The BBC has received 107 complaints – I’m guessing primarily from Muslims – about an episode of ‘Eastenders‘ that was broadcast in September. In the episode, Albert Square resident, Masood Ahmed (played by Nitin Ganatra) who is also a Muslim was seen eating during the day by Ian and Jane Beale in the month of Ramadan (for those who don’t know what this means, a short explanation about Ramadan is included at the end of this post).
As the BBC reported on their website (click here to read):
The BBC said the scene was supposed to show Massod’s “fallibilities” and did not “represent the entire British-Asian or British Muslim experience”.
“Although Masood is a practising Muslim, he has his own fallibilities as a human being,” it said in a statement.
“He’s a fictional character with flaws who realises he has let himself down in a moment of weakness.
“We would like to assure viewers it was not our intention to insult Muslim or Islamic values.”
First, well done to the BBC for not ‘apologising’. As the BBC put it, the show is about ‘his own fallibilities as a human being’. This is what all soaps are about. If those complaining were to be realistic, without human fallibilities, soaps wouldn’t have story-lines. If you want to complain about fallibilities, then why not complain about the Beales, the Mitchells etc…?
Second, do these complainants really believe that ALL Muslims fast during Ramadan? Walking through the Bull Ring Centre in Birmingham during Ramadan, I stood behind a young Muslim hijabi on the escalator who was eating a bag of Walkers crisps. Whilst the hijab provided an interesting juxtaposition with the crisp during Ramadan, I didn’t see anyone suddenly rushing up to the young hijabi to reprimand her or complain about her behaviour. And quite rightly so. She wasn’t the only Muslim during Ramadan – in the Bull Ring or indeed elsewhere – that didn’t fast. Unsurprisingly, not all Muslims are perfect and indeed, not all of them aspire to be.
Finally, complaining about Muslims being represented as ‘real’ people is a massive faux pas. For years, Muslim groups and various researchers – both Muslim and non – have been trying to construct a clear picture and coherent argument about how the media unfairly and stereotypically represent Muslims and Islam. When the media do then represent what some Muslims do in reality – that they are indeed human – the media are inundated with complaints wanting something else. Suggesting that ALL Muslims fast throughout Ramadan is as inaccurate as suggesting that ALL Muslims are supportive of terrorism.
This raises a handful of questions…
Does this type of representation really distort the religion and practice of Islam?
Does it undermine or negate Islam?
Is it, after many years of negative stereotyping and denigratory representations, a fair and reflective presentation of Muslims being as human as you and I?
Yes. Of course it is.
Since the publication of the Runnymede Trust’s report into Islamophobia in 1997, the reality of Islamophobia has been contested by those that suggest that it is little more than a shield against which fair and accurate criticism is deflected.
Suggesting that Eastenders’ representation is negative, stereotypical or even Islamophobic is farcical and completely unfounded. Continuing to do so will merely provide the detractors and critics of Islamophobia with further evidence against which they will try and undermine the valuable work that those who advocate and champion the addressing of Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination and racism.
Let’s be real. Because for once, the media have.
About Ramadan (reproduced courtesy of Wikipedia)
Ramadan or Ramazan is a Muslim religious observance that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar: the month in which the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. It is the Islamic month of fasting (sawm), in which participating Muslims do not eat or drink anything from true dawn until sunset.
This work by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. Based on a work at www.chris-allen.co.uk.