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15th April 2016

TV Binge: My Jihad

My Jihad shys away from stereotypes and subverts tired clichés about Islam, providing a more authentic and positive picture of everyday Muslims

The word Jihad has infamously become associated with acts of terrorism and hatred, but for the majority of Muslims, it refers to the spiritual struggle within oneself against sin. Available on BBC iPlayer, My Jihad centres onto two Muslim protagonists,  struggling to find an acceptable partner in a halal (non-sinful) manner. The first member of the potential couple we are introduced to is Fahmida, a pragmatic single mother, who carries a hard and prickly exterior. Fahmida uses her intellect to mask her vulnerability and fears; having suffered a troublesome past when it comes to relationships. Her prospective suitor comes in the form of Nazir, a hopeless romantic with a deep admiration for Michael Jackson. Nazir is unemployed and lacking in the financial department, but he has his heart set on finding a pious and devoted wife. The pair butt heads at first and both must inevitably shake off their preconceived notions of the other. The show asks the same of its audience, asking viewers to reconsider their misconceptions regarding Islam.

The world explored by My Jihad will be an eye-opener for many, and all too familiar for others—as the task of searching for a soulmate through Islamic means is a daunting one. The odd bar encounter or flirtation on a first date are completely replaced by organised speed dating events, chaperoned excursions, and dreaded family introductions. But religion isn’t the only factor involved in deciding the fate of our protagonists, as in life there are always other hurdles, making the relationship that much more relatable. Despite being centred on Muslims and shining a light on modern Islamic customs, My Jihad is a romantic comedy in the purest sense. The show highlights the universal themes of love and the honest human connections found between two people. Nothing cataclysmic occurs in the four episodes. The writing is equally in parts, poignant and humorous—that through dialogue exchanges alone, each character is fully developed. The short format also lends itself well, as My Jihad never overstays its welcome. The audience is left longing for more, grateful to have been privy to the briefest moments in the lives of these characters.

There is no question that the representation of Islam and Muslims in general through film and TV is not only sparse, but also significantly one-note. Tired clichés of terrorists and extremism dominate the small and large screens. Four Lions was idiosyncratic in its subversive take on the subject—and seven years after its release of the film, there has been very little progress since. The recent BBC drama Murdered by My Father further highlighted a prehistoric minority of Muslims who engage in honour killings. When the majority of Muslims are peaceful and well-integrated members of their community, it is deeply frustrating to see such acts of evil steal the headlines. Having more TV shows like My Jihad is not only important, but vital to painting a much more authentic and positive picture of everyday Muslims.

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