To watch it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01qfqz5

Make Me a Muslim was a documentary following four girls  in the UK who had converted to Islam and their reasons for doing so. It’s presenter Shanna Bukhari (who was in the news a few years for having had received death threats following her annoucement of being involved in Ms Universe contest) posed the question “why would they give up their Western freedoms, the drinking, having fun to become Muslim?” (paraphrased).This opening line set the tone for the entire 1 hour programme.

I acknowledge some meaningful frames, quips and interactions may have been edited and/or scripted out to package it for terrestial viewing but despite that there were some telling undercurrents to the documentary that not even editing could have caused.  Professing to being Muslim herself Shanna seemed to have trouble grasping why these girls had converted.  One would think maybe she had issues with the discipline involved, such as prayer, fasting, not drinking as these prohibitions were quite strict and testing for most born Muslims, so for those who choose to become Muslim these things must be much harder to become accustomed to. Or of the harder struggles some of these girls may have had once they have converted.

But the focus of the programme was to do with none of that, it was to do with what is apparent and that is their clothing. This evolved even further and became a story about Shanna’s personal journey in reconnecting with her faith

The first girl – Safia, was a bubbly, excitable girl who was in the giddy first stages of conversion. Everything seemed new to her, she loved the sisters she came across at the mosque and felt like one of them. All over Twittersphere and Facebook there were quite a few comments about Sophia shown to be praying with nailpolish on and arms bare and sharing her pre-hijab photos. She is a newbie, its a steep learning curve – no need to shoot the girl down.

The other girl, who’s name escapes me – many apologies- had met her husband when she was a teenager as he used to hang about the school playground. He married her, secretly of course, as his family would never accept a white daughter-in-law. So a few years later, he was the good desi boy and abided by his parents wishes to go abroad to marry again (probably to a cousin or other family member). She wasn’t entirely happy with this, but had come around to it as she had made him promise not to have sex with his other wife. Her sister however resented the arrangement as she felt her sister was practically living the live of a single parent. This whole story had too many cultural hang ups that in order to address them would be a whole blog post on its own.

Inayah had trouble finding a partner as most of the boys family wouldnt accept her unless she was Pakistani. Some men she came across wanted a girlfriend not a wife. She’s better off without such people – lucky escape.

Alana converted after being introduced to Islam via her fiance. Shanna asked Alana for her opinion on her clothing – to which she replied it wasn’t halal. Including the boots (which personally I loved!).  This didnt go down to well with Shanna who then piped that her lifestyle and career in modelling was a result of being a modern British Muslim and nothing would change that.  I would say all of the girls in the documentary were modern if modern means to be able to drive a car, own a mobile phone, travel, have a job, own a house etc.

Is a career in modelling, where clothing to be displayed and paraded such as short skirts, tube tops,  cannot be modest according to Islamic principles, really be compatible with being a Muslim? Seemed like she knew what the answer was to that but didnt want to give it too much thought. And of course once you justify something to yourself its easy to carry on doing it, the very advice given to her by model/fashion designer Ayesha who was also a convert. However the irony of it all seemed to hit her when she attended a fashion party of Ayesha’s. She decided to reconnect with Islam and contacted Alana. The line of “want to hook up and go pray sometime?” made me cringe!

Overall the programme missed the opportunity of really exploring the reasons and effect conversion had on the lives of these 5 girls, it focused too much on on what they were (or weren’t) wearing.