Aug 30 2012
OMG! Muslims mocking themselves on TV. Is that halal? Well, at least one Muslim, author of this article, appreciates the self-deprecating humor of ‘Citizen Khan’ and doesn’t find it ‘racist’ or ‘Islamophobic.’
UK DAILY MAIL (H/T Rob E) On Monday night, I laughed out loud as I watched the first episode of BBC1’s new comedy series Citizen Khan, about a Muslim community leader and his family. As someone with the surname Khan — and as a British Muslim who grew up in Nottingham’s Asian community in the Seventies — if anyone was going to be offended by the mickey-taking, surely it would be me.
But no, I loved the sitcom and tweeted my congratulations to its creator and star, Adil Ray, as soon as it finished.
At last, I thought, a home-grown sitcom that allowed British Muslims to laugh at themselves. Good on the BBC for finally realising the comic potential in one of the biggest communities that make up modern Britain. Of course, it’s a shame it took the Beeb 40 years, but it got there eventually.
However, the next day I discovered that my views ran counter to many, who criticised the programme for ridiculing Islam and for containing ‘stereotypes about Asians’. The Twittersphere positively boiled with righteous, religious indignation.
Yesterday the BBC received more complaints from viewers and religious leaders about the first episode. It is believed the number has risen to 600. The comedy is billed as a humorous take on the lives of an ordinary Muslim family living in today’s Britain. However, critics claim it stereotypes Muslims and is ‘disrespectful to the Koran’.
Syed Arshadeem, of the Union of Muslim Organisations of UK and Ireland, said it was important to strike a balance between good comedy and the feelings of the community, but that ‘a large proportion of Muslims will be unamused by the negative stereotypes because it leads to misrepresentation’. One viewer said the programme had ‘ridiculed’ and ‘insulted’ Islam, adding it had been a ‘mocking show’.
Oh, please! Never mind that the programme attracted an audience of almost 3.5 million in a late-night slot — the only thing that some people want to talk about are the clichés, the stereotypes and the insults.
This is most odd, I thought, because I don’t remember the Irish getting so hot and bothered by the TV sitcom Father Ted, which is full of Irish stereotypes.
A certain scene in Citizen Khan seems to have caused particular offence. It was when Mr Khan — the sort of splendidly self-important community leader I recognised instantly — came home, and his glamorous daughter pulled on her headscarf to hide her fully made-up face and started to read the Koran.
Among those who complained, many accused the show’s British Muslim creator of insulting the Koran and demeaning the hijab (the headscarf) and what it stands for.
But that’s nonsense. Muslim girls like this can be found in any big city in Britain. I see them every time I go shopping — gorgeous-looking girls peering out from under their casually draped headscarves. I grew up with many such girls, too. And ironically, these girls were the clever ones.
When I was younger and crashing around — causing no end of family upset by saying I couldn’t see the point in wearing a headscarf and declaring that I wanted to be more British than Muslim — these girls were the smart cookies who realised that life would be easier if they just combined a little Muslim modesty with their otherwise fairly Western lifestyles.
Such girls realised that as long as their father saw them going through the dutiful motions, he would be happy that they had remained loyal to their family traditions. It was this understanding that made the scene so funny. It was so true to real life.
Adil Ray should get full marks for using his childhood and life experiences to such tremendous comic effect.
And there’s so much else that rings true here about the daily life of British Muslims — from Khan’s obsession with saving money to the point that he buys toilet roll in bulk (it’s this sort of trait that makes British Muslims such good businessmen) to Mrs Khan’s preoccupation with what her friends and neighbours will think.
This is British Muslim family life through and through. It’s also interesting — and, more to the point, accurate to much of real life — that Mrs Khan does not always wear the hijab while her daughters are under pressure to do so.
That’s because when the Khan parents came to Britain in the Sixties or Seventies, as mine did, they wanted to embrace the culture of their new home, and so they cast off cultural symbols, such as the hijab, that would obviously single them out as different.
But 40 years on, things have turned full circle — and one of the Khan daughters feels confident enough to want to show her commitment to their Muslim religion.
When a new show is getting even these small details right, it’s clear its makers know exactly what they are talking about. That why the clever team behind Citizen Khan deserve the praise of the British Muslim community — not unsmiling criticism.
Defending the show, the BBC said it had made ‘a very positive start’ and that new comedy always provoked ‘differing reactions’. The characters were comedy creations not meant to represent the community as a whole.
For my part, I’m a fairly secular Muslim these days, but I know my feelings will be shared by many of my friends who embrace our religion more enthusiastically.
Even a former Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, Yousuf Bhailok, said it was ‘the best thing the BBC has done recently’. He added: ‘There is great humour among Muslims. I am glad it has been made.’
The truth is that collectively we’re sick and tired of the fact that every time something news- worthy connected to the Muslim faith happens, some bearded senior man is wheeled out to comment upon it — in normally slightly ominous and always doom-laden tones.
Such an image suggests humour is not something that you associate with British Muslims. But in truth it should be.
Heck, the Irish can laugh at themselves, and so can the Scots, the Welsh and even — thanks to the likes of stand-up comic Michael McIntyre — the English. The Jewish community, of course, are brilliant at laughing at themselves. What is it, though, about the British Muslims — particularly those of Pakistani origin? Are they simply too po-faced to join in?