June 30 2005

30 Days, Episode 3:Muslims and America

This week on Morgan Spurlock’s 30 Days, 33 year old David Stacy, a die-hard Christian, moved from his home in West Virgina to Dearborn, MI to live as a Muslim. To give you an idea of his starting point, Morgan asks him what does he think of when he thinks of Muslims, his response is “A guy with an AK-47.” Oh goody.

As one can expect, this plays out as a morality tale of learning to love thy neighbor, no matter what the differences are. It did have some nice primer information about the religion of Islam (explaining how Muslims do recognize Jesus as a prophet, and that they feel they come from the same religious tree as Judaism and Christianity)

As part of the “experiment” (I use the term lightly), David moved in with a Muslim family in Michigan, the Haque family. Shamael is a first year resident, and his wife, Sadia, is going to law school and they have a two year old daughter, Hanaan. Shamael and Sadia are both of Pakistani descent, but were born here in the United States. Overall he got along with the family, and we only saw one instance of him having an argument over terroism with them. It did get heated, but not horribly so.

David is hard pressed to accept all the aspects of the Islamic life, especially the praying. He feels that to do so, would go agianst his God. Up until the very last day, he avoids praying, which is difficult to do since Muslims pray five times a day, the first time each day being at 5:30 AM. When he does finally pray at a large Mosque, he can be seen holding a cross in his right hand, at last he has found a compromise between the two.

There were a lot of things though that David was still having trouble with, and a lot of things that went unexplained. I can only remember seeing him read from the Qur’an (the Islamic holy book) once. Did he read it fully? Did he even try? He did take lessons in Arabic to better understand the praying, but he didn’t begin those lessons until he was two weeks into the process. I was happy to see him go to a Halaal butcher to better understand their diet, and the way their food must be prepared.

The biggest gap though comes at the end of the episode. David is asked to go out and get signatures on a petition to stop the racial profiling of Muslims. He goes out in full Islamic dress, and attempts to collect signatures. We see rejection after rejection, and the inevitable accusations of Muslims being terrorists. He defends the Islamic faith, and says that every religion has their radicals, and that the boming of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City is an example of that. How did David suddnely become a defender of Muslims? Why did he have this seeming change of heart? The episode never showed any “revelation” type moment where he suddenly understand the Muslim faith any better, so why did he feel a sudden need to defend them?

Like I said after the first episode though, this series is facing the problem of being predictible. Did anyone really expect David to walk away from this experiance hating Muslims? I doubt it. There is even an article online now from someone who was approached to represent the Muslims in the episode. The article quotes information that came from Morgan Spurlock’s production company:

“This process aims to deconstruct common misconceptions and stereotypes. . . . Our character will learn firsthand about Islam and the daily issues that . . . Muslims in America face today. The viewers will witness our character emerge from the immersion situation with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Muslim-American experience. . . . The potential is great for this program to enlighten a national television audience about the Muslim American experience and increase their compassion, understanding and support.”

This episode suffered the worst yet from the 1-hour format. There were so many more things I would have liked to have seen. Don’t get me wrong, the episode probably did it’s job, and if it got through to even one person, fantastic, but I doubt it did. I just didn’t feel anything was explained in enough depth. To much time was spent on “Muslims are terrorists!” “No they’re not!” as opposed to just saying flat out that Qur’an teaches non-violence. Really, it’s that simple, it could have been summed up in a few easy sentances.

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