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Citizen Khan sitcom stokes controversy among British Muslims

A BBC sitcom about the life of a Pakistani family has provoked a controversy among British Muslims about whether the show is offensive to their religion.

A promo photo for the BBC production, 'Citizen Khan'. The BBC said it received 187 complaints about the first episode the day after it aired.
A promo photo for the BBC production, 'Citizen Khan'. The BBC said it received 187 complaints about the first episode the day after it aired.

LONDON // A BBC sitcom about the life of a Pakistani family has provoked a controversy among British Muslims about whether the show is offensive to their religion.

Citizen Khan, created by Adil Ray, a British Muslim who also plays the lead character Mr Khan, debuted on Monday to 3.6 million viewers. The show pokes fun at Ray's character, who has delusions about his standing in the community that are viewed more clearly by his wife. Some of the action takes place at the local mosque, which is managed by a British convert to Islam who becomes the butt of jokes made by Mr Khan because of his red hair.

The BBC said it received 187 complaints about the first episode the day after it aired. Ofcom, the UK's television regulator, said it had received 20 complaints and may launch inquiry, the Guardian reported yesterday.

However, some Muslim community leaders say the anger is unwarranted.

One of the scenes that appeared to cause the most controversy showed Mr Khan's daughter rushing to put on a hijab and pretending to read the Quran when her father walks into the room.

One viewer wrote on the BBC's message board wrote they were disappointed about the way the daughter "disrespectfully opens the Quran".

"I think a lot of people thought that they used a real Quran for this scene and that's why they got upset," said Salman Farsi, a spokesman for the East London Mosque. "Personally, I don't think they did use a real Quran because the show was made by a Muslim who would know not to do that because it would cause offence."

The show should not be viewed as a dramatic look inside the British Muslim community, but for what it is: a light comedy, said Farooq Murad, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain. The council represents about 350 mosques and educational, charitable, women's, youth and professional organisations in the UK.

"Some in our community may have been offended by small parts of the show and if that is the case, they have the right to make their feelings known to the BBC," Mr Murad said. "We hope the BBC will consult further with any future offerings."

He was less forgiving of the show when it came to its artistic merits.

"It is something of a throwback to the 1970s, and not particularly realistic, but we leave it to others to judge its critical merit. It certainly won't provide much insight into the Muslim community today but perhaps that was not its intention," Mr Murad said.

The show has been widely panned by critics in the British press.

Ray said the show was intended to allow the British Muslim community to laugh at itself.

"I think it is a great opportunity, with Mr Khan as a Pakistani Muslim and the character, to take that kind of really rich content and laugh at ourselves and I am a firm believer in that," he told BBC Breakfast this week.

Some commenters on Twitter said they were angered and offended about the show's content.

"They crossed the line when they brought religion into it," said Rajah_Talat.

"I was so disgusted with that Citizen Khan sitcom aired yesterday. Shame on the person who thought of such a concept," said kairiz, also on Twitter.

The BBC defended the programme, saying it had evidence of a "lobbying" campaign against the show. Mr Farsi, of the East London Mosque, said he was not aware of any lobbying campaign against the show.

Amjad Malik wrote on Asian Image, a website that caters to Asian readers in north-west England, that it was too early to judge until after the entire six-part series had been broadcast.

"I sense some white audiences might feel uncomfortable at sniggering at some jokes but Asians will easily identify with the overly-emotional Mrs Khan (Shobu Kapoor), the daughter who leads a double life and the sensitive Amjad (Abdullah Afzal)," he wrote.

"There were moments I did not laugh and at other points I was laughing out loud. It is after all a sitcom and it is on BBC1 [light entertainment channel]."

foreign.desk@thenational.ae