Well, it looks like I’m the winner of the “Recap the Controversial Show of the Week” Contest! AND not only do I have to recap a show about a very complex issue (no fat guys in speedos or dumb blondes anywhere in sight), I have to follow both oneTVslave and roseskid, who have taken turns recapping the previous episodes. So right, no pressure there. I realize that there are some stories in the media regarding this particular episode. I’m choosing to ignore them and just recap the show. We all know this is edited: let’s take it for what it’s worth. While nothing in life comes out as neat and clean as it does on television, I do believe that Morgan Spurlock does have his heart in the right place with this series.
Before we get started, I have to claim a bit of a bias. For about 8 months, I had a roommate who converted to Islam. This in and of itself is not a huge problem. The fact that she was manic depressive and mildly obsessive compulsive made it a major deal. Of course, if she had become a vegetarian instead, I don’t think I would have been woken up at dawn every morning by her praying. Every conversation I had with her somehow led back to a discussion of Islam (a sort of “All roads lead to Mecca” approach to communication). Once, upon seeing my cat cleaning himself and in the midst of a position we’ll call “playing the cello,” she managed to segue into a discussion of the Muslim ritual of washing before prayer. All this from seeing my cat lick his butt. At least if she’d gone vegetarian I would’ve gotten some good recipes.
On With the Show!
The subject of this weeks episode of 30 Days is Islam and show opens with creator, Morgan Spurlock, talking about how perceptions of Muslims have changed in America. Where Americans used to think of snake charmers, belly dancers and The Arabian Nights when we heard the word Muslim, things have changed. After 9-11, Americans think of Osama Bin Laden and the World Trade Center burning. As Islam is the second largest religion in the world, with 1.5 billion members worldwide and 6 million in the United States, it’s important to try to understand and de-mystify Islam.
In looking for the right person (aka: “The Guinea Pig”) for this episode, Spurlock went to his home state of West Virginia. He introduces us to Dave Stacy, a thirtysomething family man from Charleston, West Virginia, who is a devout Christian. Spurlock describes Dave as a “red-blooded, beer-drinking, pork-eating American.” Dave seems like a nice guy, but he’s not exactly a deep thinker, nor is he very well informed about the Muslim faith. For thirty days, Dave will live as a Muslim… and we get to watch.
No Party, No Disco, No Foolin’ Around
We visit Dave’s home and meet his wife, who says she is in shock about what her husband is about to do. Dave ideas of Muslims extend no further than a woman covered with a sheet and a man with an AK-47, at war with someone. I’d like to think that Dave’s perceptions are not the norm, but something tells me they are probably quite common.
Dave’s 30 days begin as Spurlock lays down the rules by which Dave must live for the next 30 days:
1. He must live as a Muslim and follow all the customs and traditions, from clothing to food
2. He must study the Quran daily
3. He must grow a beard
Dave steps out to change into Muslim garb. He immediately feels different. Dave says goodbye to his family and flies to Dearborn, Michigan, home to the largest population of Muslims in the U.S.. At the airport, Dave is amazed at the difference that just a change of clothes has made in the way people treat him. He is singled out to be searched by airport security. He tells us that he has never been stopped at the airport before and that he already feels “vulnerable.” We see people blatantly staring at him or glancing and then quickly looking away. I’m sure the stares had nothing to do with the cameras. Honestly though, he may have been dressed like a Muslim, but everything else about him screams “Redneck!”
This show is punctuated by Morgan Spurlock’s “Man on the Street”-type interviews and bits of information. This time, he’s on the street asking “regular Americans” (who really seem a lot more ignorant than people I know) to play word association with him. What get is this:
Muslim = terrorist
Terrorist = Muslim
Islam = Bin Laden
Islam = scared
Probably not as many of these people would have made these associations before 9-11, but it’s still a little surprising. Islam may be the fastest growing religion in the world, but this little exercise shows that many Americans very likely know little about it. Dave is no exception.
Dave is on his way to the local mosque to meet his host family, the Haques (pronounced “Hawks”). Shamael is a doctor and his wife, Sabia, is studying law. The Haques are American Muslims of Pakistani descent and speak perfectly unaccented English (unlike Dave who’s got a bit of a twang). At dinner, Dave admits that he knows next to nothing about the Muslim faith – there are not many Muslims in West Virginia. Shamael tells Dave that they definitely have been experiencing more discrimination and dirty looks since 9-11. Sabia says that people comment on her lack of accent, not realizing that she was born and raised in America. They discuss the hijab (head covering) that Muslim women wear. Sabia tells Dave that it was adopted from the Judeo Christian tradition of women covering their hair. Later, Shamael presents Dave with his own copy of the Quran. He will be studying it every day.
Spurlock break: All Muslims study the Quran and they all live by the 5 pillars of Islam:
1. Faith in one god
4. Pilgrimage to Mecca
5. Prayer 5 times a day
Reveille, Muslim-Style (Day 2)
It’s the Dave’s first morning as a Muslim and it is starting early! The first prayer of the day begins at 5:30. He watches as the Haques pray and says that he feels like a fish out of water. He also allows that he may be a little more freaked out by this whole thing that he has let on.
Shamael tells Dave that the rules of Islam, regarding men and women, mean that Dave cannot stay in the house alone with Sabia. Dave is offended, taking it personally, but he agrees to go out. He decides to explore Dearborn. While Dearborn was once predominantly Polish and German, it is now 30% Muslim. There are over 30 mosques in Dearborn alone.
Dave needs some more Muslim attire, so he decides to take a shopping trip. While there, he gets into a discussion with the shopkeeper and finds that, not only is she Iraqi, but her three brothers were killed by Sadaam Hussein - one was imprisoned by him for 10 years. As they talk, Dave gathers up some more clothing. At one point, he puts on a hat and asks what it is called. She replies, “A hat.” So much for cultural differences, eh Dave?
”Wait a minute! I thought my God was better than your god!”
Dave has his first meeting with the imam at the mosque to begin his education about Islam. The imam is the prayer leader at the mosque – similar to a minister or priest. The imam explains to Dave that Christians, Jews and Muslims all believe in the same god, they just worship that god in different ways. Dave seems surprised by this bit of knowledge and you can tell that he really doesn’t believe the imam.
In voice over, Spurlock tells us that Islam, Christianity and Judaism all come from the same religious “tree.” Abraham and Jesus are even considered prophets in the Muslim faith.
Although Dave will be meeting with the imam, he will be learning the most about Islam by living in a Muslim home. He spends time with the Haques and their friends. They ask him about his experiences thus far. He tells them of being stopped in the airport, as well as the looks and stares. As he talks about the airport inspection and the metal detector wand, they all nod their heads – they know all about the wand.
Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming
It’s Day 4 and Dave is still feeling awkward about praying. As he watches everyone else pray, he says that he feels like Nemo, lost in the big sea.
Dave tells us that he may be in Dearborn, but he might as well be in Egypt. He observes that the food he has been eating is completely different from his usual diet. He also has not been watching television or doing the other things he normally does. Being the only person of a different faith is making him feel lonely and isolated.
The next day is Dave’s first Juma, or Friday prayer service, and he continues to feel awkward about praying. He says that he’s sure that Jesus Christ is not going to be the focal point of this prayer. Thanks for that observation, Captain Obvious. Oy. He tries to discuss his feelings of discomfort over praying with the imam. He says that the Muslim god is not the same as his God. The imam tells him that he is there to learn, not to believe. Good point there. Dave tells us that he doesn’t like that the prayers are in Arabic. For all he knows, the prayers could be condemning Christianity and the Holy Trinity. He feels as if praying in Arabic, to “another god” would be like betraying his beliefs. The imam tells Dave that he should use the time to talk to god and not worry so much what language the prayer is in. Honestly, I think Dave should be more worried that the prayers include little asides like “Holy crap! Can you believe what an idiot this guy Dave is?” Not that Dave isn’t a nice guy, but he’s not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer.
It’s Day 9 and Dave is attending a Muslim bachelor party. It starts out with the guys playing basketball and includes lots of food. Then they all stop for prayer. Dave is struck by the religiosity of the group. He tells us that this isn’t like any bachelor party he’s ever been to, in that he’s able to remember all of it and won’t wake up the next morning in a seedy motel in Tijuana with a bunch of dollar bills stuffed into his Jockey shorts. <----- May be slight exaggeration
Spurlock break: Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all closely related, but there are some differences. Jews believe that in the one true god, but are still waiting for the messiah. Christians believe that Jesus is that messiah. Muslims, while thinking that Jesus was a cool guy, believe that Mohammed is the prophet.
Who’s on First
With more questions about Islamic prayer, Dave returns to the Karbalah center, hoping to get some answers from the imam. He wants to know more about the prayers: what is being said and the washing ritual before prayer. He tells the imam that he is interested in learning. Instead of answering Dave’s question, the imam seems to want a debate. What follows is a confusing ramble about how god (i.e. Jesus) cannot die. He then chides Dave for sitting with his legs crossed so that the sole of his shoe is facing the imam. In all fairness, I’m sure Dave had no idea that this is not proper etiquette and I think the imam was being a little tough on him. It seems like, even though he really is woefully ignorant, he is interested in learning. This is more than most people would be willing to do, I think. Dave leaves the mosque looking even more confused than before.
Dave is really starting to feel homesick. He calls to talk to his wife and opens the package he received from her that day. He says that he was expecting a “care package,” with pictures in it. Instead, she sent him pants. She cries when he complains about the lack of care in the package.
Spurlock break: On the street, Morgan plays the Muslim call to prayer on a boom box and asks people what they think it is. This leads into a piece about the controversy surrounding the broadcasting, by mosques, of this call to prayer. Some people say it is noise pollution, others make fun of it. Spurlock asks about church bells and one woman says that that doesn’t count because it isn’t “words.” One guy, who apparently doesn’t know what year it is, says that, if a mosque next door to him played the call to prayer, he’d just blast them with some Tom Petty or Duran Duran in response. Very mature.
Dave meets Haaris Ahmed, a lawyer for the Council on American Islamic Relations. Haaris tells us that Muslims are facing the same issues that the Polish immigrants dealth with 100 years ago. Dave and Haaris meet with Shahab Ahmed, a city council member. They tell Dave about the threats being received as a result of the call to prayer issue.
Throwing Down the Prayers, Mohammed Style (Day 13)
Dave is still feeling conflicted about praying. He makes a call to Morgan, who reminds him that he agreed to follow all of the rules and suggests that Dave speak to the imam. Dave tells Morgan that he really is not getting answers from the imam. Morgan tells him that he should at least be unrolling his prayer mat and observing the time.
Out of frustration over his dialogues with the imam, Dave seeks out some new teachers. His first mission is to learn some Arabic. Ameer, his Arabic instructor, starts him off and Dave seems to be making some progress.
Dave also seeks out a new imam for answers to the questions he has been asking. He travels to a new mosque that is being built in Detroit. Dave asks about the separation of men and women in prayer service. The imam explains that this is out of modesty. If a man is praying behind a woman who is bending over, he may find it difficult to concentrate. Dave laughs and says that he understands. We bet you do, Dave. This imam also provides Dave with a diagram showing the different body positions during prayer, as well as a translation of the prayers. This is exactly what he wanted. That night, he begins to try to learn the prayer. It is complicated and he’s having a tough time. He does seem relieved to learn that the prayer doesn’t say something like “All Christians suck! Especially Dave!” Note: if anyone is interested in reading more about the prayers and what they mean, IslamiCity has some good information.
How do you say, “Get me another beer”?
Dave is doing well with his Arabic lessons and has developed a nice rapport with his teacher, Ameer. Dave can now say “I miss my family” in Arabic. They have a good-natured discussion about the Islamic rule against alcohol consumption. Ameer says that Muslims still have fun, but it is “responsible fun.” Dave’s eyes gloss over as he speaks fondly of getting a little buzzed over some beers. Ameer reminds people that in Christianity, alcohol is also verboten. I expect Dave to put his fingers in his ears and sing “LALALALALA I am not listening to you!” but he restrains himself.
On Day 21, Dave visits the county fair with the Haques. They spend time in the livestock area looking at the pigs. Dave makes a point of saying that the pigs would look good on his grill. Sadia says that they look like filthy animals. Shamael says that they’re kind of cute but that, damn they stink.
Spurlock break: The Haques do not eat pork because it is not halal. Halal is the “most integral part of Islamic life” and is the god-given standard that all Muslims live by. Halal is the Muslim equivalent of kosher. This includes no pork, no alcohol and only eating meat that has been blessed at the moment of slaughter.
Dave says that 90% of the meals he has eaten so far have been halal and they have all included lots of garlic. He tells us that he’s gone through at least 1 ½ tins of Altoids. Good thing we don’t have Smell-O-Vision, Dave.
Dave has decided to cook dinner for his hosts, as a way of thanking them for their hospitality, so he makes his way to the halal butcher to get meat. I don’t know if they showed anything gory at the butcher or not. I kept my eyes down. I didn’t hear any horrible screams, so I think they left the slaughter part to our imaginations.
Back at home, Dave prepares kabobs for the Haques and some of their friends. Soon the discussion turns to Islam and terrorism and things quickly get heated. Just as Dave and Shamael really starting in on each other, Sabia reminds them that it is time for prayer. Everyone stops what they were doing and goes to pray. Dave observes that, by the time they finished their prayers, all of that hostility had abated.
Defending the Faith )Day 25)
Dave is becoming comfortable living as a Muslim in this insular community. Spurlock decides to see how he will do “outside” as a Muslim. Armed with a petition from the Council on American Islamic Relations, opposing racial profiling, and dressed as a Muslim, Dave hits the streets to get the signatures. Not one person will sign the petition and some even get a little hostile. One man, who looks like he should be on that bulletin board at the post office, says that Muslims attacked the World Trade Center, not Christians. (Note: If I was on a plane and this guy sat down next to me, I’d be way more worried than if Shamael or any of his friends were in that same seat) Dave counters with the Oklahoma City bombings. The man walks off and, of course, does not sign Dave’s petition.
Spurlock arranges for Dave to be to go on a local talk radio show and discuss his experiences. Listeners ask Dave if he has seen any terrorist activity and why Muslim clerics have not denounced terrorism. Dave seems a bit out of his league on this show and finds himself defending Islam and himself. He does still refer to Muslims as being on “the other side” and separate from “Americans.” Baby steps. Later, Dave talks with Haaris (the lawyer) about the difference between Muslims “apologizing” for terrorism and “condemning” it. Haaris states that he doesn’t feel he needs to apologize for 9-11 any more than Christians should have to apologize for Eric Rudolph (the man who set off the bombs at the Atlanta Olympics). While Haaris admires Dave for making the effort to learn about Islam, he points out that all Dave has to do is change his clothes and shave his beard to blend back into society. Haaris doesn’t have that option.
Morgan Spurlock comes to visit Dave and see how things are going. Dave says that it’s scary to open up to this new religion and that he feels as if he may be turning his back on his own faith. He is starting to feel different. Dave says that he admires the discipline of the Muslims he has met and admits that he really has learned a lot.
Final Jeopardy Category….
Dave has come a long way, learned much about Islam and is overcoming many of his preconceptions about Muslims. His final challenge, however, is still to come. On Day 28 Dave goes to his final Juma, where he has agreed to make the effort to pray. He is torn, but says that he does embrace some aspects of Islam. He goes through the physical gestures and prays…. with a cross in his hand. Once again: baby steps.
Day 29 brings a final meeting with his Arabic teacher, Ameer. They both agree that they have developed a nice bond. Ameer tells Dave that, after what he has learned, he now has a responsibility to defend Islam. Dave tells Ammer that he thinks he’ll have lots of opportunities to defend Islam. He tells us that, when he went in to this experience, Ameer was one of the people he would have been wary of. Their friendship has opened his eyes.
Back at the Haque home, everyone has gathered to throw a surprise going away party for Dave. Shamael brings out a cake, upon which is written “Let’s agree to disagree” Fair enough, Shamael. Dave thanks them all for being so warm and welcoming to him. As Dave begins to cut the cake, Ameer cheekily stakes his claim on the piece with the word “disagree” on it. I like Ameer.
Flipping the Bird of Peace
Dave finally takes his leave of Shamael and Sabia, thanking them for their hospitality and for all that he has learned. On his way out, he throws up a peace sign. In my favorite moment of the show, Shamael turns to Sabia and asks, “Did he just flip me off?” She replies, “It was a peace sign, dude.”
Morgan Spurlock meets Dave at the airport and makes the trip back to Charleston with him. Back at home, Dave greets his wife and son and quickly shaves off his beard. He and Morgan toast over a beer. Dave talks about the experience of being in the receiving end of discrimination for the first time. As a white, Anglo male, he’s never had the feeling of being “Other” before. That, in and of itself, was a valuable lesson. So, the show wrapped itself up in a neat little bow…. not like life.
Some people may want to criticize Dave Stacy for taking part in this show. Either he’s consorting with “the enemy” or he’s not very bright or any number of other things. The truth is, that Dave is like many Americans: he’s a family man, a practicing Christian and someone who has never given a lot of thought to other religions or ways of life. I don’t think many Americans (or many people in general) would take 30 days out of their lives to live a completely different life. The fact that Islam has been so demonized as of late, only makes it more brave.
Critical@fansofrealitytv.com tried very hard not to offend anyone with this recap, so please be gentle.