Muslims ‘Unlike’ Us: British Muslim reviews BBC show


Muslims ‘Unlike’ Us: British Muslim reviews BBC show

Like some hyped up reality TV contestant, Muslims are in-your-face 24/7, whether you like us or not. Admittedly, we most often appear on UK screens via news bulletins; dying in conflict, being attacked by far-right extremists or shoved into a police van with a rug over our heads.

But, I suspect things are about to change. There is a new game in town, ‘Mainstream The Muslim.’ Zeitgeist producers ‘get’ that the Muslim bashing industry has reached its zenith. It’s not only Muslims who now feel nauseated by yet another ‘in-depth investigation into jihad at home’, our fellow Brits surely share the instinct to turn off this tired old tale. The question then is, what next?…Citizen Khan’s stereotyping of the porch-Muslim as foolish, rather dim and always chasing cash, puts our community at around 1976 in terms of TV equality. Let’s not despair, the next stage in the ‘normalization’ process in which mainstream channels get to make money out of us (whilst still treating us as ‘the other’) is examining our community as if we are a rather peculiar, yet colorful ‘species’.

Muslims “Like” Us!

This metamorphosis kicked off with the airing of the BBC reality documentary ‘Muslims Like Us’, a two-part series putting 10 men and women from different parts of the community into the same house for ten days.

The cast had a child-like predictability. There was the homosexual, the feminist, the token hijabi. And, of course, no group of Muslims can possibly gather without having in our midst, an ‘extremist’. This role was carried out with authentic truculence by Abdul Haqq, a former boxer and revert to Islam. Reading about the show beforehand I couldn’t help but hear David Attenborough’s mellifluous tone in my head.

“Here, here, here, in the blustery wilds of the north of England, a group of fascinating and colorful Muslimae Reduciae are seen fighting over onions in this rare footage…”

Then came the first of several (not unpleasant) surprises. The series opened quietly, even spiritually. In tight close-up, each housemate recited a line from Al Fatihah. It was powerful to watch ‘The Opening’ of the Holy Qur’an recited with the English translation running beneath. Who thought that in such dark times, the opening of the Islamic prayer would be slowly played on BBC2 for British viewers to absorb free from external comment.

However, Abdul Haqq allowed himself to be a tool of predictability and producers began their fun and games. Mehran, is a pretty teacher whose false eyelashes and fitted clothing hide only her piety. She sat nervously at the kitchen table and in walked Haqq. Rather shyly, he handed out leaflets about the dangers of ‘free mixing’ making clear his preference for separate seating areas for men and women. The following day he had leaflets on how women are expected to dress which he shared with Mehren. As the days progressed, Mehren refused to take the easy option of yelling at Haqq or reveling in hurt feelings. Instead, she showed polite restraint and the two, agreed to disagree in a way that showed some maturity and probably frustrated producers no end.

Openly gay Fehran chose for his suggestion of a daily event to invite a fellow gay couple to meet everyone. Predictably, Haqq left the room, so as not to be near his version of a spiritual nemesis, muttering something about throwing gays off the roof under his breath.

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