As a Muslim who does not consider herself overly religious, I looked forward to watching BBC2 documentary Muslims Like Us with great interest. The programme was described, very accurately, I thought, by many as a Big Brother for Muslims. It aired over two nights, Monday 12 and Tuesday 13 December. The first part focused on Islam, while the second part was just about as Big Brother-like as a programme can get without actually being Big Brother, thanks to an argument in the kitchen over a bag of food bought from Sainsburys.
The most positive thing about the programme for me was that the housemates came from all walks of life and from all cultures. From lifelong Muslim Mehreen, whose three favourite words were "like a submarine" when introducing herself, to convert Saba, 76, who was born Hilary, everyone brought their own personalities, and their own interpretations of Islam and levels of practising their religion, to the group.
It is no secret that before the first episode even aired, everyone was talking about Muslims Like Us. This was mainly because of the extreme personal views of housemate Abdul Haqq. He came into the house with a leaflet explaining why Muslim men and women should be segregated, even wanting the housemates to sit on opposite sides of the room, by gender, for their first group discussion. He even refused to shake hands with the female housemates.
As a woman, I strongly disagree with Abdul Haqq's views on gender within Islam. As a liberal Muslim, I strongly disagree with his extremely strict interpretation of the religion, especially considering that he was born Anthony Small and converted from Christianity. However, as a journalist, I fully understand why the BBC chose to include him in the programme. They had to include all sides of opinion.
I started out slightly worried that all the housemates would have similar opinions to Abdul Haqq. I started out slightly worried that the programme would leave non-Muslims thinking that all Muslims have similar opinions to Abdul Haqq. I started out slightly worried that the programme wouldn't represent Muslims like me.
I had nothing to worry about. I instantly liked Mehreen and Naila, who described themselves in the second programme as the 'liberal group.' As Mehreen says in the first programme, the "average, normal, British Muslim person" is in the majority, but "our voice is the least heard." Until Muslims Like Us aired, in the media, that was, sadly, very true.
However, Muslims Like Us made every effort to hear our voice. No housemate agreed with the opinions of Abdul Haqq. No housemate really liked Abdul Haqq. As an average, liberal, British Muslim woman, I sincerely hope that any non-Muslims who watched the programme will realise, after seeing this, that very few Muslims are anything like Abdul Haqq. If the programme achieves this, then the BBC will deserve praise, not criticism, for including Abdul Haqq.
Personally, I was also pleased that the programme included Ferhan Khan, who told the housemates that he is gay. He revealed his opinion, in the first programme, that "being gay and being Muslim are not mutually exclusive." Being gay is against Islam, as it is against all religions, so Ferhan did not get much agreement from the housemates.
However, personally, I see being gay as a difference that cannot be helped. It is a difference that the Asian community, in particular, views very negatively. Muslims Like Us is only the second programme I can remember seeing which has included a gay, Asian Muslim. The programme should be praised for making what might be seen as a brave move, raising awareness of the fact that Muslims can be gay, too.
I came away from the programme very glad that I had watched it. I recommend it highly, to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. I thought it had something for everyone. Every viewer will find something about the programme either enjoyable, educational or both.