As a Muslim, I'm downright confused about whether to be offended over Fireman Sam's Quran faux pas

A scan of article comments and tweets that have since appeared suggested everything from the baby in Tellytubbies soon requiring a headscarf to a fatwah being issued on Pingu. Heaven forbid what might become of Peppa Pig. The reality is – for the majority of Muslims at least – we don’t want (or in fact know how) to issue fatwahs

Asad Dhunna
Thursday 28 July 2016 09:31
Comments
'People are becoming less tolerant of everyday British Muslims expressing their views'
'People are becoming less tolerant of everyday British Muslims expressing their views'

Not a day goes by without Islam making the headlines. Constantly working out my opinion about stories from last week’s Munich shootings to yesterday’s attack in Normandy takes considerable time when being asked to condemn or condone on a daily basis. Today reached new levels of absurdity as it came to light that in Series 9, Episode 7 of the cartoon, Fireman Sam appeared to tread on a page from the Quran.

It started out as a storm in a tea cup – the plucky serviceman is reportedly shown to tread on Al-Mulk – The Sovereignty, verse 14 – and turned into a full blown Twitter storm. “You know the news cycle is mad when you barely bat an eyelid at Fireman Sam being embroiled in an Islamophobia row,” tweeted Kaya Burgess, the religious affairs correspondent at The Times. “I have no idea what went through the producers’ minds when they thought this was a good idea #baffled,” added Miqdaad Versi, Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council.

Versi’s tweet highlights the layers of difficulty in understanding whether this was a deliberate racist provocation.

Was it a mistake or was it premeditated? We can’t know. It’s since been announced that HIT Entertainment has pulled the episode (aptly named “Troubled Waters”, much like Sam’s spoiled brew) and will no longer be working with the animation studio responsible for the mistake. Unless someone speaks up to shed more light on the situation, we can expect that that will be the last we hear about the whole sorry situation.

I personally wasn’t offended because I can believe it was a genuine mistake – perhaps a piece of stock imagery that got sent off in a rush. I believe in the benefit of the doubt and do genuinely wonder why, if someone was intending to cause offence, they would go to such lengths to keep it buried and then present it in such an obscure way.

Wondering if I was alone in my thoughts, I spoke to journalist Hussein Kesvani earlier about whether he was offended himself. “I don’t know if it’s intentionally Islamophobic or just some weird accident,” he told me. “What I think is more interesting is that the Muslim individuals on social media talking about it are being attacked. Rather than people understanding why they’d be angry, they’re just being dismissed and demeaned and even accused of supporting Isis.”

Fireman Sam producer apologises after character seen slipping on Quran

A scan of article comments and tweets that have since appeared suggested everything from the baby in Tellytubbies soon requiring a headscarf to a fatwah being issued on Pingu. Heaven forbid what might become of Peppa Pig. The reality is – for the majority of Muslims at least – we don’t want (or in fact know how) to issue fatwahs; we are just trying to, as Roy Walker taught us in Catchphrase, say what we see.

Rather than painting Muslims as terrorists, we should be asking ourselves what this story suggests about representation in the media. The only times we see references to Islam on screen is either in relation to Isis, as people who play extremist roles, as the generic “troubled young man” in a radicalisation plotline, or now as subjects to Fireman Sam’s footprints.

This lack of visibility is unforgivably isolating for Muslims and, in recent events, we have begun to see the devastating side effects of not listening and understanding genuine concerns. We’re not allowed to speak up because of the backlash, but we’re not allowed to keep quiet because we must condemn daily.

Imagine if we did keep quiet. We could just carry on about our business, not call out things for investigation and therefore not create new comment lines to fill across the internet, never mind talk about how communities can promote integration and openness. But I personally think it would be a dull world if we were discouraged from expressing offence – because a conversation that begins with Fireman Sam might lead you down all sorts of interesting alleyways.

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