“Make me a Muslim”
And what does Channel 4 bring us during this blessed season?
“Make me a Muslim.”
It is about a subtle as screening Jesus of Nazareth in Indonesia during Ramadan, or proclaiming the need for conversion over a full English breakfast in Regents Park mosque at Eid. And if Trevor Phillips is to be believed, Cranmer doubts there are many British Muslims who will be happy with the gross insensitivity displayed by the timing of this documentary.
The three-part series asks: ‘Can Islam help repair the moral fabric of British society?’ The only sensitivity to the season of peace and goodwill is that this is phrased as a question. Cranmer can hardly wait to hear the answer. And one can only guess at what the 70% of the nation who identify themselves as Christian will make of the alleged presumption of the 3% who profess Islam.
Six volunteers in Harrogate have agreed to live according to aspects of Shari’a law under the guidance of Imam Ajmal Masroor. They include a young male gay hairdresser, a female soft-porn star, and an overweight, loud-mouthed lout rather too fond of his beer and bacon sandwiches. They could not be more unsuited, yet the objective is to bring them into submission to Allah by forced adherence to the Five Pillars of Islam.
But what the participating Muslims have failed to understand is that this makes their religion look absurd: it is about what you wear, how you speak, how you pray and what you eat. Either they were unaware of this emphasis, or this truly is what they believe Islam to consist of, and their egocentric desire to propagate their belief system on prime-time television proved a temptation too great.
This may, of course, have been a purposeful decision by the programme makers to convey Islam as a superficial system of outward obedience, intentionally showing the volunteers as being completely incapable of fulfilling the rigorous and burdensome demands of the Islamic law. And this is all about Sunni Islam, by the way: there is no mention of the different strands of the faith, and the volunteers are left ignorant of the more subtle, meditative and heartfelt Sufi interpretation which those who are genuinely searching may find rather more appealing.
If this programme establishes anything, it is that religion, true religion, is of the heart. The Law was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and man is thereby liberated from slavish obedience to it because ultimately he is incapable of attaining salvation through works. It is the cry of God that hearts be circumcised, not the flesh, for it is the heart that must be in submission before the flesh can even begin to follow.
In this final week of Advent, it is more appropriate to meditate upon the wonder of the immanence of God who became incarnate in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, to reflect on the divine indwelling of man through the blessed work of the Holy Spirit, to be grateful that through this redemption man may live for evermore; rather than fruitlessly whistling in the wind in pursuit of a transformed heart by attempting to slavishly follow a media facade of a faith which veritably has all the spiritual worth of a stuffed bear called Mohammed.