A British sitcom is tackling stereotypes about Muslims, writes Darren Devlyn
DEPENDING on who is doing the talking, Citizen Khan is either ground-breaking, belly-achingly funny, or illconceived, offensive and racist.
It’s no surprise the sitcom has polarised both critics and audiences
Launching this week on Channel 7, Citizen Khan is the first sitcom to focus on a Muslim family in Britain, and while some have applauded the fact Muslim culture and comedy are being mentioned in the same sentence, others say it’s disrespectful to the culture and the Koran.
A viewer, Saira Khan, summed up the reaction:
‘‘ As someone with the surname Khan— and as a British Muslim who grew up in Nottingham’s Asian community — if anyone was going to be offended by the mickeytaking, surely it would be me? But no, I loved the sitcom.
‘‘ At last, a sitcom that allowed British Muslims to laugh at themselves.
‘‘ However, the next day I discovered my views ran counter to many, who criticised the program for ridiculing Islam and containing stereotypes about Asians. The Twittersphere positively boiled with righteous, religious, indignation.
‘‘ A certain scene in Citizen Khan seems to have caused particular offence. It was when Mr Khan (played by creator and star Adil Ray) — the sort of splendidly self-important community leader I recognised instantly — came home and his glamorous daughter pulled on her headscarf to hide her fully made-up face and started to read the Koran.
‘‘ Many accused the show’s British Muslim creator of insulting the Koran and demeaning the hijab. Nonsense.
‘‘ So much rings true — from Khan’s obsession with saving money to the point that he buys toilet rolls in bulk, to Mrs Khan’s preoccupation with what her friends and neighbours will think.’’
Ashgar Bukhari, spokesman for the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, says: ‘‘ The wider community is frightened of us and for the first time they are seeing us as normal human beings and can laugh and empathise. The sitcom is not about terrorism or men beating up against women — none of the things used to demonise the Muslim community.’’
Ray is pragmatic about the passionate reaction to his show.
The English, Irish, Jew-
For the first time they are seeing us as normal human beings
ish and Indian communities have all laughed at themselves on television, he says, so why not the Muslim community?
‘‘ I will say that I was nervous about the show, but I was just nervous for me because I hadn’t done anything like this before,’’ Ray says of Citizen Khan.
There were 700 complaints registered by the BBC, but Ray says ‘‘ I’m not sure I know what a lot is (when it comes to number of complaints). Just because 700 didn’t like it . . . I don’t know. About 3.5 million people watched it.
‘‘ In any comedy, you have got to have flawed characters. You can’t have comedy without flaws. But there is no way you are going to please everybody.’’
Ray, who had a career in radio before venturing into the world of TV, says his love of comedy began in early childhood, when he’d impersonate aunts and uncles.
And it was comedy that helped him deal with the trauma of his parents’ divorce.
‘‘ It wasn’t the nicest time at home,’’ he says. ‘‘ In that time the only time they weren’t having a row was when they’d sit and watch Fawlty Towers. I didn’t realise it at the time, but comedy can bring people together to laugh and there’s nothing better than that.
‘‘ We lived in the same house for six years, for a long time when they (parents) weren’t talking to each other. That was a really tough time and it made me an independent person.
‘‘ I would sit upstairs in my room with an audio tape of Not the Nine O’Clock News. I’d listen to it almost every night. I could recite some of the sketches word for word.’’ Citizen Khan, Channel 7, Thursday, 9.10pm
Bold: cast, and (left) the two sides of creator and star Adil Ray — in and out of character.