Anyone who watches television, or uses on-line social networks, will know that it has been a contentious week for British Muslims. From the BBC sitcom 'Citizen Khan', which piloted on bank holiday Monday, to Channel 4's 'Islam: The Untold Story' which was broadcast the following day, both Islam and Muslims have come under scrutiny in mainstream entertainment this week. This has given rise to the question- can British Muslims handle this scrutiny, or are they just too sensitive?
I have already discussed in detail the problems with Tom Holland's 'Islam: The Untold Story', which focused on Islam but inevitably affected Muslims with the Islamophobic backlash they received on Twitter and other on-line forums (after they complained on these forums about several significant shortcomings in Holland's approach). 'Citizen Khan' was not short of controversy either, as the BBC reportedly received over 200 complaints the day after the pilot for the sitcom was aired.
Personally, as a Muslim of Pakistani origin, I didn't find 'Citizen Khan' to be disrespectful towards Islam. I did, however, find that it enforced racial stereotypes of Pakistanis, and this is something I found more objectionable than anything else about the show - apart from the fact, of course, that it wasn't all that funny! I feel quite strongly, as do many others, that we cannot move on from racism and prejudice if we keep legitimising racist ideas by exploiting them for the purpose of entertainment. So I found it offensive on a human level. I didn't, however, find it offensive as a Muslim, which a few others seemed to have done. Yes, there are some questionable scenes filmed in a mosque, but that's not to say that nothing untoward ever takes place in our mosques. We live in a society where we have the liberty to discuss and despise the treatment of predatory priests towards choir boys in churches, and so we must be willing to accept that the institution of the mosque is not beyond reproach either.
It's important to make the distinction that this sitcom is ultimately a commentary on the Muslim community, not on Islam, and considering that it probably offers Muslims some much-needed food for thought. Mr. Khan should make us ask ourselves: what are our attitudes towards White converts? His daughter Aliya's character should make us consider: what are our youth really up to these days? And Mrs Khan should make us think: how much importance are we placing on ridiculous things such as gossip in the community? In that sense, Citizen K holds up a mirror to the Muslim community, and if we refuse to look into it, we are not only being arrogant but are proving right the claims of those who say that Muslims are an overly-sensitive, irrational lot who cannot handle any kind of criticism.
It was refreshing to see that a lot of the Pakistani/Muslim demographic on Twitter were in fact not offended by Citizen K at all - some found it funny, others grossly un-funny, but not so many were convinced of it being complaint-worthy. As someone pointed out, if they got several million viewers then a couple of hundred complaints isn't too bad. There were complaints about Tom Holland's documentary as well, but the number of complaints received remains unknown. In response to complaints for both, where on one hand the anti-Muslim bigots came out in all their glory, on the other we saw dogmatic secularists have a good old rant (again) about Muslims not being able to take criticism and not appreciating the importance of freedom of speech in a secular society.
All things considered, do we, as Muslims in the West, need to develop a thicker skin when it comes to our religious sensibilities? Probably; at least if we are to continue living harmoniously in a secular society. Does that mean we should stop speaking out against genuine misrepresentations of Islam or Muslims in the media? Absolutely not; after all, that's what freedom of speech is all about.