"Some of the participants think that Islam is all about taking things away," said Ajmal Masroor in Make Me a Muslim. "That's not true. If they've got dodgy stuff in their houses and if they truly want to practise and experience Islam, I'm afraid they will have to give it up." Ajmal's logic rather escaped me here, as did that of his colleague Suleiman when he was helping Luke reorient his wardrobe away from Queer as Folk and towards The Office. "Take your time but hurry up," he said, as he ushered Luke towards the dressing room clutching an armful of beige slacks and sleeveless shirts. Then again, logical coherence and rationality were scarcely the point here. What was required was unquestioning subservience to irrationality. Ajmal had gone to the palest heart of England (Harrogate: population approximately 150,000, Muslim population a mysteriously precise 311) to help a handful of curious locals live as Muslims for three weeks. With him he had Suleiman, a south London preacher called Mohamed, and Dawn, a British convert to Islam.
The impulse for this dubious experiment had notionally come from Ajmal himself, who was sufficiently worried about the shortcomings of British society (cue pictures of Saturday-night drunks and hen-party harridans) to suggest that the Koran might offer a cure. Quite why he didn't apply it in the inner-city sinks where the symptoms flare most conspicuously wasn't explained, though it's possible that the experiment would only have lasted around 30 minutes before the "doctors" were punched. So, instead, they took it to a genteel Yorkshire town where binge drinking usually means having more than three cups of the English breakfast blend in Betty's Cafe Tea Room. There, Phil, a taxi driver who likes to relax by popping down to Harrogate's only lap-dancing club, Karla, who is in a long-term relationship with a less than assiduous Muslim, and Luke, a gay man who is tired of one-night stands, were readying themselves for at least some of the five pillars of Islam.
Kerry was a bit of a challenge, too, given her occupation as a glamour model and her recently purchased breast enhancements, which pushed the burka to bursting when Dawn restyled her to meet Islamic requirements of modesty. Kerry didn't care for her new wardrobe, but she wasn't half as outraged as Karla when Mohamed went through her clothes, pulling out everything that he thought indecent. "A lot of women have been raped in Britain and all over the world," Mohamed explained. "Why are women inviting it?" You might have hoped that this would have taken the crown for most offensively stupid thing said in the programme, but Mohamed had more up his sleeve, later insisting to Luke that "nobody is born to be lesbian, nobody is born to be gay". He then set off to find him a wife by trawling the streets of Harrogate with a glossy photograph of the prospective groom. I couldn't quite work out who should be more insulted by this pointless stunt: Muslims, who can't be happy to be represented by such witless dating-game antics, or viewers as a whole, who were supposed not to ask any questions about who had put Mohamed up to it. Meanwhile, Suleiman, who was also worried about Luke's sexuality, decided that he needed to spend less time with women and sent him off to play cricket with some Muslim boys, who Luke appeared to survey with more than merely spiritual appreciation. Curiously, in one small way the attempt to generate greater understanding of Islam did work. As a cheerful infidel, I started watching with the assumption that, like other religions, it's just an attempt to stuff existential cracks with fantastical wadding. I ended by thinking, 'It's lasted 1,400 years... it can't be as silly as it appears here."
In Sunday's Dawn French's More Boys Who Do: Comedy, Dawn asked various comedians whether they'd ever misjudged material badly. I can't think of a decorous way to describe the example Simon Pegg came up with, though it made Dawn French laugh, not so much for the material itself as the thought that he'd ever believed he might get away with it in mixed company. But something about the programme's intimacy, the sense that it's just between you and me, made it work here. As did Bob Newhart's example, a story about a man who'd been abducted by Martians and was being debriefed on his experience by the CIA. "Was it a more advanced civilisation on ours?" they ask. "Oh, definitely," the abductee replies. "How far ahead of us were they?" The man thinks carefully. "About six weeks." Apparently, nobody laughed at his gigs, but they did in my house.
Michael Parkinson finally bowed out after several centuries of schmoozing celebrities in Parkinson: the Final Conversation. As Wittgenstein said in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: "Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent." Or as my Mum put it: "If you can't think of anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."Reuse content