in Articles, News December 15, 2016

Muslims Like Us – Where Were The Religious Conservatives?

Like most viewers, I was gripped by the BBC’s Muslims Like Us. Ten British Muslims were put in one house Big Brother-style. Within the first few minutes, most of them had taken against the notorious Islamist Anthony Small, who now calls himself Abdul Haqq.

That gave the programme makers exactly what they wanted. A sharp contrast between thoroughly westernised Muslims who didn’t mind going to a karaoke bar and having a drink or two versus the dogmatic Haqq with his hang ups about segregation and women’s dress.

But this is a false dichotomy. Haqq isn’t just a socially conservative Muslim who believes women should cover up and that gays are un-Islamic. He’s a bit more than that. Haqq has been an associate of the now imprisoned extremist Anjem Choudary and has expressed repugnant opinions about those killed in cold blood by Daesh.

The programme failed to represent those who find it difficult to accept homosexuality and western ideas of gender equality but are in no way sympathetic to violence in the name of Islam. This a sizeable constituency of Muslims who abhor terrorism but wish to follow a very strict form of our faith. This doesn’t make them figures of fun or dangerous – but it places them in a zone between extremists and liberals that Muslims Like Us ignored.

Of course, we want Muslims to respect the British values that poll after poll shows we do indeed support. This includes things like the rule of law, free speech and accepting the religious views of your neighbours. It means rejecting the idea of a violently established caliphate and playing a part in our democracy.

However, don’t force Muslims into a wholesale rejection of everything they hold dear in order to fit in. If a woman chooses to wear the niqab, for example, don’t make her feel she’s now a member of Anthony Small’s gang. I suspect most Muslim women, regardless of how they dress, have no wish to wait hand and foot on the kitchen avoiding Islamists.

Socially conservative Muslims will have laughed along with the rest of us at Small’s infantile take on the words of the Prophet. They will have groaned at his crass references to scripture. But they might also have felt uncomfortable at the lifestyle choices of others in the house. The way Muslims Like Us was framed, it seemed that unless you were a card carrying liberal, then you had to stand on Small’s side of the house. But that’s just not the way it should be.

Pluralism means accepting a very wide range of views while drawing red lines around what all of us agree is completely unacceptable. Opinions that lead to attacks on person and property or encourage hate speech against any section of society must be outlawed. But religious conservatism is something we should be strong enough as a society to both represent and tolerate.

If the BBC makes another series of Muslims Like Us – please give us the religious conservatives. They might avoid the karaoke bar – but they’ll also put a fool like Small in his place.
Mustafa Field MBE @mustafafield
Strengthening Faith Institutions Programme Director @sfitogether
Faiths Forum for London
Article first published on the Huffington Post.

in Articles, News December 15, 2016