Review – Muslim Driving School, BBC2
Review – Muslim Driving School, BBC2
Issue 66 March 2010, emel magazine
http://www.emel.com/article?id=69&a_id=1949Review by Myriam Francois-Cerrah
‘The Independent’ described Muslim Driving School as a ‘Trojan horse program’, a fitting description when one realises that behind the tedious title, lies a fascinating insight into the Asian Muslim community in Bradford. Once one overcomes the laughable ‘learning to drive is the first step on a longer route to freedom’- analogy, the program actually has quite a lot to offer.
It isn’t too much to say that this program represents the first positive – dare I say, ‘neutral’- look at the Muslim community and its dynamics; from husband/ wife relations, to visas, via Ramadan and the Highway Code. And yet, the program doesn’t skirt away from some of the dirty laundry lurking in our closet such as when Samia discusses her arranged marriage in Pakistan and the negative fall-out from her subsequent divorce.
The program’s avowed focus on driving meant we viewers were afforded a rare glimpse into the lives of people who would never usually be given airtime. It is striking that this may have been the first time niqabi women were allowed to speak for themselves on mainstream TV, without all of the usual politicised analysis of their garb.
The program does seek to look at the community from an ‘outsider’ perspective, and in this, some of the questions may seem a little caricatured but much of the insight into the women’s lives isn’t seeking to be clever, it is just asking the questions most non-Muslims would have wanted to ask. The depth of the show may actually lie in the fact so few Britons may have even met a niqabi, let alone gleaned the type of insight you might acquire over a cup of tea in her front room.
Amongst the more touching stories was that of the young niqabi convert, Aycha, whose father confides he would rather see her Muslim than living the self-destructive lifestyle she’d previously been caught up in. Sat laughing and eating curry alongside his daughter and similarly attired friend, Korsa, the picture speaks a thousand words for the real world coexistence which actually occurs away from the tabloid doomsday headlines.
What the program really needs to be credited with is balance; by allowing the focus to be on the driving – the action occurring in the background does so naturally, without inhibition, warts and all. The female lack of confidence on the road comes to symbolise a deeper unease in a community where women have to struggle for even the most basic aspects of independence and even the well meaning husband could appear controlling in his ability to regulate his wife’s self-confidence.
One of the most endearing characters is the Pakistani grandmother, Taslima, who is learning to drive due to her husband’s diabetes despite him previously being opposed to it. Her humorous nature, enthusiasm for life and kind heartedness shine through as being grounded in her solid faith. As she tearfully prays for an end to hunger and war in the world, there is a window into the humanity the faith fosters and a picture of Islam as concerned for the welfare of all mankind.
This said the program does have its cringe moments, such as when an imam is brought in to tell us Muslim women should have the right to drive and work. Although this was no doubt meant to show the openness of the faith, the fact that this needed to be stated at all was somewhat perturbing. Overall, the show’s focus on driving as a path to emancipation is not entirely convincing, but as a welcome distraction from the usual controversies, it allowed the women to shine. Overall, an alternative and refreshing look at the lives of the Asian Muslim community in Bradford.