‘Being Bilal:’ First British Muslim unscripted reality show hits TV screens
“Being Bilal” depicts what the award-winning multi-faith team behind it describes as “unapologetic and entertaining"
Just over a year into its broadcast, British Muslim TV launches the world’s first British Muslim unscripted reality TV show “Being Bilal,” featuring the life of British-born doctor-turned-community activist Bilal Hassam.
“Being Bilal” depicts what the award-winning multi-faith team behind it describes as “unapologetic, entertaining and often inspiring reconciliation of British and Muslim identities.”
The 28-year-old star of the show Hassam, who hails from Leicester, has spent the past 10 years fitting in a frenetic schedule of faith-based community projects in the UK and around the world, while hanging up his stethoscope and emerging as a community activist.
It is this energetic lifestyle of casually meeting religious and community leaders while facing life’s daily highs and lows that form the basis of the TV format.
Hassam told Al Arabiya News that the idea started when one of his friends, Tariq Chow - who is the series producer of the show - was intrigued by the behind-the-scenes interactions of Hassam’s work when filming his events.
Chow “wanted to capture that story convinced it could transform the way both Muslims and non-Muslims understand what it means to be a British Muslim,” said Hassam.
“I get to experience a wide diversity of the British Muslim community and meet with senior community figures, scholars, artists and celebrities, as well as hang around with average blokes struggling along like everyone else.
“I also make a conscious effort to engage marginalized groups and movements within the British Muslim community, just as British Muslims experience marginalization vis-a-vis wider society.”
However, Hassam insists he is “a regular guy like anyone else. I’d like people to see that being a British Muslim comes in many different shapes and sizes, and that’s a wonderful thing - wonderful for Muslims and wonderful for Britain.
“I hope through seeing a little glimpse of my activist life people can come to appreciate a little of the lived reality of British Muslim life.”
Hassam says the intrusive format takes a little while to get use to, but “the team are all fab and there’s a lot of goodwill behind the camera.
“With half a tongue in cheek, I often jest that MI5, the FBI and God knows who else are keeping tabs on all us community activists, so now we’re doing the job for them!”
While the show is only filmed twice a week, Hassam’s main challenge is trying to get others to feel comfortable around the camera.
“I’ve had so many meetings and conversations that would’ve made superb footage, except people don’t want to be on screen. I can understand that entirely. It’s a sacrifice that I hope will bring benefit.”
British Muslim TV joins a growing number of niche channels for religious and ethnic minorities in recent years. However, unlike most of these channels, its program content has been exclusively funded and made in the UK.
“We’ve had non-Muslims contact us already who’ve enjoyed the shows, and people all over the world including Morocco, Canada, South Africa and the Middle East,” said Hassam.
“I think both Muslim and non-Muslim audiences will enjoy and potentially be challenged by the content. I tend not to fit in one box, and enjoy living in the space between sectarian, generational or class lines.”
The TV format engages audiences through social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat to extend the reality experience. This enables audiences to interact directly with Hassam and influence the shows’ themes.
He says the channel has already screened the first few episodes, and the response has been mostly positive.
“I got a picture of my show sent to me on Snapchat with a message which read: ‘With love from your greatest Scottish fan.’ I’m not sure if I’m quite ready for all that.” However, he says he has “friends who are on standby to pull me back to Earth if I float off. ”
He says the main complaint he has received is that the episodes are too short. “I think young people are used to binge-watching series, so a half-hour show isn’t enough.
“Thankfully, British Muslim TV will be putting up all the episodes on their exclusive subscription Video On Demand service. We’ve already had people sign up just to watch the show.”
Hassam now adds being a reality star to his growing and varied CV, which includes being a medical doctor, co-founder of The Leaf Network, and board member of several initiatives promoting intercultural and interreligious exchange.
He says his future plans are “just to continue to discover, enjoy and try my best at ‘Being Bilal’.”
New episodes of Being Bilal are screened every Monday and Thursday at 7pm and repeated at 7:30pm on Wednesdays and Friday 12pm respectively, with both episode being played together at 6pm on Saturdays.
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