Khan of­worms

A Bri­tish sit­com is tack­ling stereo­types about Mus­lims, writes Dar­ren Dev­lyn

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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.

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