I'm A Muslim, Get Me Out Of Here! Uhuh, that's exactly what I was feeling just minutes into last night's opening episode of Channel 4's Make Me A Muslim...it may as well have been called Jihad Factor, Strictly Forbidden or X-Terrorist.
It seems the contestants learned nothing about the belief structure of Islam or the very personal, spiritual journey of belief in any religion, but simply the superficial, surface elements of being Muslim; how to dress, eat and avoid alcohol. As noted by the Telegraph 'the place of Islam could just as easily have been taken by an Edwardian house or a 1950s school'.
By focusing simply on the outward appearance and behavior of Muslims, the four Imams appeared ridiculously irrelevant to modern life, rapidly alienating pretty much all the participants. In turn the producers managed to contrive situations for maximum conflict...
- Selecting Harrogate as the backdrop - a place which is about as mono-cultural as a British town can get. Why not places of some diversity like London, Manchester or Birmingham?
- Choosing four imams who were unable to give reasoned, non-judgemental, rational theological explanations...and who largely looked that they'd been dressed by Hamas.
- Setting up a gay man with an imam that had zero understanding of homosexuality. Whilst 'Mohammed' prowled the streets of Harrogate trying to hook up the poor guy with a girl, his counterpart setup the hapless fella on a date with a cricket team! Upon being told he dressed too effeminately for a man, he told 'Suleyman' that the shalwar he wore looked kinda like a dress...touché!
- Encouraging a glamour model to shop from Pakistani fashion stores in Bradford to look more 'Islamic', ignoring the fact that most Muslim women in the UK shop from the same places as everyone else!
- Ignoring the plight of a Christian woman involved with a Muslim man who's family refuse to acknowledge her. Here was a story where the potential to overcome bigotry with Islam's tolerance was overlooked in favour of a disingenuous argument on how Muslims are seeking to 'impose' Sharia in 'our' country.
The programme's creators and the imams presented Islam as a mono-cultural experience, ignoring the reality that there's a diversity of beliefs and cultures into which Islam has adapted, including Britain.
Morgan Spurlock's 30 Days - Muslims In America was a much more dignified study of Islam's applicability in the West. David Stacy, a Christian American, lived with an American Muslim family for a month and though he struggled to locate his own theological beliefs within Islam, he found much in common with Islamic family life and the basic humanity of being Muslim.
Both David and the Muslim family came away with dignity and an increased respect for one another's beliefs.
A considered, intelligent, journalistic and respectful tone results in shows like 30 Days. When the motive is conflict, drama and ratings, then you can't expect much more than the crap that was Make Me A Muslim.