Dating shows really are some of the greatest things on TV, aren’t they? For sheer fun, there’s not much better than watching two strangers flirt awkwardly under the uncomfortable glare of TV lights. Think Channel 4’s First Dates, a dinner-date/cringe-fest format where potential lovers share a meal before deciding if they want to see each other again. It can get pretty brutal. Even if you’ve never watched it, you can probably guess that it doesn’t feature a lot of Muslim singles on the show. While we doubt a ‘Muslim First Dates’ is in the works, Channel 4 did make an effort to show what it’s like to be a young Muslim on the search for love in new show, Extremely British Muslims, which aired last night.
The three part series focuses on the community surrounding the Birmingham Central Mosque. The first episode follows two young women as they attempt to find the perfect partner through dating sites, family, and the mosque’s own marriage bureau. For Bella and Nayera, the search isn’t easy.
Both know what they’re after: They’re educated, switched on, and want a man whose religious but not, as Bella says, ‘too oppressive, like you can’t do this, you can’t do that.’ While this ruffles a few of their older relatives, independence is a simple practicality for Nayera, an engineering grad who knows how hard the post-uni world can be. ‘In this day and age, you can’t survive with only one person working.’
The first episode has been getting a lot of heat on Twitter, with tweets about stereotypes and misrepresentation flying across TLs. It can be hard for a show like EBM to avoid these criticisms when it concentrates on a single community of mostly Pakistani origin. Still, it did well to illustrate the girl’s efforts to reconcile their faith with different cultures and generations. Bella, after meeting a guy she kind-of-sort-of liked, stresses, ‘you’re stuck in between these two worlds, trying to balance everything and keep everyone happy.’ When we last see her, Bella’s just met a man who seems to agree with her view of marriage being more than just ‘man hunt. Woman cook.’
But Nayera has less luck. She meets one potential partner via a dating site, but the IRL encounter doesn’t quite go to plan. He’s after a wife who’ll cook and raise the kids; she wants a career – something a little more ‘Western’, which she says is as much a part of her identity as her religion. Cue a very awks convo and the sort of side-eye fit for First Dates. You know this duo won’t be meeting again.
Given some of the more traditional views on display on the show, it’s easy to pick EBM apart. As one man worries, ‘the women have become the men they want to marry’ AKA smart, independent and reliable. But while Bella’s and Nayera’s luck was out when the cameras were rolling, the pre-credits blurb said they had both met someone since filming wrapped. Apparently, it was possible for them to find men who share their modern outlook on Islam.