current administration under President Rodrigo Roa Duterte assumed, it wanted to highlight the Muslim community and the issues its facing. I was then tasked by the good PCOO Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar to start a Muslim channel and radio that would really highlight the Muslims.

When my bosses in PTV told me about it, I just couldn’t hide my happiness. Just imagine, the minority group in our country will have its own show, own channel? Who doesn’t want that for the people? So then, I braved the challenge to be the head and host of the program called, SALAAM TV and later on, co-anchored too in SALAAM RADIO, all under PCOO. And by the way, PTV is under PCOO too.

On the set of PTV News with co- anchor (Photo by Princess)

We read that you are now you are running/managing Salaam TV. Please tell us more about it.

Salaam TV is the only Muslim TV show under the Philippine government (PCOO) for the first time in the history. It features the stories about the Muslims and the Muslim Filipinos in the world. It wishes to educate Non-Muslims about what really is the religion ISLAM, who is Allah swt, and the like. It wanted to give answers to the random questions Non-Muslims want to ask from them and make them understand in the best way it can be.

It wanted to teach the world that Islam is a religion of peace, not terrorism. That Muslims in the Philippines has different ethnic groups, cultures, arts, food, customs, traditions, music and even dialects. It wanted to portrait the very rich history and colorful side of the Philippines and be known. Most especially, to highlight that Muslims and Non-Miuslims coexist peacefully in our country.

What is your most favourite part in your job/ profession?

That I could freely talk about my religion and my people. And I could flaunt my hijab worldwide, my simple contribution for da’wah (introducing Islam)

What do you think is your significant legacy as a TV personality to Filipinos, specifically the

Muslims?

I think its my HIJAB. Because up to this day, there are struggling, lost, young Muslim women out there that thought that, the world might not accept them because of their hijab. And I want to prove them wrong. That wearing your hijab, your identity, you are pleasing Allah swt who is the Al-Malik, Most Powerful, the ONLY PROVIDER who could say what’s for us and what’s not.

I think its time to make them realize that whoever you want to be, so long as it protects your deen and yourself, Allah swt will make it easier for you and no doubt you won’t have it. On my personal experience, not once that I doubted Allah’s plans for me. I was always positive and seeks His guidance to always guide me, be my compass in this new challenges- and Alhamdulillah, I was never wrong.

How do you define modesty? What do you consider a modest fashion?

For me, it’s decency. What I consider a modest fashion is something chic, loose, decent and very pleasing to the eye.

When you were a TV anchor, how do you plan your wardrobes? Did you have a stylist?

No I don’t have a stylist, but for make-up, I do have. I do my own hijab styling every now and then and just mixed match my hijabs and suits for the set.

There are Muslim women who are also in the same field as you but they choose not to wear hijab because they don’t want to loose the job or they want to get the job. Were there also back thoughts or pressure for you then? What kept you strong? 

Ma shaa Allah. Thank you for this question. You know, I’ve heard a lot of struggling, lost Muslim ladies regarding their problem with hijab. Sometimes I feel bad when one says that one has to mature first, or others advising other young girls saying its alright not to wear the hijab despite that they’re adults. This is probably one of the firsts interview that I’d like to point out that, please, never advise young girls who are struggling with their faith with that kind of advise. The more that these girls would be lost. Imagine, you would advise a college girl or say, an 18 year old that it’s okay not to wear the hijab? Do you think they’ll wear it the next year? The more they’d have self crisis, thinking probably its alright not to wear the hijab.

In Islam, women are advised to cover themselves, their hair, elbows, body, knees.

And this would strictly be observed once a girl got her first period. And yes, wearing hijab is part of this and it is not voluntary but this practice is wajib or mandatory to all girls in accordance to Qur’an. So who are we to advise young girls, saying its okay not to follow the book of Allah swt? Ma shaa Allah I hope we are all be guided in guiding each other as Muslims In shaa Allah.

I heard about a story that one lady also seek to be a TV presenter, unfortunately, she wasn’t accepted because she didn’t want to remove her hijab. And yes, she made a right choice, she chose to keep her hijab and walk out, for only Allah swt knows what’s best for us. With that story and those issues about the young girls nowadays, the more I want my faith strong and intact following Islamic practices as much as possible. I believe, being the First Hijabi TV News Anchor was one of my biggest tasks to show young girls that its alright to wear their hijab, cause in fact, the more Allah swt would raise our position in life when what we are after is nothing, but to please Him. And I guess, I will never be in position today if not because of my hijab.

Wearing the traditional Malong (Photo by Princess)

And for the closing statement, what can you advice the youth as to how to preserve their identity while pursuing their goals?

I think, lets simply go back to the history of our prophets especially how Prophet Muhammad saw fought for Islam. And that is, we have to thank him everyday that we have a strong ummah up to this day because we are living up for the Sunnah practices and our long history.

For the youth especially young ladies, In shaa Allah, whether at school or at work, be proud to wear you hijab and loose outfits or even abaya, don’t be scared for Allah swt will protect us all. Hijab is one of the identities of being a Muslim woman, if we claim to be one, lets show the world that we are proudest of our Islam religion and that Allah swt is who we please. Without it, we are simply being identified like those of Non-believers, walking on the streets hijabless.

Let us be reminded that this world is temporary and Allah swt will grant anyone’s desires on His will only. Just like what had been mentioned in the Hadiths, if we run after the world, we will never catch up. But if we run after Allah swt (meaning, doing good deeds and following what HE wants us to do to please Him) then Allah swt is as close as a step away.

So don’t be afraid or get depressed not getting into your dream job or fitting in, for Allah is the All Provider, Most Powerful and Most Generous and He who knew even a fallen leaf will in shaa Allah, in the most prefect time, bless you all the greatness in this world. Just hold on and to Him always. Setting the goal, right discipline, prayers and remembrance of Allah swt is the key.

Princess strongly believe that there should be more Muslim women in the broadcasting industry. When asked about considering a newscaster spot in the mainstream news channel in the future, she gleefully declared, “Yes, of course!”

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