Thought that Channel 4′s ‘Make me a Muslim’ was a bad idea…??? (read my previous entry on the show here)
Thought that Muslim ‘Wife Swap’ was a terrible experiment that was even worse than expected…???
Well now – and I admit, it’s a little late in reaching the blog – but the Islam Channel is launching a new interfaith quiz entitled, “Faith Off” (if the press release is correct, it should be on air now…!!!). Here’s how the Channel describes the show:
A new TV game show seeks to broaden the public’s knowledge of religion, and to foster understanding between different faiths.
Faith Off is to be broadcast weekly on the Islam Channel from mid-June.
It will be hosted by Muslim comedian Jeff Mirza, and will involve contestants from six major faith groups, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism.
Contestants will be divided into two teams of four, and will be tested on both general and religious knowledge.
Specialist rounds, in a nod to popular sports quiz show ‘A Question of Sport’, include ‘home or away’, where contestants can choose to answer questions on their own religion or a different religion, and ‘guess the religious personality’, with contestants having to identify high profile religious figures such as the Pope and the Dalai Lama based on blurred or difficult to see pictures.
The show aims to be great fun with a serious purpose.
On the fun side, it will include all the traditional elements of a TV quiz show – loud push buzzers, flashing lights, contestants from the general public.
On a more serious note, the show aims to educate the general public about different religious traditions, and to promote understanding between diverse groups of people.
Before each programme is filmed, contestants spend two hours together getting to know each other.
So why is it such a bad idea…??? Well it ‘nods’ to A Question of Sport for a start, but even going beyond that, the idea of a ‘guess the religious personality’ round seems desperately flawed from the start. I mean, apart from the Dalai Lama and the Pope (both of whom the press release identifies as examples), who else is there that fits this billing – Cliff Richard, Osama Bin Laden…???
And what about Buddhist and Sikh ‘religious personalities’ – do they even exist ???
Maybe the show will go for A Question of Sport’s picture board round where pictures of different religious figures are shown. Then again, if the show offers a picture of the Prophet Muhammad it could be that angry mobs taking to the street will conjure a whole new Satanic Verses affair/ Danish cartoons furore, something the show obviously doesn’t want to achieve.
What really irritates me about this show however is the fact that it states that the show has a ‘serious side’. Why…? Why does it need to…?? Does A Question of Sport feel the need to do have a ‘serious side’ or is a quiz show just about having ‘fun’…???
The problem with many ‘Muslim’ initiatives is that they limit themselves and their creativity – not wanting to push the ‘norms’ that a few impose on the rest in the communities or not wanting to go against the increasingly farcical Government agenda, namely that ‘interfaith’ is good and that people from different faiths/ backgrounds need to come together (click here to read the Government’s latest interfaith strategy).
Believing that a ‘fun’ quiz show that includes “loud push buzzers, flashing lights, contestants from the general public” (I’m almost wetting myself in anticipation) has a value in being able to do this is as misguided as it was for those individual Muslims that entered either ‘Wife Swap’ or ‘Make me a Muslim’.
Why do I say that this is misguided…am I being a bit harsh?
Well no because what seems to have been overlooked by the organisers of the show is that it is only going to be shown on the Islam channel: a channel that I would suggest has viewers from ONE community, i.e. the MUSLIM community. How then, despite the press release suggesting otherwise, is the show to bring people together…???
Maybe – just maybe – it is about time that Muslims step out from underneath the comfort and relative safety of the ‘interfaith blanket’ and begin to be ‘normal’, ‘fun’ and ‘serious’ with the wider public and not just an isolated few within their own community.
“Faith Off”…? Maybe that’s just mis-spelt…!!!
Here’s my version of the January column that I pen for the Birmingham Post. Not too original, but had a bit of writer’s block (or was it because I forgot to write it…?). Something like that anyway…
Happy New Year. I hope 2008 brings with it all that you want or at the very least, one or two nice things.
Looking back, 2007 wasn’t the best. Dwelling on the past though is not something I do, although as I get older – and increasingly closer to meeting my creator – looking back is sometimes much more comforting than looking forward…!!!
Yet some things never change and with the arrival of the new year comes this year’s first Big Brother incarnation: ‘Celebrity Hijack’. Instead of celebrities humiliating themselves a la Jade Goody, Jo O’Meera and Danielle Lloyd last year, this year we have the joy of watching a gaggle of ‘talented’ wannabees being humiliated by a range of different ‘celebrity big brothers’ ultimately playing god.
Giving in to my baser instincts, I succumbed to watching the ‘housemates’ arrive. In doing so I was sadly greeted by Little Britain’s Matt Lucas systematically humiliating ‘John’ – the Chairman of the Scottish Youth Parliament and the first teenager ever to be appointed to this position or so the Big Brother website tells me – crawl on the floor, stroke various housemates, claim to play the kazoo and repeatedly say ‘cake’. All – I hasten to add – causing me to go into convulsions of hysterical laughter (well, snigger). Seeing poor ‘John’ put through this humiliation reminded me of George Galloway. There was never going to be any good come out of him pretending to drink milk from Rula Lenska’s hand like a kitten. George, it’s you who is to blame.
No doubt ‘Celebrity Hijack’ will draw in the audiences, encouraging a thousand other television producers to run out and find the next willing and able ‘contestants’ to take part in another new ‘reality tv’ show (a concept that must surely be challenged under the trade descriptions act sometime soon).
In turn, this will initiate another batch of young hopefuls, hoping to establish their ‘celebrity’ status by falling in love, getting married, getting divorced, falling in love, getting married etc in the public gaze. No reference to Kerry Katona intended.
Reality tv though can be extremely damaging and what seems a good idea at the start – even though I’m sure that no-one can still be this naïve – can backfire on you. Take for instance Channel 4’s recent ‘Make Me a Muslim’ series, shown shortly before Christmas it was meant to challenge people’s perceptions about Islam and to show how living ‘like a Muslim’ would be beneficial for British society. Instead, over three nights the series merely reinforced and confirmed all their worse fears. Quite spectacularly, it encouraged Muslims to do it themselves.
Two years ago I wrote here in the Post about the misconceptions that people had about Islam, particularly about how there was no fun to be had by Muslims. Written during Islam Awareness Week it coincided with the launch of the city’s Unity FM and the weekly radio show that I co-hosted with my good friend Musab (going under the highly original title, ‘The Chris & Musab Show’). What I was trying to challenge with this piece were all the things that ‘Make Me a Muslim’ reinforced and confirmed, more worryingly to a much wider audience. So much for my good intentions.
What then did the show achieve? What misconceptions did it challenge? Not much in all honesty and I’m certain that it neither helped to ‘Make a Muslim’ nor to put the ‘fun back into fundamental’. Instead – and as with all reality tv – what it achieved in ‘reality’ was merely to reinforce the very things that it was devised to (allegedly) challenge.
My new year’s hope (rather than resolution) then for 2008 is that we finally see the quick but extremely painful death of ‘reality tv’ along with all its celebrities and celebrity wannabees (and wannabee wannabees also). And so to paraphrase the late Edwin Starr’s anthem ‘War’, all together now ‘reality tv’ “what is it good for? Absolutely nothing…”. I’ll say that again. Have a great year.
What’s worse…the demonisation of Muslims through the media or Muslims demonising themselves through the media?
I’ve just watched Channel 4′s latest offering, ‘Make me a Muslim’ and cannot believe that there are people that think that this will be of some benefit. Let’s stop crowing on about the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, forget about the attacks led by Panorama and Dispatches, this is far worse. This is because programmes such as these and the equally disastrous Muslim ‘Wife Swap’ are justified by those involved as:
i. they want to challenge the misconceptions that exist about Islam and/or Muslims;
ii. they see it as an opportunity for dawah
Are these people stupid? All these programmes do in reality is to reinforce the very things that they set out to (allegedly) challenge and in no stretch of the imagination can they ever begin to change people’s perceptions of Islam/Muslims let alone soften their hearts to the religion of Islam.
Want evidence of this? where do you want me to start?
Well first off, Ajmal Masroor began by stating:
“some of the participants think that Islam is all about taking things away…this is not true”
So what then did ajmal and his ‘mentors’ then do? They went to each of the contestant’s – they’re not called ‘contestants’ but let’s face it, that’s what they are – houses and stripped out all that was ‘forbidden’. And so here goes in no particular order:
No Daily Sport (“something much more troubling…” than alcohol…a contraband !!!)
No glamour modelling (“that is something that you cannot do” – said after one of the mentors asked disgustedly, “is that what you do?)
No Nuts magazine
No nudity (“don’t open the door on that kind of thing…”)
No “physical contact” is allowed (despite Mohammed the mentor touching two different women and going out onto the street to randomly look for a “beautiful woman” who can help the gay hairdresser participant with “cleaning and supporting” him as a wife)
“No sex, no touching…”
No skimpy outfits (“you cannot wear this out…it’s not covering the areas”)
No alcohol (especially £200 per week on vodka)
No men’s magazines
No hardcore pornography
No make-up for men
No “ladies clothes” for men (especially fairy dresses for 7-8 year olds from Asda and red frilly thongs)
No “pig meat” (it’s unclean)
No toad in the hole (“we don’t dig on swine”)
No pink clothes for men
No friends with women
Now I’m not advocating any of these but if you’re stating that you want to challenge the view that Islam is not about “taking things away”, going around and ‘taking things away’ is something of a contradictory start point.
But it wasn’t just this, there were also some real gems of wisdom: gems that no doubt went a long way to really changing the ‘misconceptions’ of Islam and Muslims held by the wider British public. And so we had:
On rape – “the woman is inviting it by wearing something that is [like that - a red 'tankini' I believe they're called]“
On homosexuality – “if you keep in the company of females you will want to behave like them all the time” (do women really do this sort of thing when they’re alone?)
Again on homosexuality – “when the Almighty created Adam and Eve, he didn’t create Adam and Steve” (one of Alan Partridge’s finest lines)
On how to ‘cure’ homosexuality – “you change the desire that you have now to another desire as well” (so does that mean that you can be bisexual given the ‘as well’?)
On modesty – “you should not be wearing very tight fitting clothes” and “skirts to the ankle” (even though mentor Dawn was wearing tight fitting jeans when she took one of the contestants on a shopping trip to an ‘Asian’ clothes shop in Bradford – well that’s another stereotype challenged then !!!)
On what to wear – “those men who imitate the females are cursed” (whilst Suleyman was wearing what from a ‘Western’ perspective looked remarkably like a dress over pyjama bottoms…!!!)
On Islamic style tips – covering “will keep Kerry [a contestant] out of trouble”
On masculinity – “if you dress like a man you feel like a man” (Suleyman chooses clothes that to me makes the gay hairdresser look like a shop-assistant from WH Smith, nice. For Suleyman he looked like a teacher)
On the hijab – “it’s for protecting yourself” (???)
Given that this took up more than 40 minutes of the show, when the contestants were taught to pray this took less than 3. All the contestants were given a prayer mat with a compass on it pointing towards Makkah and told to follow their ‘imam’. they were then given a calendar\with Arabic on it and told that prayer was required five times a day.
Good balance between what Muslims do and don’t do.
So what did the first episode of ‘Make me a Muslim’ do for Muslims? What misconceptions did it challenge? What was it’s dawah value?
All that came out of this appalling piece of superficial television was that it showed how a group of four Muslims justified the lure of the television cameras by convincing themselves that this would be a useful vehicle for challenging some of the stereotypes and misconceptions about Islam and Muslims as well as introducing Islam (dawah) to a wider audience.
In reality what came out was that Islam is an entirely and inherently prescriptive faith. That it is soul-less and without spiritual conviction. That Muslims are completely dogmatic and intolerant as well as being superior, smug, self serving and arrogant (something that also came out of the infamous Muslim ‘Wife Swap’). And that there is little fun, humour or enjoyment in Islam (btw, the only funny thing was when one of the mentors said ‘assalam alaykum’ to the large photo of the naked woman on the taxi driver’s bedroom wall). All this and it’s only the first of three episodes…and let’s not even start down that route where the Muslim participants say that there were duped into the programme and that they were edited inappropriately!!!
As I say, it’s not that I necessarily endorse any of the things that were deemed ‘prohibited’ in the programme but I am genuinely sick of having to field questions from people who have seen these programmes and become even more confused by what they see. All I can do is say that the people involved with these programmes and the Islam that they adhere to (as well as those involved in terrorism, extremism and oppressing women amongst others that generate questions from wider society) is completely different to that version of Islam that I personally am aware of. This is not to say that I want everyone to be like me, far from it, but when you’re challenged so many times by other Muslims around you, there is a point where you have to ask who it has got it wrong?