Why BBC2’s ‘Muslims Like Us’ has got people talking
Muslims Like Us is a two-part BBC2 programme documenting ten British Muslims living under one roof. Soraya Ali and Mira Mookerjee give us their opinions and try to pin down just what’s got everyone talking about the programme.
“The show beautifully captured the struggles British Muslims and immigrants face daily…”
The cast includes a gay Muslim man, a Syrian student and some non-traditional Muslim women. The most controversial character is Abdul Haqq, formerly, Anthony Small who converted to Islam and holds extremist views. The show beautifully captured the struggles British Muslims and immigrants face daily. Viewers witnessed cast members dealing with discrimination and Islamaphobia.
Syrian student, Barra, came face-to-face with a member of the far-right group the English Defence League (EDL). He hugged him, shook his hand, and told him that he also hated ISIS and was just here to study saying, “I’m on your side, I’m not here to spread Islam, and I’m not here to take peoples jobs or scare them.” However, one of Barra’s housemates was not happy with his kind approach towards a member of a fascist party. He revealed that members of his family and his own wife had been subject to assaults from similar individuals.
Another example happened after housemate Mehreen volunteered at a soup kitchen. She sat down with two locals who told her immigrants were partly to blame for their situation. She calmly replied “if it wasn’t for the immigrants I wouldn’t be here serving your lunch today.” These moments reflected a recurring conflict amongst many Muslims. Should they kill them with kindness, as the expression suggests. Or, is this too great a challenge when the discrimination is so prevalent in today’s society.
Sadly, some viewers may only remember the extremist comments of Abdul Haqq. He asked that the men and women be separated in the house, refused to make eye contact with the females and handed out leaflets suggesting they cover their bodies. Some critics have defended Haqq’s involvement deeming it necessary to represent all sides of Islam. Nevertheless, it was a risky move for the BBC who have often been criticised for providing unnecessary amounts of balance within their stories. I defend Haqq’s involvement in the show, when looking at it in a certain way. To me, Haqq was only one of 10 Muslim housemates who held such radical views. This should reflect the fact that with the global Islamic community, it is only a small minority who share his ideology. However, the sensationalised few often receive the most publicity.
We witnessed this when Abdul Haqq took to the streets of York to spread his view of Islam. This gained the attention of locals who argued with him and asked “is it okay in your religion for me to wear my top like this?” Meanwhile, the other Muslim housemates went about their daily activities. They also stated that most of Haqq’s views were based on false information and specific interpretations of holy texts. This scene should therefore show viewers that the extremists you see on the news are not the true Muslims of Britain.
The Daily Mail rated the show 0 stars. Their review focused mainly on the involvement of Abdul Haqq and the extremist comments. To them it was “bigoted” and “nasty” version of Islam, which was only perpetuated by their skewed review. The publication has previously been accused of spreading Islamaphobia, most notably when they released cartoons comparing refugees to rats, a tactic once used in Nazi propaganda against Jews.
When they watched Muslims Like Us, they saw only the bad. It reflected their worst Muslim nightmare coming true on their screens. To me, it represented some hard-to-watch moments and conversations we should be having as a society. Undoubtedly, the first episode of Muslims Like Us was controversial to say the least.
Like Soraya, my overall view of those who took part in Muslims Like Us and the topics of discussion raised is a positive one. However, what I do feel I can comment critically on is the production of the programme.
Muslims Like Us places ten strangers in a house together for ten days and asks them to discuss some of their most precious views about life and the world. Anyone who’s lived in a house of ten or more, (for those considering it, from me to you, just don’t), will know that housing that many personalities under one roof lays the perfect foundations for unnecessary drama. This is a fact that Big Brother relies on. However, I feel that in our risky modern times manufacturing such an environment and marketing the scenes that take place as a valid reflection of the Islamic faith to the British public is highly questionable. Tension, frustration and anger in such environments are completely understandable. What I disagree with is how some of this anger came across without the time to properly delve into the roots of these reactions. In our modern society, people of colour, women, and particularly Muslims have every right to be angry. But it didn’t feel like enough time was allowed for the debris to settle from heated debates that took place in the house for the participants to comprehensibly articulate their points of view.
“This show only dipped a toe into the depth and diversity of the Muslim communities that live in Britain…”
Another issue I had with the programme was the introduction of the quintessentially ‘British’ people who were curious about the Islamic faith. Although I do not feel that any of this was done with malicious intent, it did feel (to a certain degree) that taking the Islamic participants around York’s landmarks was an attempt to teach them about British culture, which for a group of individuals who grew up in England I found unbelievably patronising. From what the programme chose to air, I do not feel like much Muslim culture was shared with the non-Muslims who took part in the show. It seems as if they were merely dumped in the middle of another narrative that was unravelling situations and stilted conversations that were already underway. I think that a show opening the topic of conversation about Islam and Britishness would have made for interesting viewing, but instead this added dimension hindered the organic topic of discussion that was forming in the house about what it meant to the individuals to be Muslim in modern day Britain. This meant that neither topic of debate was explored in depth and made the resolutions voiced at the end of the show come across as confused.
This show only dipped a toe into the depth and diversity of the Muslim communities that live in Britain, and for that reason, although it opened an important topic of discussion, it came across as rushed. So much more could have been said about these individuals’ personal stories and experiences. I, for one, would be interested in watching more.
Image: Huffington Post