There are no laughs in Islam. That is one lesson the creator of BBC sitcom Citizen Khan has learned from some angry viewers, revealing in an article that he has had death threats and torrents of abuse from people who think the comedy makes fun of Islam and stereotypes Asians.
British actor Adil Ray, 41, also plays the lead character of self-appointed “community leader” Mr Khan in the popular show charting the life of a Muslim family from Birmingham. It is now in its fourth season.
Writing for the Radio Times, Mr Ray said that although he had fond hope for the series when it started he has since learned that for many viewers a light-hearted look at the life of a Muslim family is just one step too far. He said:
‘”I was wrong. That first series resulted in more than 700 complaints; we were accused of making fun of Islam and stereotyping Asians.
“I had death threats and to this day receive abuse on social media; namely, that I’m an ‘Uncle Tom’ (the definition of which is a black man considered excessively obedient or servile to whites).”
Citizen Khan returned to the small screen last Friday and it wasn’t hard to find views that supported Mr Ray’s belief that some people just don’t know how to take a joke about a character representing a Pakistan-born grandfather in Birmingham.
Nice to see we are still wasting money on the production of Citizen Khan. Racism at it’s best.
— Kevin Wise (@Radarkbone) October 25, 2015
Despite the negativity of some, the show has been a success. Mr. Ray pointed out that his creation is no different to British favourites like Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses and Basil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers. He added:
“All comedy relies to some extent on big characters and stereotype…Look at Del Boy: a dodgy Peckham businessman who drinks too much. No one is saying that everyone from Peckham is like that, but by playing to stereotype, you create a character whom we all understand, recognise and love, despite his weaknesses. It’s the same thing with Basil Fawlty, the bigot battling his own class war; or the socially awkward Miranda.
“The character I play is Mr Khan – a bearded, slightly old-fashioned, loudmouthed Muslim, a self-appointed community leader living in Birmingham…He’s a good family man – one of the most promoted values in the UK today – and in that sense I see the programme as very British.”
He said writing about Mr Khan discovering his youngest daughter has a boyfriend was “challenging”, and added:
“We didn’t want to play to the negative portrayal of Muslim parents as domineering or pretend that Muslim teenagers don’t have boyfriends. But through thinking about parents in general, we thought it realistic that many, like Mr and Mrs Khan, would not like the idea. They would argue they had their child’s best interests at heart.
“Are we reinforcing the Muslim stereotype of an overly protective parent or just protective parents in general? Mr Khan’s wife and two daughters are fiercely independent women who get their own way. There will be many fathers of teenage daughters across the UK who recognise that, too.”