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A Short Analysis of ITV’s ‘Islam’s Non-Believers’ Documentary

After a huge social media commotion over the last couple of days on various platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram, I came to realise that the British television network ITV would be broadcasting a documentary as part of their ‘Exposure’ series on the subject of Ex-Muslims and the issues they may face from their community after leaving Islam.


First thoughts

Initially, I saw mixed responses from individuals within the Muslim community on whether to watch the documentary or not; many encouraged to watch it and other warned against watching it as they viewed it to be a means for the media to deploy negative press upon the Muslim community. The second type of response is what intrigued me to watch this since, as a Muslim, I am confident to face any form of critique that is put forth in my direction whether it be of my faith or individuals who follow the same faith.

Although a range of Ex-Muslims, namely Zaynab, Safiya, Samina and Rehana amongst others were interviewed on the show, the problems they all faced were all very common which makes it easy to summarise their main issues within this article. The majority of them were from a Bangladeshi background and whilst some had lived there and left to reside in the UK, the others were born in the UK and had left their homes after leaving Islam.

Reasons given for leaving Islam

By analysing the perspective of the interviewees, I came to realise that, the majority of their reasons for leaving the faith were emotional and cultural as opposed to being intellectual/theological reasons. This can be demonstrated by British-born Safiyawho wanted to go to another city to attend university but since her parents disapproved of her idea as well as her attempts to run away, they kept her in the house and forbade her to leave. This then led her to believe that if she told her parents that she left Islam, they may kick her out of the home which would enable her to fulfil her future ambitions; a plan which failed as they only made conditions worse for her.

Rehana, who was born and raised in Bangladesh suffered from abuse by her mother who unsuccessfully tried to comfort her by telling her that each part of her body which had got beaten would enter paradise; a belief that has no basis amongst the teachings of Islam. Maybe it is these types of false teachings that parent’s attribute to the religion which gives the child a distaste towards the faith.

rehana

Rehana, born and raised in Bangladesh, publicly speaking on being an Ex-Muslim. / ITV

Cultural context

The cultural context is clearly seen within this documentary as most of the cases are linked to the South Asian country of Bangladesh, where there is an increase in the number of individuals within its growing atheist community. As a result, there has been an opposition movement who vehemently speak out to oppose the recent phenomenon of neo-atheist bloggers in Bangladesh.

The issue at hand

There are two main issues in my opinion; the first, being that Ex-Muslims who leave their religion expect the same treatment and acceptance they had in the community from when they were a Muslim or a closet atheistI personally find this very problematic when put into perspective; an important point that readers need to understand is that Islam is one of the most practised faith’s in the modern world and is a holistic faith that governs and caters for all aspects of life and is therefore very dear to a Muslim’s heart and is not separate to ones daily life as opposed to other religious traditions. For this reason, when a Muslim child approaches their parents’ and tells them that they want to leave the faith, they would also be leaving the community, dismantling their parents expectations and discarding something that is very dear to their family which is why the attitude from many Muslim parents changes towards their child.

This is by no means a justification for parent’s to abuse their children if they mention this to them; rather by speaking with them and attempting to tackle this intellectually and emotionally will help tremendously as violence, which was committed in some of these cases, is clearly not the answer or solution if one wants to sincerely understand or solve any issue/s that their child is going through.

fuuse

An Ex-Muslim interviewee from the ITV documentary that was aired on 13/10/2016.

The second issue which I have identified is the agenda of aggressive atheist bloggers who seem to provoke members of the Muslim community. This can be noticed in the case of one of the interviewees, Arif Rahman, who admitted to using provocative language online against Islam. In another clip of the documentary, Muslim protesters are seen to be explaining how one of the atheist Ex-Muslim bloggers called the Prophet Muhammad a fool. This trend and approach is very common within contemporary atheist movements and can be seen in the works of modern atheist authors such as the writer Sam Harris who highlights in his bestselling book The End of Faith, ‘We are at war with Islam. This is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims, but we are absolutely at war with the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran’. Views like these are clearly provocative and increase tensions between members of the atheist and Muslim communities.

Conclusion

It can be acknowledged that within this documentary there has been a trend of born Muslims from South-Asian backgrounds who have left the Islam due to mainly emotional and cultural reasons and feel a sense of loneliness since they are seen as outcasts and not being viewed the same by the very parents that raised them. On the other hand we have explored what Islam means to a Muslim and how it may be difficult for a Muslim parent to tackle this but can also appreciate how an aggressive-atheist mindset and as insulting  the religion of Islam can be provocative. I would urge parent’s who may be going through this to tackle this issue intellectually as well as emotionally to help their child in this confusing situation. I would also urge those who have chosen to leave their faith to understand how it may be hard for their parents to accept this and to refrain from exchanging insults which would only increase tensions and problems in the society.


If any Muslim parents are in need of any advice or guidance with these situations, they may contact me on: luqmaan@live.co.uk 

Cover image: Fuuse Film Production / ITV


There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in false gods and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.

(Qur’an 2:256)

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Written by Luqmaan Al Hakeem

Luqmaan is an Undergraduate student currently completing a BA (Hons) degree in Islamic Studies. He is actively involved in conveying the message of Islam and connecting with people of other worldviews and faiths. His passion has enabled him to participate in projects and activities in the UK and across the globe.