make-me-a-muslim_625x352When I think of Britain, I don’t think of a society so “rife” with promiscuity and drunkenness that it’s very moral fibre is in need of repair. Call me naive, but I usually imagine red telephone boxes, Mister Darcy, imperialism, fish & chips, curry houses, and Doctor Who. But according to a mini-series from 2007 called ”Make Me a Muslim,” Britain is so horribly off track with naked women in the streets and hooligans living hedonistic lifestyles, that things are going to get much worse unless something stops this social degeneration. What Britain needs is an infusion of “decency, respect and moderation.”

So let’s make everyone Muslim.

“Make Me a Muslim” was a three part series aired by Channel 4 in the UK and followed a group of non-Muslim volunteers from the town of Harrogate in Yorkshire while they “lived under Islamic law” for three weeks. It popped up in my feed reader a couple of weeks ago when BBC Three aired another ingeniously titled documentary, “Make Me a Muslim.” This unconnected 2013 installment follows Shanna Bukhari, the first Muslim to compete for the title of Miss Universe Great Britain, as she learns what it’s like to practice Islam from a group of white women converts who have given up partying and drinking.

Since the convert party girl exposé is sooo last year, I thought it might be interesting to revisit the 2007 series and its specific focus on sharia law. I was curious to know how they were going to present Islam and depict a group of non-Muslims abiding by a system of religious norms that have vast interpretations, implementations and practices throughout the world, as well as within Britain. Unfortunately, my initial optimism was dashed the moment episode one opened by polarizing a modern and immorally broken British society, with the ancient religious values that can supposedly fix it.

To test the theory that Islam can save Britain, Imam Ajmal Masroor and his crack team of Muslim Mentors help six non-Muslims (and one “lapsed Muslim”) learn what it’s like to live under the principal tenets of Islam and sharia law — namely, no alcohol, no pork, no sex outside marriage, modesty, fasting and prayer. While I was hoping for more discussion on the nuances and reasons why Muslims are enjoined to pray and maintain levels of modesty, the series instead holds true to the performance of reality TV: They take an extremely surface understanding of Islam, enforce it on a group of people who aren’t Muslim by choice, throw in a group of stereotypical and at times ridiculous Muslim characters, and watch the sparks fly while both groups clash.

The understanding of sharia is not exactly explained, as much as it’s simply narrated in a two-second sound-bite as a system of law based upon the teachings of the Qur’an. The actual defining of sharia is left to Phil, a beer-swilling, bacon eating, mildly xenophobic taxi driver, who confronts a Muslim Mentor about how, “Muslims want to impose sharia law on Britain,” and that “we don’t want the stoning of women and cutting hands off thieves on the streets of England.” Sharia is not explained as helping guide personal religious observance, but as “barbaric.” And while he is sincere in wanting to learn more about Islam and Muslims, Phil’s views on the “Islamization” of Britain are used to reinforce every negative stereotype about Islamic law.

The group’s initiation into Islam begins by a brief introduction to the five pillars and, much to my delight, with the Muhammad Asad translation of the Qur’an. The Muslim Mentors then purge the participants’ homes of all things “haram under Islamic law” — and the camera spends a lot of time showing alcohol being tossed down the drain and the confiscation of “frilly knickers.”

The really unfortunate presentation in this episode was the role of women in Islam. Which, for the purposes of tabloid entertainment, was reduced to the wearing of hijab.

After taking away bathing suits, skirts, and shirts unceremoniously deemed “immodest,” South London preacher and Muslim Mentor Mohammed explains that:

“The religion of Islam is a religion of prevention. A lot of women have been raped in England and all over the world. Why are women inviting it by wearing something that is [immodest]?”

This hijab-as-protection-from-sexual-abuse trope continues when Muslim Mentor and white convert Dawn explains hijab to Kerry, a glamour/soft porn model, “this is about protecting you and keeping you safe.”

Understandably, the female participants are outraged and their unwillingness to abide by “the rules of Islam” are exploited to illustrate that Islam is foreign, oppressive and misogynist. Even when Imam Ajmal comes in as the voice of reason, defining modesty as protecting society, encouraging humble behaviour and allowing people to interact with their personalities by not focusing on the “body beautiful” — it’s all done secondarily to the BIG DEAL that non-Muslim women feel oppressed and choked by long sleeves and a head scarf.


First in our series of guest posts is the ineffable Rawiya. A brilliant on-again, off-again blogger who really should be writing full time, Rawiya spends most of her days as an academic and moonlights as an artist. Please join me in welcoming her as she shares her thoughts on finding faith and recognising serendipity in the most unlikely places.

You can read more by Rawiya here.

And We have created mankind and We know what his soul whispers to him, and We are nearer to him than his jugular vein. (Qur’an 50:16)

I opened the fridge door, on the hunt for some breakfast. I felt a little bit like an intruder in an unfamiliar apartment, having driven the previous day from the States to Canada, where I was about to start some research. My gracious hosts had gone to work. I had slept in after my ten-hour drive, and was ravenous. I padded my way to the kitchen, pulled on the handle of the fridge, and locked my eyes onto a sight I hadn’t seen in years.

Oh yeah. They have milk in a bag here!” I laughed and said aloud to myself, recalling the six years I had lived in Canada during my university education. But in that moment, my hunger dissipated and I closed the fridge door, my eyes filling with tears.

How silly I felt, to have this familiar foreign thing, this stupid Canadian milk-in-a-bag, provoke me so much. Why was I crying? What the hell was going on?


Cross-posted at the wondrous Womanist Musings.

Alternate universes. Causal time loops. Perception filters. Sonic screwdrivers. Roundels. Creatures and stories beyond imagination. Time travel in a blue 1960s-style London police box. Sexy British men in a variety of amusing outfits. The Doctor, a brilliant man of two hearts, traversing time and space with his equally sexy and (usually) brilliant companions – saving humanity, alien species or time itself from a vast host of evil threats. Put it all together and you get my favourite television programming of all time: Doctor Who.

So imagine my absolute fan girl surprise when they introduced a Muslim character into a recent episode, “The God Complex.” For a few brief moments my heart soared with excitement at the very thought that there would be a Muslim in the TARDIS.

And then they promptly killed her off.

A Muslim in the TARDIS? No way!

Because she was such an enjoyable and positive character, some podcasters and fans within the Whoniverse have expressed surprise that Rita, the “almost companion” had to die. But the more I thought about how her story played out the more I realised that the focus on Rita’s religion was just convenient tool to drive the plot. Which makes her death even more unfortunate, as her faith and strength as a character is pivotal to the story itself – a story about exposing your very soul through terror.


In the late 1800s a woman named Nazla took a long ocean voyage from Beirut to America. Legend has it that she was from a moderately well-off family – that her father was a favourite of the Ottoman governor and raised camels as a livelihood.

She lost her voice due to some virus or trauma and had not spoken for months. When medical advice suggested that the climate in America would encourage her voice to return, it was decided that she would live with an uncle who had recently immigrated and settled somewhere in the mid-West. The voyage to America was a last resort. Doctors and specialists had already tried everything to cure her: from medications to burning her back with hot metal rods – trying to force her voice out with her screams.

Years later, her first-born daughter spent many nights rubbing the deep and painful scars with a soothing balm and listened intently as her mother spoke to her, trying to pass on a lesson she held tight to her breast: Take control of your own destiny.


So this past weekend, for the seventh year running, thousands of Muslims descended upon my town for the annual Muslimfest. We had a pretty great time.

Hijabs, jilbabs, beards, niqabs, tank-tops, Ramadan decorations, balloons, books, CDs, DVDs, fancy outfits, toys, halal fast food, organic-free-range halal food, ice cream, bouncy castles, Muslim rap, Muslim comedians, movies, plays, graffiti art, religious devotionals, children’s shows, shari’a-compliant mortgages, and of course, camels!

Baba and Eryn making camel noises to the camel.

Men's and Women's prayer sections -- side-by-side! How progressive!


An old friend of mine, Fathima Cader, recently shared her experiences praying Jumm’ah in high school for NOW magazine.

In a Facebook discussion she says:

One thing I didn’t note in this article, because it was out of its scope, was that the initial complaints came from groups who alleged that the TDSB was paving the way for a Muslim takeover. The controversy has since shifted, with the entrance of the Muslim Canadian Congress, to a debate about sexism — a debate moreover that that explicitly denies the intelligence and wherewithal of Muslim women, particularly observant ones. That the MCC’s critiques so often merge with and emerge from blatant racism is an issue worth interrogating.

I’m reproducing her excellent article here. Enjoy!

My school prayer: How my Friday ritual made me a Muslim feminist
By Fathima Cader

During the Ramadan of my final year at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute – across the street from Valley Park Middle School, the scene of much media scrutiny last week – things suddenly changed.

Unlike Valley Park, Marc Garneau 10 years ago did not have on-site prayer spaces. Instead, come Friday, students who had the school’s permission would go the nearby mosque, about a 20-minute walk away.

Some of those students, as many have noted, didn’t always make it back to school – dictionary behaviour from teenagers on Friday afternoons.

According to Islamic custom, congregational Friday prayers are compulsory for men and recommended for women. That norm became informal community and school policy. A lack of interest from parents and teachers’ belief that women don’t have to pray meant few female students sought permission and none received it. Only male students went to Friday prayers.

One month in my final year, things were different. After requests from parents and students, the school agreed to let students pray on site during Ramadan, the month Muslims traditionally observe with intensified spiritual activity.


You know it’s going to be good when camels are a selling point:

This summer, the Moozlums are going aaaaaalllll out!!

Indeed! Love the movie announcer voice.

I will have a hard time trying to decide between watching the one-woman play, “Unveiled” by Rohina Malik, and the doc “Fordson” about Dearborn’s Muslim (American) footballers.

And everything will be free! Five films, workshops, Islamic rap, Comedy show, Adam’s World, Islamic graffiti art, and more.

We’re going again this year insha’Allah. Who wants to join in on the fun. July 23-24, Mississauga Living Art’s Centre at Square One.

Four women, obviously work colleagues, sit in a restaurant over drinks.

“Oh this was such a good idea, we should do this more often.”

“It’s a shame Fatima couldn’t make it. Does anyone know why?”

“Well, I invited her last week and she avoided talking to me about it — so I asked her at lunchtime if she wanted to come and she just looked at me for a minute and said, I can’t. So I said, sure you can. It’s just down the street from the office. Laura, Nadja, Kortney and I are all going. You should come along!

“What did she say?”

“She just looked at me and said, I’m not allowed.

“What the hell? What did she mean by that?”

“Well that’s exactly what I asked her. Then I said, are you not allowed because we’re non-Muslim?! She didn’t even look at me after that and mumbled likes she always does. I just left her in the lunchroom.”

“Oh well that’s just ridiculous. I tell you, they’re crazy. But I bet it’s because her husband controls her. I mean, why else would she have to wear that hajaba thing.”

“I know! I have this neighbour with like 24 kids. I have never seen her husband, I’m not even sure he works, and I’ve never seen her face! She’s completely covered, head to toe in black. Even in summer!”

“Ridiculous. It’s so sickening that they’d let themselves be told what to do and what to wear. And to come into this country to abuse the system is just wrong. I know this black woman with like six kids, and none of them have the same father. I’m sure she’s just workin’ the welfare.”

“Okay, so my mom once told me this story about a lady on her street. Her little boy was running wild in and out of the house. He ended up slipping on something and smacked his head on the cement doorstep!”

“Oh poor little guy. Was he okay?”

“Um. No! He cracked his head open and blood was pouring everywhere. My mom’s boyfriend saw the whole thing and ran over to offer the lady some help. She didn’t have a car so he said, You have to take him to the hospital. I’ll drive you. But she just stood there with her hurt boy and said that she had to wait for her husband!”

gasps and looks of disgust

“Seriously, right? He offered again and was really forceful about telling her that the boy needed immediate medical attention. She just said, I can’t and went back into the house. And she doesn’t even wear that thing on her head!”

“I mean it. Those people are crazy. Have you ever seen Fatima doing her praying in the lunchroom? It freaks me out. I don’t care if you bless your food before eating it. That’s normal. But to sit in a chair in the corner and do all of that weird bowing. shudder It’s just wrong.”

“Nadja, you’d never take that from your husband, would you?”

“Um. No. But he’s not really practicing.”

“Well, he’s Pakistani, right?”


“Oh, same place. Did you have to do anything Islam when you got married to him?”

“No. He’s not practicing and I’m not Muslim.”

“See, that’s what this world needs more of. Really great examples of two cultures mixing together. You married one and here you are out with us without an issue. More Muslims need to be like this.”

“I’m not…”

“For sure! I bet Fatima would be really nice to hang out with if she wasn’t so… religious.”

“We should spike her drink!”


I had such hopes for the first week of 2011. The firecrackers from this year’s global celebrations are still getting play on the local news channel, and along with them are horrific scenes of the recent bombing of a Coptic church in Egypt that killed over 20 people and injured close to 100, the continuing week-long violence between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, the attack on a Catholic Church in Iraq that killed 58 people and the assassination of Governor Taseer of the Punjab province in Pakistan, killed for his role in championing the rights of Aasia Bibi, a Christian convert facing execution for blasphemy.

Generally, the world is not off to a great start, and more specifically, Muslims have a lot of bridge building to do.

In university, I sat with the Chaplain, a Buddhist nun, a Hindu scholar, a Baha’i practitioner, the local Rabbi, and a First Nations representative on an interfaith council. Our main task was to provide resources for religiously observant students, and to make sure that professors or university policies accommodated students who needed to opt out of classes when they conflicted with religious beliefs or observant holy days. We were also on rotations to offer the religious prayer at Convocation ceremonies, memorials and to provide appropriate opportunities for interfaith dialogue.

This university, like many, had historical traditions, pomp and circumstance built upon Christian foundations. Instead of wiping away these traditions, and to help accommodate the growing diversity of its students, the university opted instead to help promote a pluralistic, religious culture.

Working closely with these religious leaders gave me access to events, extra-religious services, places of worship and knowledge that I may not have otherwise been exposed to. I began seeing more and more broad stroke similarities between our religious traditions, and more specific similarities with Christianity.


It’s that time of year again, when guests attend grueling 3 day affairs, stuffing themselves with gulab jamun, ras malai, briyani, and into elaborate gold brocaded outfits. Hands painted with henna. Faces painted with makeup. Envelopes stuffed with money.  It’s wedding season, and when your family belongs to both South Asian and Arab communities, this means that these 3 day affairs will happen not once or twice, but 6 or 7 times a summer.

If you love weddings, it’s a fun time. But oh so tiring.  There are different cultural practices* for celebrating the standard Muslim wedding, but many follow this standard format:  First there’s the henna or mehndi, where all the women get together to celebrate the bride to be by giving her sweets and their blessings. Henna is put on the feet and hands of the bride (and guests who want it), and the night descends into food and dancing — with some old folk songs to boot.

Next is the nikkah, or religious wedding ceremony, where an imam marries the bride and groom and the community witnesses the event. It tends to take place in a mosque where verses of the Quran are recited, the families agree to the union and a small sermon on the virtues of marriage is given. Naturally, more food is had, and plenty of games or other cultural rites happen with family at home.

But it’s not until day three, at the waleema reception, that the couple are announced as being “married”. The bride wears red and gold and sits with her groom on a stage, while the family head table is off to the side (although this varies). More food is had, more cultural rites are held, more obscure family speeches wear on, more pictures with the family, more cheesy picture slide shows embarrass the new couple and more fun is had by all. *Sometimes a horse, swordplay, dhol performances, 4 costume changes for the bride, bellydancing, plate smashing, debka dancing, coconut jumping or fireworks are thrown in to boot.

That’s the standard so-you-want-all-of-the-trappings-and-religious-cultural-rites-and-buy-into-this-institution-known-as-marriage framework. So what’s a young couple to do if different religions or cultures are coming together?


Next Page »