‘A Very British Ramadan’ 9 July 2013

So I’d heard Channel 4 would be broadcasting a series of programmes to celebrate Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, this summer. The channel had already caused a stir amongst other media outlets by announcing they would be playing the adhaan (Muslim call to prayer) once a day throughout the holy month. I was initially a little sceptical of Channel 4’s Ramadan-themed programming – was it all just a publicity stunt to stir up controversy? The mainstream media almost invariably seems to depict Muslims in a negative way which left me questioning why Channel 4 would possibly want to broadcast something on the topic without their own ulterior motives.

However, within the first few minutes (or even seconds) of ‘A Very British Ramadan’ my anxieties had almost vanished. Here, presenting the show was a thick-bearded, prayer-hat-wearing Muslim driving the streets of Britain and discussing the month of Ramadan in his strong Bradford accent (an accent that if it had been much stronger would have been almost iA Very British Ramadanncomprehensible to my Welsh ears!). Now, I’m sure that most of you reading this realise that Muslims do live in Britain, often have very British accents and often do very ‘British’ things. However, the media too often portray Muslims as ‘foreign’ or not ‘integrated’ with British life or as some strange community of people who do very strange things. There are some positive Muslim figures who have managed to permeate the media (Mehdi Hasan and Baroness Warsi come to mind) and have done great things for the British Muslim community and wider society. However, Rashid Khan in ‘A Very British Ramadan’ presented something quite new – a positive Muslim figure who seemed to live a very ordinary British life and spoke to the grassroots of society; not overly intellectual nor overly political. This figure seemed to be able to relate to the majority of the British community and not just the higher echelons of society.

Another thing that I found pleasantly surprising about the show was that the content seemed very Muslim-led. It really felt like the programme gave a voice to the Muslims we saw on screen. It allowed them to say what they wanted to say about Islam without it being cunningly edited by producers to portray their own narrative. The Muslims on screen talked openly about prayer, fasting, spirituality, the soul and God – topics which I feel are too often sidelined in programming. The presenter even dropped in very Muslim phrases (such as ‘mashaAllah’) and Arabic supplications which would not have been understood by the majority of viewers. The presence of such phrases (which could have been edited out) shows that the producers tried to portray Muslims as they are and not dumb down religious aspects of their lives.

The mix of spirituality and practicality also I think would help non-Muslim viewers relate to the people on screen. As mentioned, the Muslims we saw openly discussed spirituality and the deeper meanings of Ramadan but also discussed the realities of dealing with Ramadan as human beings. A nice example of this was when the presenter’s family discussed how they cooked up supplies of food to freeze before Ramadan so they could spend less time in the kitchen during the holy month and more time focusing on their spirituality and improving their character.

All in all, the programme was a breath of fresh air for me as a British Muslim and I’m sure many non-Muslims will feel the same. I feel that this sort of programming challenges the mindset behind some of the recent anti-Muslim attacks in the UK and can only hope that other media outlets follow suit.

‘A Very British Ramadan’ is currently available to watch on 4oD

About Laura Jones

Laura researches and writes on religion and Muslims in the UK. She recently completed a Masters in Islam in Contemporary Britain, has previously worked as a Muslim chaplain, and is contributing editor for On Religion. She has a particular interest in inter-faith relations, mental health and Muslims in the public sphere.

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