The mullah and the reality TV show

Via Austrolabe
SBS – Special Broadcasting Service

Dave Zwolenski is 26 years old and likes girls and drinking beer. Raised a Catholic, these days he prefers to stay away from religion altogether. Sheik Hilaly is 66, born in Egypt and a devote Muslim. He likes praying and drinking ‘man tea’ (his own special blend). Together, Dave and the Sheik form an odd couple, but for the next few weeks they are going to be inseparable.

What in the world…

My first thought when I saw this was of Flavor Flav for some reason. Perhaps it’s the surrealness of the picture , a (in Australia) infamous Muslim leader in full khutba regalia posing during a domestic scene (with a spoon of food in mid-air no less) with some white-bread, t-shirted youngster. He might as well be dangling an immense alarm clock and yelling “Yeah, Boy!”
Even weirder is the film’s seeming schizophrenic nature. Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions and reading too much into some details, but I get the feeling this is in equal parts trite, tiresome reality show (a la half of the programs infesting the airwaves) and high-minded bridge-building documentary (a la the “30 Days” episode on Islam that I imagine inspired this Australian program).

Any of you (M)Aussies out there catch it?

  • Phil

    it starts on the 23rd if i remember correctly.
    will have to wait to see it.
    PS. a little bird told me this might be on youtube in the next month.

  • fairuza

    Oh,now this is something I will turn on my TV for. Looks hysterical!

  • Irfan Shah

    Mullahs/scholars too have a right to love eating and cooking just like any of us. And stereotyping with regards to who can and can not come on TV might not be a goood idea in my humble opinion

  • svend

    Salaams, Irfan
    Thanks very much for the comment, which is very well taken. I agree wholeheartedly, but think you’re addressing legitimate but but quite distinct topics from those I’m trying to explore.
    My aim was simply to riff on the weird intertextuality of all this and the potential to reinforce existing stereotypes. The pairing of these two and the interjection of Islam into the show aren’t inherently problematic, but they certainly are incongruous RELATIVE TO THE NORMS OF THE GENRE.
    And I hope we see more Muslims going about their daily lives on TV. If that’s what this program is striving to shed light on, I have nothing but praise for it.
    I’m sure many bloggers out there do a better job of it, but I always find it extremely difficult to quickly comment on things like this–which are so laden with political subtexts (e.g., terrorism, immigration) and unacknowledged tensions (the debate over whether Muslims tarred as extremists really are extremist)–without leaving yourself open to being misunderstood. Either you write a long treatise that covers all the bases but bores most people to tears, or you get your main point across quickly to most of your readers while inadvertently sending mixed messages to others (ironically often your comrades).
    While I’m at it, I should note that I do not mean to implicitly endorse the hoopla around Sheikh Hilaly. Nor refute it. Don’t know his story, and what’s more I am painfully aware of how once a headline appears in the MSM casting a Muslim leader as an extremist he’s basically branded for life.
    re: the “meat” controversy
    Don’t know what he said exactly or what the context was, but I have to say that some people in Western societies certainly do dress in ways that can be reasonably compared to the display of meat in a supermarket. Take those sartorial terrorists who prance around public pools wearing Speedos, for example.

  • Irfan Shah

    W’salam Akram.
    Thanks for your detailed explanation.
    I totally agree with you, and now that I know the issues which worry you, I am glad to see the intentions behind your post.
    Obviously sending short fast messages wont work. But I have to say, the fast food culture, the learn-in-24-hours trends and the excuse of having no time due to the rat-race of money, consumerism etc we all (my comrades, and everyone else) are involved in is one main factor for attracting less attraction to scholarly debates on serious issues in a constructive and helpful way and a lot more attention and exposure to such gimmicks.
    Add that to the irresponsible nature of main stream media’s role which is more interesting in telling us if Brittany Spears had her panties on or not than dealing with, than telling us the atrocities USA (I call it united states of attacks/atrocities) committed such as, the millions of those iraqi children who have died since the 90s, the use of depleted uranium in Iraq, its treatment of my country Pakistan, its excellent use of the famous divide policy as well as in the policy of divide and destroy.
    Its a pity, isn’t it?
    There does rise voices from the world of my comraders as well as non-muslims which want to discuss matters in serious constructive and unbiased fashion, but it isn’t easy. We all know what happened to such poeple. I am sure you have heard of Ward Churchill. I also hope you know how Al Jazeera’s offices got bombed (i don’t mean or know that Al Jazeera could be used as an example of responsible reporting but well it seems to be good), and that austrian professor who got jailed because he, on the basis of his research, challenged the Holocaust.
    What type of freedom of expression are we talking about if we want to silence such voices?
    Also,I fear I did not know much about this Sheikh (although I do remember one mullah and his comments regarding meat).
    Perhaps if i knew more about him and/or had been a more regular reader of the issues discussed on your very interesting blog, I would have been more accurate in understanding your viewpoint and won´t have took it in a wrong manner.
    We share the same opinion regarding the exposure of meat btw.

  • dawood

    It had high hopes and potential, but imho that all went down the drain as soon as it began.
    Personally, I think it is great that Shaykh Taj was open enough to welcome TV cameras and so on in to his home for the duration of the show, and it definitely showed another side to the man the Aussie media love to hate (including his quick wit amongst other things), but it was still a let down in many respects.
    For one, it conformed to the stereotype that Muslims are ONLY Arabs/Lebanese. The sample interviewed was stereotypical – even in Lakemba where the documentary (?) was filmed, there are plenty of Indonesians, Africans etc. who are very, very Muslim, yet none made an appearance, only the Lebanese community.
    I was also not particularly happy with the sample of “average” Muslims either, because the show focused, for example, on one ‘sister’ who refused to shake hands with the guy in question and avoided discussing sensitive issues. Don’t get me wrong – that is cool and more power to her because she did a great job – but plenty of Muslim women here (as elsewhere) WOULD shake his hand and quite freely discuss tricky issues, yet this showing of the divergence within the Muslim community was not stressed.
    The same with the Shaykh himself, once again his near lack of English made it difficult for him to express himself freely and anywhere near as eloquently as he can in Arabic, although he did a good job with what he could and I think everyone saw a more “normal” and “human” side to him somewhat rather than the demagogue like figure the media like to portray him as.
    But as I said before, why didn’t they also show meetings with other Shuyukh – from other ethnic communities, for example (there are a few smart and hip ones out there!) – and definitely a younger crowd? I mean, we have a shaykh here who is Australian-Lebanese born and bred, studied in Hadramawt with Habib `Umar and has been surfing for years, as well as taking part in interfaith dialogue and multicultural education initiatives so that Islam, Christianity, Judaism, indigenous Australians and others can all be brought “together for humanity”. Surely someone like that – who is also a practising lawyer by trade and obviously Sufi too – would be quite interesting. But it’s the same old thing, which is sad because SBS is (or was?) not cut from the same cloth as the other TV channels and media outlets who rant and rave about Muslims.
    The upside was that by interviewing a ‘spokeswomen’ from Camden who has had much press attention here due to her anti-Muslim tirades regarding the building of an Islamic school there – it showed how uninformed and bigoted she was regarding Muslim Australians.
    Could have been much better and more representative in my view, but this is what happens in a culture of sound-bytes and headlines. Poor show overall if you ask me, although it had potential.
    Sorry for the rant! :P