Having taken part in the part social experiment that was “Muslims like us” I have come to realise that Muslims want to have their cake and eat it. We constantly cry and whinge about lack of representation in mass media, but as soon as Muslims step up to do just that the criticism begins.
Many Muslims complaining that those of us who took part in the show did not reflect what they considered to be an accurate portrayal of British Muslims, expecting all ten of us to be bearded and fully ‘hijabed’ because obviously that’s exactly what the Muslim populace of Britain are like. To them we all wake up for Fajr at the same time and every single Muslim in Britain is a hafiz.
Many non-practicing Muslims were quick to slate women on the program who did not wear hijab or openly practice the faith when they themselves were a reflection of these sisters. It seems as though Muslims expected reincarnations of the sahaba to be headhunted for this BBC2 program and because predictably we fell short, we have been labeled sellouts and conspirators pushing an agenda to normalise ‘Liberal Islam’.
Muslims fail to understand a couple of things. Firstly, had the Muslims on the show all been perfect saints who did no wrong, all practiced the exact same version of Islam and agreed on all issues nobody would have watched the program, because frankly it would have made for boring viewing. Not even British Muslims would have watched a program about perfect Muslims living among each other perfectly whilst doing perfect things. Another reason why such a cast could not be produced is that it would be impossible unless scripted and definitely would not be a realistic portrayal of British Muslims as we are.
I appreciate that I have received some very positive feedback for my contribution to the program, as have one or two others but the reality is that I only stood out because of the chaotic bunch I was in the show with. I can say this with certainty because all the issues I faced in the house are issues I face in the wider community as do many young black Muslims.
I did my utmost best to carry myself with class in the face of hostility and anti-blackness that was prevalent in the house and I have been commended for it. The reality is there is nothing I faced in the house that does not happen in local masjids, in schools and online. Myself and Abdul Haqq were often subjected to aggression and disrespect for daring to have an opinion on aspects of Islam as if we were somehow less worthy of speaking on the religion and when we tried to justify our stances using Quran and sunnah we were called “dominant”.
Time and time again, I was subjected to micro aggressions and casual racism from fellow housemates ranging from being told that Nigerians deserved to be colonised by the English for “not fighting back” (we actually did and gave the English hell) to how Africans should look at the bright side of slavery and colonialism and how the Indians built all the great things in Africa (yes someone said this to me with a straight face). The vast majority of these interactions unfortunately were not featured in the program, due to editing and what people saw was the culmination of it all, in quite possibly the most normal form of conflict in any household, yes, I am talking about onion gate.
For daring to complain about someone using something I bought without my permission (someone who had been provoking me for six days consecutively) and taking umbrage to him being rude to me I was surrounded by almost all the “liberal” south Asian housemates and called aggressive whilst being shouted at and squared up to.
Surrounded, out numbered and abused, at no point did I raise my voice or behave in a threatening manner, yet somehow in the minds of my housemates I was an aggressive bully. For a period of ten days I had to endure this high level of ignorance and many have asked me how I managed to remain calm in such a situation, the truth is simple. This was just another day in the life of a black man in the Muslim and wider community. My proof is in the outpouring of comments from non-black Muslims online who somehow found a way to blame me for the confrontation. The narrative of the “angry black man” is an easy sell it seems.
Very few questioned why the same brother who united an entire household to do act in the way of charity and serve the community by feeding the homeless would lose patience. No excuses made for a black brother who had very much been the mediator of the house.
It reminded me that as Muslims we are only as good as the last thing we did unless our name is Muhammad Ali or Malcolm X. And of course let’s not forget Bilal, every non-black Muslim’s token black friend. In the end I’ve come to the conclusion that the program was a success as many non Muslims from areas where there aren’t an abundance of Muslims have reached out to me to ask for information about Islam and for this I am completely grateful to Allah.
This program was designed to entertain and enlighten, not as a dawah project however wherever there is Islam there will be dawah because that is the beauty of Allah’s religion. Most Muslims I spoke to feared to partake in the program not because of what the editing would do but simply because they feared that no matter how hard they tried to do good, their own community would condemn them.
I took part in this program because I didn’t want to be one of the angry backseat drivers/keyboard scholars that sits and criticises from their armchair. I did not want to watch this program at home and regret not doing it after seeing someone else “let the ummah down” so I stepped up to the plate. Was I perfect? No. But hand on heart I can say I made my best efforts to show Islam, as I know it, in a good light.
Are there better Muslims and representatives than me out there? Absolutely, but I’m not one to wait for someone else to do something for me.
Muslims are quick to hold other people to standards they don’t hold themselves (complaining I didn’t show enough restraint whilst not showing any themselves as they openly slander us) as if we are somehow more obliged to be good Muslims because there is a camera and England is watching. One must remind British Muslims that we are all being watched, not just by cameras but by the One we worship five times a day. If you are more concerned with how Muslims look in front of a camera than with how we all look in front of the King of kings, I do believe you are not in a position to judge anyone and may want to revisit the fundamentals of your religion.