A gay Muslim, a non-practising Muslim, a Salafi convert to Islam and a Syrian refugee who happens to be Muslim. These were the variety of voices, lifestyles and belief patterns of Muslims, which were held together by prayer and belief in the Prophethood of Muhammad. 'Muslims Like Us' was testament to the super diversity that make up Muslim communities, though at points it seemed to focus on Abdul Haq and his pre-occupation with brittle and extreme views of what it meant to be a Muslim. Yet, even the documentary managed to portray a human side to him which is the reality of life, the fact that some of the most misguided in society are in fact human beings with emotions, vulnerabilities and feelings, which is not to support their views but to observe a variety of elements within a human being which may draw in others.
What is of use within this 'fly on the wall' documentary is not so much how the group interacted. Of greater significance is the fact that it shows the pluralism within Muslim communities and it also led to a melt-down in the minds of anti-Muslim bigots who think and portray Muslims as a single mass of people, who think and act the same. In fact, this very notion is the cornerstone of much of the anti-Muslim bigotry that is thrown around in social media and in the real world, as though Muslims think, act and work in tandem for some kind of 'Sharia take-over' of this tiny island we all call home.
The project therefore challenged this and what was telling was the way that Twitter accounts of the likes of Tommy Robinson went into meltdown as the programme challenged his world view of Muslims being threatening. To tail it off, who could feel threatened seeing males hugging and calling each other 'bears' with a care and affection that drew us all in. You see, by challenging pre-conceived notions of Muslims being uniform in their belief and practice in Islam and in highlighting huge differences in what it meant to be a Muslim, social constructs around anti-Muslim bigotry seemed to fall like the walls of Jericho as the programme progressed.
For us within Tell MAMA, anything that challenges stereotypical and lazy views about Muslims is to be welcomed. This not only challenges the views of anti-Muslim bigots, it also challenges those who hold views similar to Abdul Haq and who believe that Islam and Muslims must behave and act in a specific manner or they are not deemed to be Muslim. In both the former and the latter, authoritarian constructs and power dynamics mean that they are probably driven by brittle and black and white views of life, when we all know that life is mostly lived in the 'grey zone' of trial, error, happiness or sorrow or just more indifference.
We hope that more such documentaries are made in the future which are more challenging. The last thing we need is for authoritarian zealots of any kind to pigeon hole people and communities into specific parameters, as though we are robots means to be following the same path to God. The reality is that even though some may call themselves Muslims, their belief in Islam may range from the personal and the introspective, through to the public and at times, aggressive. This is the reality and the craziness of life and where we find ourselves. This programme was a start in that process and we say - "bring on the rest."