One of the most interesting and thought provoking television programmes that I’ve watched for a while is the BBC2 production that aired last week called Muslims Like Us.
This was a 2 part fly on the wall documentary where five female and five male Muslims from different races were taken to York to live in a house together for 10 days.
My Religious Views
Before I go further I’ll tell you how I stand on religion. I was brought up as a protestant, but was thrown out of my Sunday school class at 7 because as a realist I didn’t believe the bible stories and questioned how they could be true. I didn’t respect any religion until I was 13 and only changed because of what a new religious education teacher said. That the bible was a book of legends written to help people lead better lives. I got that and think that the Quran was written for the same purpose.
Over the years I have never seen or heard anything that can make me believe that there is any god. So I am still an atheist, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t respect other people’s beliefs and right to believe what they want. I am interested in different religions and other cultures but not for myself. I have no intention of disrespecting Islam or any other religion in this article, I want to understand and am just relating the thoughts that I have about the TV programme.
Muslims Like Us
As the 10 housemates arrived I felt that they were a very likeable group of people except for one of them. It became obvious very quickly that one of the men, Abdul Haqq who was very vocal in his intrpretation of being a Muslim was going to be trouble. He is retired champion British boxer Anthony Small who converted to Islam 11 years ago. You could almost tell that he was a convert because of his over zealous views, rather like some people who manage to quit smoking and how they annoyingly lecture smokers – I stopped smoking 7 years ago and hope I don’t do that!
Mr Haqq wasn’t happy to be mixing with women who were unrelated to him and handed all of his housemates leaflets saying that they should separate the sexes. His housemates politely took the leaflets and remained polite when he kept himself separate from the other 9 at the dinner table. Another thing that Abdul didn’t like was that one of the men is gay, though the rest of them seemed totally fine with it.
He tried to get his housemates to go out on the streets of York preaching Islam to ‘non believers’ and handing more leaflets out. Most of them refused once they read his leaflets, they did not agree with his radical version of Islam and that made me feel glad that they weren’t like this man. Three of the women in the house were wearing western dress without head coverings so he later handed more leaflets out to his housemates telling them that the women should have their heads covered, when really the Quran says that women should dress modestly.
One of the good things that I didn’t know about Islam until last year when several Muslims came to work with me is the importance of charity to them. The group all went to a kitchen to help feed the homeless, of course Abdul Haqq spent his time trying to convert people with his views of Islam. Most of the housemates went on a night out to a Karaoke bar, it was good to see them having fun in a relaxed way and you don’t have to drink to do that.
Four British people from York spent the last few days with the housemates and some of their questions about Islam sparked off disagreements amongst the housemates. Perhaps because they all practiced Islam to a different degree and some were more tolerant than others. An argument broke out between Abdul Haqq and one of the young women because she is a Shiite Muslim and the rest of the group were Sunni Muslims. Abdul would not say that it was wrong to kill a Shiite and the young lady was quite shaken by that.
I learned some things from this programme. In the main that this random group of Muslims had different levels of commitment to their religion and different ways of worshipping, just like Christians really. Some of the group respected British values, some didn’t.
I don’t think that the 10 in the house were truly representative of the Muslim population in this country, certainly not the 5 women. I say that because most of the Muslim women that I know and see about my town wear Muslim garb, cover their heads, aren’t as integrated and wouldn’t mix with men as freely or go to a bar. Their menfolk or families wouldn’t allow it, but then the young men that I work with hide from their families that they go to bars sometimes with the rest of the staff.
I wrote more about Abdul Haqq than any of the others because he stood out so much with his distorted views. I was pleased that most of his housemates disagreed with him, either politely or rolling their eyes when he spoke. Men like him are the stereotypical radicalised Muslims who belong in the dark ages – or Saudi Arabia. When he lectures others he sounds pretty ignorant and as if he doesn’t always know what he is talking about. I wondered if he had suffered too many blows to the head in his boxing years. He is the sort of Muslim who inspired the phrase Islamaphobia, a fear of Islam. I don’t think that there is a general fear of Islam, more like a fear of dangerous men like him.
Most of the housemates seemed pretty integrated, which is what we need. I don’t think that some Muslims want to integrate and take on Western values, but I saw a lovely ray of hope for the future today at the pool. I was resting between lengths and an Asian Muslim boy aged about 10 stopped to speak to me – an elderly English woman – excitedly about swimming for several minutes. If he continues to be friendly with people from other cultures he will do far better when he grows up than those who don’t, no matter what race or culture they come from, that’s what I think anyway.
Just a little footnote. As I mentioned today’s swimming session I’ll say that the first part of my swim was during the regular women and children under 8 session which is mostly Asian women and their children. The pool staff put a tape on that was totally Christmas songs. I don’t think that it is too PC of me to say that putting non stop Christmas songs on when the majority of swimmers are Muslim was a bit inconsiderate. If it was the other way round I wouldn’t want to listen to Asian songs while I swim.