Contribution by Maryam Halima Khan. Follow her on Twitter at @MazHalima.
Channel 4 is set to air a three-part series called “Extremely British Muslims,” and British believers of the faith winced at the thought of yet another stereotypical show.
I changed my mind when I watched Part 2 of the documentary, titled “Boys to Men.” Following the lives of young men, Waseem Iqbal and Naveed Ahmed, I breathed a sigh of relief when the program opened to the pair of them singing in a silly auto-tuned voice; big beards, Brown skin, singing like they didn’t have a care in the world. The audience burst into laughter. Maybe this isn’t an eye roll-inducing documentary many Muslims were already expecting.
Waseem and Naveed are immediately introduced as Was and Nav, and I could already relate being someone called Maryam who abbreviates to Maz. It’s the first indication of the pair of them attempting to adapt to a Western society — no one questions or empathizes with the action of a Muslim amending something as significant as their name to adapt, something that happens all the time.
I’m tired of us, Muslims across the globe, having to persuade those too ignorant to attempt to understand anything beyond the main right-wing media outlets they follow that we are, as a whole, normal, friendly human beings.
Following the pair around their hometown of Birmingham, it was endearing to see the kind, young South Asian men I’m so familiar with, being from South London. Just boys being boys. They’re Muslim — they never called themselves perfect. A bunch of them sit in a car, hot-boxing it with a joint with the program producer, Paddy, inside. “This is just a chillin’ car, init?” says one of the young men, mentioning something about a lack of insurance, and not having the key in the ignition for legal reasons. They’re flawed, mischievous… human.
We watch Was and Nav go paint-balling, and I felt something I couldn’t put a finger on. Yes, we are human and enjoy partaking in usual human activities. Duh. What on earth do you think we do all day, sit around in black robes chanting “Death To The West?”
On second thought, don’t answer that. I appreciate the producers urge to humanize these young men — but I’m tired of us, Muslims across the globe, having to persuade those too ignorant to attempt to understand anything beyond the main right-wing media outlets they follow that we are, as a whole, normal, friendly human beings.
What are British values? What do I have to do to show I live by them? Spend more time with the Queen?
We get to see Was take Nav on a charity trip with the Human Relief Foundation to Kos, Greece, helping refugees who travelled across the ocean in rubber boats in a gamble to have a better — hell, just to have a shot at surviving life.
Yes, we are charitable — yes, you could learn from us, the program said quietly. It was reported in 2013 that Muslims are the U.K.’s biggest charity givers. What’s new?
The producer asks Nav how he thinks it is seen, the fact that he cares for Muslims abroad, seemingly neglecting the idea that you can care for the unfortunate in Britain and abroad. Nav looked frustrated. “What are British values? What do I have to do to show I live by them? Spend more time with the Queen?”
I caught the eye of a fellow audience member as our eyes bulged in agreement. What more must we do? Can anyone definitively say what “British values” actually are?
As the program came to an end and Fatima Manji chaired a Q&A, Waseem left us on this note:
“I think I am extremely British and I think I’m extremely Muslim — not like that!” he still felt the need to say, to laughter — “and that is okay.”
Maybe one day that can be the media’s main narrative too.
“Extremely British Muslims” airs on Channel 4 today, on March 2 at 9 P.M. (GMT)