TV review: Muslims Like Us brought wisdom and insight not normally available on television

Muslims Like Us cast L-R Back row - Nabil, Naila, Fehran L-R Front row - Humaira, Mehreen, Zohra, Mani, Barra, Saba, Abdul (C) Love Productions - Photographer: Gareth Gatrell
Billy Foley

Muslims Like Us, BBC2, Monday and Tuesday at 9pm

A Big Brother style house where different shades of the Muslim world discuss their religion doesn't sound like a great prospect for a TV programme.

But Muslims Like Us worked.

It more than worked, it was important TV, about Islam, extreme views and the role of religion in modern secular societies.

If you remember when Big Brother was initially introduced, it was sold as an anthropological study of how humans would interact in a closed environment.

Of course, that was an Endemol ruse which ended up with an MP pretending to be a thirsty cat.

Perhaps with the success of Muslims Like Us it will return and travel that direction, but this was two hours of thought provoking television.

The ten Muslims, five men and five women, had diverse views on their religion. They were British Shi'a and Sunni and with connections to Europe, Africa and Asia.

At the zealot end was Abdul Haq, a convert born as Anthony Small, who quoted religious tracts and rules for every manner of his life.

He believes that Muslim lives are more valuable and that everyone should live by the rules of Islam as he interprets him.

Haq has had his passport confiscated and spent time in prison on remand. He openly admits he would travel to Syria if he could.

At the other end is Naila, a kind of a cultural Muslim, a form of worship familiar to many Irish Catholics. She doesn't obey the rules and prays “in her own” informal way.

In Between, there's Ferhan, a practising Muslim who has been ostracised by his community because he is gay.

Mehreen's faith is deep but she too discards the rules, wearing ‘immodest' western clothes and going to pubs and nightclubs.

Humaira is the feminist Muslim who used to wear the hijab and still covers her hair.

Mani has just returned from an arranged marriage wedding ceremony in Pakistan and is waiting for his new bride to get a visa to join him in Britain, although he seems taken with Ferhan and can't stop hugging him.

Haq's not a hugger. He separates himself from the group after handing everyone a letter which explains that he doesn't believe in mixing between the sexes. Almost everything we see as normal, Haq thinks is `haram'.

He won't shake a woman's hand and will not look at her directly, although Mehreen, an attractive 22-year-old, says he's always looking at her. She says she likes him.

Most of the others disliked Haq's rabble rousing.

The commentary was slightly unclear, but it seemed that the participants were in the house at the time of the truck attack in Nice in July which killed 86 people.

Naila cried for the children and innocent people, although Haq said he was sad only for any Muslims killed.

But it was the one miss of the programme. It would have been fascinating to have witnessed a wider discussion between the group on the Nice attack which, it is believed, was committed in the name of Islam.

Later Naila explained her problem with unquestioning faith.

“I grew up with a very punishing God,” Naila said in a monologue to camera.

“There was a lot to be guilty and ashamed of … but that's not exclusive to Islam,”

And on people who take religious tracts literally.

“Condition these (people) enough and they will humiliate themselves in the privacy of their minds.”

It's not often you get wisdom and insight of this quality on mainstream television.

Today's horoscope


See a different horoscope: