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Eastenders and the troubled Muslim July 29, 2009

Posted by Rasheed Eldin in Media.

I’m not an Eastenders viewer, but lots of people have asked us to share some comment about the ongoing storyline involving Syed Masood, the engaged Muslim man who has a homosexual encounter with an openly gay man called Christian, and has tortured decisions to make over many subsequent episodes.

I tend to concur with those who have suggested the portrayal of this Asian family is unrealistic, and would add that it’s not the first time that homosexuality was used as an accompaniment to Muslim-ness, because the latter is obviously not enough. Maybe it’s better than making it about terrorism! I previously commented on Channel 4’s apparent obsession, as evidenced by Shariah TV. I also recall an episode of US drama Numb3rs in which the Muslim murder victim seemed to be a character providing a spotlight on Islamophobic violence, but it turned out he was killed by his secret boyfriend(!)

Allow me to share a couple of interesting comments from the MPACUK forum:

“lol, isnt this the same character who turned up out of nowhere and jumped into bed with local trollop janine without a moment’s notice? this character is supposed to be a good muslim man with firm religious conviction?

“asian/muslim characters get rewritten so quickly in uk soaps – the producers are always looking for angles to make them more of a minority whilst allowing them to discover that their backward culture/religion was the only thing holding them back from being part of the superior white/british cultural majority.”

“The father Masood is portrayed fairly well, like a normal family guy. The son Tanwar is typically adolescent and makes me laugh sometimes due to what he says. The mother seems to be playing the typical Jewish mother character stereotype, and is generally harmless.

“Coming to the gay storyline, i have to say that i found its subplots very predictable. They also seem intent on making it into a propaganda exercise, with which they want to make sure they convince the audience that Syed is being untrue to himself by not embracing homosexuality (note I don’t say his homosexuality). They’re also trying their best to show that Christian is not trying to tempt him, and that Elliot has tried his best to fight the temptation so as to not depict him as just being sex obsessed or perverted.

“The one good point in their favour is that they at least, up to now, haven’t tried to argue that it is acceptable within Islam. But if they didn’t want to tackle this issue, I wouldn’t have expected them to raise it at all, yet Christian told Syed that he should follow his heart and not the Quran. That’s not a typical Eastenders line, and therefore although it is being taken as a given that its unislamic to be gay at the moment, I suspect that this may change (possibly through the ‘wise’ father Masood giving his approval and encouragement).”

Once any Islam-twisting takes place, that’s when I will see an importance in analysing and responding to such content. So far it is mostly clichés about “being honest with yourself”. I would appreciate if readers could inform me of anything of that nature, as I don’t intend to comb over every episode from now on!

Syed himself expressed very noble sentiments when he said:

Look, I’m a good boy. I love my family, I go to prayers, I observe. I’m a good Muslim. I’m gonna make something of my life. … I’m gonna have a lovely wife and gorgeous kids. I’m gonna be somebody respected. And there isn’t room for anything else.

I say good luck to you, since the scriptwriters probably won’t let that happen…


1. Rasheed Eldin - July 30, 2009

See also:
‘Gay Muslims’ comment on Eastenders

By the way, I don’t see why some people are describing him as a “gay Muslim character” – it seems that according to their own definitions, he’s more likely to be “bisexual”. He is clearly in love with his fiancée despite having an attraction to Christian, who can’t seem to accept Syed’s happiness with anyone but himself. The thought that Syed is “bi” doesn’t even seem to occur to him, as his motivations seem more selfish rather than trying to encourage his friend to be “true to himself”.

Oh dear, it seems I watched more than I wanted to 🙂

2. Rasheed Eldin - August 2, 2009

According to an Imaan official at their forum, the BBC “[got] in touch with Imaan to consult us on how to broach the topic sensitively and ultimately, positively. I mean, Imaan has even been sent scripts of the storyline to see exactly how the story will pan out and I think that we’re quite lucky to have that kind of consideration.”

I think it’s fair to ask whether they consulted other Muslim organisations too!

3. Rasheed Eldin - August 2, 2009

The thread is interesting in a number of ways, not least the way that various forum members verbally ogle the actor playing Syed and others. The same official I just mentioned also shared this:

“Sayeed looked quite gorgeous in his indian style kurtah top. Hot.” While another remarked: “The opening scene with Christian shirtless was hotter than the kiss.” That’s not the worst of it.

Now my point is not to nit-pick on some random people’s lack of shame, but actually to suggest that people leading groups like Imaan stop and think. The problem stems from setting up groups based on “being gay”. Reminds me of this old post:

4. ‘Gay Muslims’ comment on Eastenders « Eye on ‘Gay Muslims’ - August 2, 2009

[…] But the 30-year-old local councillor and Unison worker has been paying special attention since EastEnders introduced its first gay Muslim character. Akhtar, the chair of Imaan, an organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Muslims, […]

5. David Gee (author of SHAIKH-DOWN) - May 14, 2010

What seemed to be a promising storyline exploring the dilemma facing a gay Muslim has turned into a barrage of soap cliche. Syed’s father Masood has become more than a little sympathetic to his son’s predicament, as have his geek brother and even the local “liberal” mullah. In the real world it is surely they, rather than Syed’s father-in-law, who would have set up an ‘honour’ beating or killing of both the Muslim ‘betrayer’ and his boyfriend.

On ITV the role of psycho gay-hater has been transferred to Zainab, the fire-breathing mother from hell who now wishes her bisexual son’s booze-and-pills overdose had put him in the cemetery. Daft – and sometimes demented – matriarchs are a tired old cliche of soaps from Dynasty to Coronation Street. I have only a small amount of observational experience of Muslim mums, but I’m willing to bet they would be arguing -and maybe even fighting – to stop their precious boys from being cast into Outer Darkness.

Was it in the interest of Political Correctness that the writers/producers decided to jettison an accurate portrayal of Islam’s fascistic cult of homophobia in favour of a Bollywood take on Dynasty’s Alexis Carrington Colby?

It’s a shame that a daring and even sensitive storyline has turned to pulp fiction a la Jackie Collins. I’m told there’s a gay plot-line in Emmerdale and lesbians in ‘Corrie’, but life’s too short to watch that much soap!

Rasheed Eldin - May 14, 2010

Indeed it is, or to quibble over the portrayal of a Brit-Asian family that clearly doesn’t have much grasp on Islam in the first place, reacting to a deeply immoral son. Cheating is enough of an abomination, even putting aside the homosexual aspect.

But you can call Islam a “fascistic cult of homophobia” or whatever you want, but you’ve just slammed the door of dialogue in your own face.

David Gee (author of SHAIKH-DOWN) - May 16, 2010

With gays persecuted and even tortured and murdered in many Muslim countries (and even in some that aren’t) I’m not sure that there’s a door to open. I wish there were. A gay boyfriend of mine in Qatar was forced by his parents into an arranged marriage; he and his bride did not “live happily ever after”. (This gave me some of the plot of my novel.)

6. David Gee (author of SHAIKH-DOWN) - May 22, 2010

Last night (May 21) the story moved on with Syed approaching someone who he hopes can “cure” him of homosexuality. There are people (mostly Evangelical Christians in the US) who claim that it’s possible to be “cured”. Gays and psychologists refute this notion. Homosexuality is not a sickness, it’s a natural state to those who have it. It may not be “normal” but it is our natural state.

Fundamentalist Christians quote the Old Testament where homosexuality is condemned as an “abomination”. Jesus is not recorded as having passed a judgment on this issue, but many Christian theologians have found a way to welcome gays into the faith. Is it not possible for a man (or woman) to be gay AND a good Muslim? Must the door to Faith be closed rather than open?

Incidentally, Tamwar, the geeky brother of Syed, was given a nice line yesterday. He said, “Your family should love you regardless.”

To which I’d like to add that “God should love you regardless.” Or is that not possible?

P.S. I don’t usually watch Soaps, but this storyline has got me hooked! I’ve known many gay (or bisexual) Muslims who struggle with their consciences. It’s just as hard for gays in other faiths.

Rasheed Eldin - May 22, 2010

Of course, Syed’s hope for a “cure” will be doomed to fail because it’s supposed to be impossible, despite many (“gays”?) testifying to their own personal success in steering their lives in the direction they wanted. Seems that some personal experiences are to be considered, and others ignored.

The door to faith is wide open, and the door to sin is also there but behind it is Hell. Someone who has same-sex attractions should follow the path of truth and piety, and that way will achieve the best of this life and the Next.

Almighty God continues to have mercy on even the worst of sinners, as manifested in His giving that sinner time to come back to Him, to repent and be enveloped in His Love. This is better than a hedonistic pseudo-theology.

7. David Gee (author of SHAIKH-DOWN) - May 23, 2010

Rasheed, you and I clearly come from opposite ends of the spectrum of Faith. I (a little) envy you the solidity of your conviction. I had faith like that once. As a matter of fact, I’ve just started writing a new novel about a man who wrestles with bisexuality and wavering faith (Christian faith in his case). I’ve known many Christians in this position (and also, as mentioned previously, a few Muslims).

Yes, men (and women) have been “cured” of homosexuality, but many more have not and would not want to be. Is there no ‘liberal’ theology in Islam? I know that gays are widely perceived to be promiscuous, and promiscuity (gay and straight) is sinful in almost all religions, but must a monagamous gay couple also be condemned?

I have a 95-year-old neighbour here on the UK south coast who had a loving relationship with his ‘other half’ (as he calls him) for 72 years until his partner died. Do you say they are both doomed to Hell?

Rasheed Eldin - May 23, 2010

David, the key for me is to consider faith, theology and jurisprudence as the bases, and issues of sexuality just one branch matter among many others. Neither am I like those who derive theology to suit their sexual feelings and sexuality theories, nor am I motivated by some passionate ‘hatred’ of all things gay.

You ask me to judge a particular couple when God is the real Judge, while we can only state the generalities based on the revelation. If they are not Muslims, that is far more relevant to the question than anything else. As for the one who’s still alive, he’s certainly not doomed as he can still repent if he chooses to. Excuse my brevity, but I think the question is somewhat misplaced.

Best wishes.

8. david gee - May 24, 2010

Rasheed, I get the feeling you do not belong to the ‘liberal’ wing of Islamic theology, if there is such a wing. I was raised a Methodist, one of the pioneering sects of liberal Christianity.

It saddens me when churches/mosques/synagogues close their doors to homosexual men and women who still have faith. Over the years the concept of ‘gay and Christian’ has gained widespread acceptance. Can ‘gay and Muslim’ not be tolerated? Open that door, Rasheed!

Rasheed Eldin - May 24, 2010

Liberality is a relative matter, and I see no virtue in defining myself by it, rather than simply wishing to adhere faithfully and intellectually to the letter and spirit of God’s revelation.

No mosque should close its doors to any person of faith, regardless of what they feel inside. Indeed, even if they are living the ‘gay’ life, so long as they do not spread discord in public.

We have discussed at length on this site the problems with the “gay Muslim” concept. For example:
See also:

9. david gee - May 25, 2010

Rasheed, I’ve read through your dialogue with No-Nonsense Sister. I particularly liked your quote that “nobody is sinful for what they feel inside”. The Catholic Church takes a similar view, that gay “leanings” are not a sin but giving in to them is. This of course means that gay men and women have to be Celibate to remain in a state of grace.

Not easy. In fact, impossible for most gays. Which means they have to try harder, pray harder – or drift from the Faith. For Christians there are the more liberal churches, also called “inclusive”. Not an option for gay Muslims, I deduce from your postings.

Our differences are irreconcilable, Rasheed, but thanks for the debate! Salaam.

Rasheed Eldin - May 25, 2010

Thanks David, I would tend to agree that we won’t get much further on this track, but the thought I’d like to leave you with is that anyone could form a more “inclusive, liberal, tolerant” brand of Islam if they want (and some have indeed tried), but what would be the use? Ultimately we only wish to live in accordance with what God actually wants from us, not what we want Him to want. So rather than fill people with false hopes, we try to inform people of the realities of Islam’s teachings, so they can direct their proper hope towards the Almighty, and live this life (however much of a struggle it is – and it is, for every human) in the way that pleases Him.

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