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Can I Make You A Muslim?

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Having spent an hour this evening repeatedly smacking my hand against my forehead whilst watching a documentary on some random American Doomsday cult, I found the same hand twitching slightly when, straight afterwards, I witnessed an advert for an upcoming Channel 4 production called: Make Me A Muslim. What is it with Channel 4 and quirky shows about religion? They obviously know what draws the punters in.

Here are a few details I found about the show on the C4 microsite, and in a Guardian article published in November:

Can Islam help repair the moral fabric of British society? To test it out, Imam Ajmal Masroor asks six non-Muslims and one lapsed Muslim to follow Islamic teachings for three weeks. The six come from Harrogate, in Yorkshire, a town with very few ethnic minority inhabitants. [Channel 4]

Among the characters who explore the religion are a mixed race couple, one of whom is a lapsed Muslim, a gay hairdresser, an atheist taxi driver with a porn habit, and a glamour model who enjoys flashing on her nights out. Helping them are Muslim mentors guiding them in the dos and don’ts of the religion. Broadly speaking, these include a ban on pork products, alcohol, immodest outfits, sex outside marriage and homosexuality… [The producer, Narinder] Minhas says he was tired of watching “po-faced” programmes about Islam and, always on the hunt for hybrids, wanted to turn religion into factual entertainment. [The Guardian]

I will start with optimism, which was a trait loved by our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): even with the wacky premise, I am sure there are many positive aspects to such programming for Muslims in Britain; as I mentioned in an earlier entry, when it comes to Muslims in the media, all news should be treated as good news. In addition, it bodes well for the image of Islam that a real imam (who I will automatically assume is the kind that we would all be proud to have in our local masjid, insha’Allah) is involved in this particular production.

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But…

Oh yes, there had to be a “but”.

Doesn’t this all seem a tad superficial, and even… tacky? To herd together a bunch of people who would clearly have issues with the stance that Islam takes on certain aspects of their personal lives (as if Islam is the only moral authority that looks down on pornography, homosexuality and glamour modelling), and force them to live like Muslims for three weeks – that’s just asking for trouble. But trouble is the magic ingredient that leads to higher viewer ratings, greater profits from advertising revenues, and more attention for the producers and broadcasters (yes, the irony of this entry does sting a little, if you’re wondering).

Besides, Islam is not about the praying, and the fasting, and the general abstinence from harmful activities, such as drinking, gambling and adultery. It is not about the hijab. Islam is not about the Shariah. These are simply the things we should or should not do as Muslims. Islam is the belief in the oneness of God, and that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the messenger of God. It involves our acceptance of God’s status over us, and recognition of our obligations to Him. These obligations do include the acts of worship, and the regulation of our behaviour – but they are firmly rooted in the faith we have in the oneness of God: Tawheed. Without Tawheed, we are not Muslims. We may be “good people” in the eyes of others because of our morals and manners – but not Muslims.

Wrt the position of the Shariah in Islam, I am reminded of the words of the Prophet’s beloved wife, Ayesha (may Allah be pleased with her), when describing the order in which the Qur’an was revealed:

“(Be informed) that the first thing that was revealed thereof was a Sura from Al-Mufassal, and in it was mentioned Paradise and the Fire. When the people embraced Islam, the Verses regarding legal and illegal things were revealed. If the first thing to be revealed was: ‘Do not drink alcoholic drinks’ people would have said, ‘We will never leave alcoholic drinks,’ and if there had been revealed, ‘Do not commit illegal sexual intercourse, ‘they would have said, ‘We will never give up illegal sexual intercourse.'” [Al-Bukhari]

I love this narration because it clearly illustrates the wisdom that Ayesha was blessed with. She realised that although the Shariah is an important aspect of Islam, it is not the be all and end all, and that taken alone, it can even be quite off-putting to those who do not have a firm foundation in the faith; the foundation that is built on the love of Allah, hope for His reward, and fear of His punishment.

Of course, for those Muslims who already have this foundation, the Shariah must be respected and upheld. But I wonder whether forcing six non-Muslims (and one “lapsed” Muslim) to observe the practices of “devout” Muslims will bring them any closer to Islam, or will it push them even further away? Especially considering the “colourful” profiles of the panel of volunteers they have gathered. And what about the viewers? The programme may help them to understand the Islamic way of life, but I fear it will be more of an exercise in cultural acceptance, rather than a journey towards seeking the truth. It all depends on how well Islam is explained by the “mentors”; you cannot expect anyone to change their way of life overnight – or even in three weeks – if their hearts have not been moved by the message of Islam.

Saying all this, it is obvious from the Guardian article that the intent of the producers was not Dawah in the strictest sense, but rather “factual entertainment”. Even so, I am still confident that it will serve this purpose on some level, even if it be by simply encouraging more water-cooler talk on the topic of Islam; thus, it is important not to get too side-tracked by the exact content and format of such shows, but rather, to see them as potential ice-breakers to help us spread the real message of Islam to the people around us, insha’Allah.

For this reason alone, even with my early reservations, I would actually suggest that we encourage our non-Muslim acquaintances to tune into Channel 4 with us this Sunday evening at 8pm – just be prepared to do a lot of explaining afterwards – but that’s the fun part!

Update: Read my complete review of “Make Me A Muslim”.

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Dr Mehzabeen b. Ibrahim joined MuslimMatters as a blogger in late 2007 under the handle 'iMuslim', whilst still a struggling grad student. Since then, she has attained a PhD in Molecular Biology and a subsequent Masters in Bioinformatics, and now works as a specialist in this field for a well-known British, medical charity, masha'Allah. Somewhere in between she found the time to get married, alhamdulillah. She likes to dabble in photo and videography, a sample of which can be found on her personal blog: iMuslim.tv.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Yunus Yakoub Islam

    December 14, 2007 at 2:46 AM

    You’re too generous. When I first read about this programme in the Guardian media, my response was simple. C4 have a right to make what programmes they want, but I also have the right to say, I don’t want my faith represented in this way.

    http://muslimmagic.wordpress.com/2007/11/20/the-series-owes-more-to-wife-swap-than-dispatches/

  2. ibnabeeomar

    December 14, 2007 at 3:22 AM

    looks interesting.. reminds me of this book i have been wanting to read called the year of living biblically about a guy who tries to follow the bible literally for a year

    (link)

  3. Aboo Uthmaan

    December 14, 2007 at 5:18 AM

    Doomsday cult, Ha! When Doomsday came and the apocalypse didn’t happen they just moved the date back by two months, LOL! Did it not look like to you that someone else was staring through their eye sockets?

    As for “Make me a Muslim”, I remember seeing a similar experiment done on American TV, all in all it was relatively positive. From what I have seen so far of the trailers for Channel 4’s attempt then I fear it is just going to be depicting Islam in a bad light with the usual stereotypes coming to play. But let’s wait and see…

  4. Moiez

    December 14, 2007 at 8:42 AM

    Is this channel 4 UK?

  5. Amad

    December 14, 2007 at 9:56 AM

    I believe there was a program indeed (I think it was also on youtube) where some hillbilly was sent to live with a decent Muslim family. I think there was some positive spin in that one, if I remember correct… esp. the fact that the guy quit his Shia advisor in a hurry :)

    I would be more pessimistic than optimistic about anything that emanates from Channel 4 (yes Moeiz, UK). Even in their positive spin, I reckon it is about promoting some liberal, regressive version of Islam.

  6. iMuslim

    December 14, 2007 at 10:02 AM

    Yunus: Perhaps i am being too generous, but i’d rather reserve full criticism (if it is warranted) until i see the whole show. Often the pre-broadcast hype about these things is worse than the programme itself – just a way to pique public interest, and get people to tune in.

    ibnabeeomar: i wonder which part he chose to follow – OT or NT?

    Aboo Uthmaan: i guess you watched the same show… they did have a very strange look in their eyes… freaked me out!

    Moiez: yes, Channel 4 UK. :)

  7. iMuslim

    December 14, 2007 at 10:11 AM

    Amad: i remember that programme… it was presented by that guy who did the McDonald’s diet… forget his name now. From what i remember, that was a good show simply because he lived with the family, and in the Muslim community – it helped to humanize Muslims for those Americans who don’t have a clue about us, i suppose. Btw, i’m not sure he deserved the term “hillbilly”! He was a Christian… was married, with a baby. :)

    In this case, i’m not sure how the volunteers will be immersed in Islam… i’m actually glad you reminded me of the US show, because it gives me hope that the Channel 4 production won’t be as bad as i thought, insha’Allah! We’ll see.

  8. Pingback: Can I Make You A Muslim? « iMuslim

  9. SrAnonymous

    December 14, 2007 at 10:25 AM

    Channel 4 does happen to have a very awesome microsite on hajj
    http://www.channel4.com/culture/microsites/H/hajj/indd_video.html
    Also Channel 4’s evening news is highly rated. Its highly respected anchor journalist, Jon Snow endorsed Moazzam Begg’s, “Enemy Combatant”

    They’ve always had a knack for the niche.

    Back in its early days, in the 80’s it would air niche sports barely heard of in Europe, like the punjabi sumo like game of “kabaddi” and a kind of rugby for wimps called American Football.

  10. Muneeb

    December 15, 2007 at 3:27 PM

    Does it matter whether you are a Muslim or not before following a certain commandment of Allah?

    At the end of the day it’s the teachings which are to be followed and their affect in this world, at an individual and a collective level, are to be learnt.

    isn’t it so?

  11. Dawud Israel

    December 15, 2007 at 10:09 PM

    -sigh-

    Yet again, here I am again making a weak plug trying to recruit Muslims who are interested in film-making…if only…

    http://www.forums.ummahfilms.com

    :(

  12. Pingback: muslimmatters.org » Review of “Make Me A Muslim”

  13. Pingback: Review of “Make Me A Muslim” « iMuslim

  14. iMuslim

    December 17, 2007 at 9:55 AM

    SrAnonymous: i remember kabaadi! That was crazy… and *wink* at the American Football jibe. :D

    Muneeb: it’s a bit much to expect non-Muslims to live according to Islam, when Muslims themselves can find it difficult! Plus my point was not that the laws of Shariah are not beneficial, but rather there is little benefit in forcing people to follow them, when they don’t have the foundation of Islam.

    Dawud: i find it amazing that you have trouble recruiting! Not sure if a UK bird as myself is any help, but let me know anyway… :)

  15. Sumera

    December 17, 2007 at 3:50 PM

    “Interesting” is the only word coming to me so far in relation to the programme

    Part 2 on today with final part on tomorrow.

    If you missed it you can watch it on C4 On Demand.

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