Though I love watching documentaries on BBC3 occasionally I have to tread on careful ground when describing them especially when it comes to programmes focusing on religion. This week’s Make Me a Muslim is a case in point as I want to voice my opinions on the show but at the same time really don’t want to offend anyone because at the end of the day I’m not here to belittle anybody’s faith but rather just give my views on a television programme. The documentary focuses on the large amount of white women who convert to Islam each year and sees Muslim-born Shanna Bukhari visit these ladies to find out what made them convert. Manchester-based model Shanna views herself as a modern British Muslim however she’s never once stepped foot in a mosque and is eager to see why these women would give up their western culture to convert to a very traditional religion.
Shanna’s first port of a call is a small Welsh village where she meets up with recent convert Claire who, since becoming a Muslim, wants to be known as Sofia. 24 year old Sofia was a lapsed Christian but found herself relating to the messages in the Quran and now wants to pray to Allah. Unlike some of the others featured in this documentary Sofia feels that she can still choose whether or not to wear a hijab though she tells Shanna that she likes wearing it as boys look at her more. Sofia also doesn’t mind dressing more conservatively as she doesn’t feel she needs to let everything hang out while at the same time she still feels she can be stylish and modest. Sofia also thinks that she won’t be a strict Muslim as she can’t see herself ever getting up for morning prayers, which start around 4:30 in the morning, as she enjoys her sleep. The one thing that shocked Sofia was the reaction of her family and her local community as she is in fact the only Muslim in the village. It appears as if her mother is fairly supportive and, after reading the Quran herself, doesn’t see much difference between Islam and the old-fashioned Christian values that her own mother instilled in her. It is Sofia’s father that Shanna feels most for though as he has to defend his daughter to his friends down the pub who may not understand why she has converted and view her as a traitor.
Shanna then travels to Glasgow to meet Alana a 20 year old media student who converted to Islam two years ago. Traveller Shanna was raised as a protestant and was a bit of a wild child to the extent that when she left college she hoped to be a travel rep in Lanzarote. Instead of going on a mad drinking binge she met Abdul, who is now her fiancée, and later converted to his religion. Alana is currently taking a weekly Islamic Studies course and also hopes to learn Arabic so she can understand what Abdul’s family are speaking about. Though Alana appears to be happy it seems that she has lost contact with her friends and she no longer feels she can socialise with them as they are all heavy drinkers. As Alana takes Shanna through her wardrobe she shows her that she has halal-ified her clothing so she can dress like a respectful Muslim. This means not wearing anything that shows off her figure but as well banning all high heel shoes as she feels that they give off the wrong impression. The high heel shoes are a real bone of contention between Shanna and Alana as the former fails to agree that as a Muslim woman she shouldn’t be allowed to wear a certain kind of footwear and relations between the two turn quite frosty.
Similarly to Alana, Lisa converted to Islam for a man in this case her husband of seven years however it’s only been a year since she’s been a full Muslim. Full-time mum Lisa has at least instilled into her daughters the right to make their own decisions as one of them wears a hijab while the other two do not. Lisa was indeed a wild child, and still has the tattoos to prove it, however her journey to conversion started when she was fourteen as that was when she met her future husband. As they were both each other’s first loves it was heart-breaking when she’d learnt that he’d gone to Pakistan and taken part in an arranged marriage when he was eighteen. However years later she became his second wife as apparently Muslim men are allowed to be married to at least four women at once. Lisa appears to hate her co-wife and has laid down firm ground rules to her husband that he’s not allowed to have sex with her but at the same time it appears as if all of her in-laws hate her. We here from Lisa’s sister Kimberly who detests the fact that her sister lives as a single mother for half the week and claims that it’s not fair that her husband is married to two different women. Indeed Shanna has similar views saying that the whole idea makes her sick and it appeared to me as if Lisa had made the ultimate sacrifice just to be with the man that she loved.
It appears to be even harder for converts who aren’t married as women who convert into Islam don’t have the same opportunities to meet a husband as those born into the faith. Shanna learns this when she meets Inaya who is having trouble finding a man due to the fact that she is a convert to the religion and feels that there are a few channels open to women like her. Inaya converted to Islam several years ago when she was going through a tough time and started learning about the faith through her Muslim friends. Now at 28 she’s ready to get married however she finds it difficult to meet a partner when most of the Muslim weddings are arranged by families who are close to one another. Even when taking part in Islamic speed dating she has been insulted by men who claim that she is too old or who fear that she may revert to her old western ways. I personally found Inaya’s story fairly depressing as it appears as if her new faith has stopped her finding a man something that wouldn’t be happening if she hadn’t converted to the faith and I feel it would’ve been good to know if she had found love after the programme was filmed.
As well as telling the stories of the rest of these women Shanna also re-explores her own faith and wonders if she can truly call herself a Muslim. In the past she has had bad experiences with the faith as she received death threats following her attempts to represent Britain in Miss Universe. While most of the women she meets reinforce the fact that Muslim women have to cover up her experience with Islam convert Aisha. Aisha was scouted by a model agency when she was just sixteen however after converting to Islam she stopped modelling altogether but later realised that this was too extreme a reaction. Now instead she is more relaxed in her religious beliefs but always considers what she’s wearing on the catwalk before modelling it. Though I found this quite a logical way to carry out your daily life, Shanna wasn’t convinced and instead went to see Alana once again who told straight that she shouldn’t be modelling. After receiving two different pieces of advice in the end Shana decided she would be a little bit more respectful in what she wore and in addition would also start going to mosque on a regular basis.
To an extent I would say Make Me a Muslim was a fairly balanced documentary in its exploration of the reasons that white women convert to Islam. I found Sofia, Inaya and Aisha all reasonable women who had converted to Islam as they wanted something to believe. All three, Aisha in particular, didn’t let their faith take over their life and I found that she in particular was a woman who happened to be a Muslim rather than the other way around. Both Lisa and Alana were different cases as they’d converted for the men they love and both cases had made several sacrifices to do so. I was particularly appalled by the situation that Lisa was in and thought that she must really love her husband to share him with another woman. The main question of the documentary is does the Islamic faith oppress women? And while I’d say it doesn’t I would say, certainly going by the information on offer here, it does treat them like second class citizens. While women have to keep their bodies purely for their husbands, the husbands are allowed to have up to four wives while we also saw that the women sit behind the men during Alana’s Islamic Studies class. To make this documentary a little more balanced I feel that Shanna maybe should’ve visited a white male convert to the Islamic faith to see if life had changed for him.
Overall Make Me a Muslim was a broad look at a growing trend in Britain however at times I found it a little bit sensationalist. While I feel it expelled some myths about the religion at the same time I found some of the subjects chosen where there for a specific reason. Shanna also didn’t really seem to know what she wanted and even at the end of the documentary appeared unsure of her ultimate decision. So while I would say that Make Me a Muslim was an interesting documentary I found there was far too much going on for it to make any real relevant points.
Did you enjoy Make Me a Muslim? What was your reaction to some of the women featured? Leave Your Comments Below.