Two new British film comedies dare to poke fun at religion

Two British films are coming out in April and May, both of which dare to approach religion with a comic touch. They will, of course, be castigated by the uncompromisingly religious, the usual suspects who believe that faith can never be a laughing matter and revel in demonstrating their beliefs through the medium of a violent punch up.

The first film, David Baddiel’s new offering, The Infidel, tells the story of a middle-aged Muslim family man who discovers he was actually born a Jew. To try and make sense of this sudden identity crisis, Mahmud, played by Iranian-born comic Omid Djalili, seeks out his neighbor, a drunken Jewish cabdriver called Lenny. The hilarity that ensues is largely based around the Muslim and Jewish communities’ deep misunderstanding of each other and how two flawed but instantly lovable characters learn to respect each other and their faiths.

The second film follows an even more controversial line. Four Lions is Christ Morris’s much anticipated movie debut and revolves around five wannabe jihadists from Sheffield who plan a series of coordinated suicide bombs in London. Their stupidity and haplessness is matched by the police, who are as incompetent and ill-informed as the people they are trying to catch.

Navid Akhtar, a film-maker who has specialized in serious documentaries on the nature of British Islam, including the film Young, Angry and Muslim, agrees. “I think after July 7 and the Danish cartoons there were plenty of British Muslims who felt equally concerned as anyone else about the global reaction and the ridiculousness of it all,” he says. “What we’re getting as a result is a more sophisticated and developed Western Islam that gets comedy and understands that it’s OK to poke a little fun at yourself.”

The Battle over Mosque Reform

British Muslim leaders are to tell mosques to reform – but do young Muslims even care? This week began as just another for Britain’s mosques. But by the end of it, things could be very different. The four largest Islamic organisations in the UK have, against expectations, agreed professional standards for mosques. It may sound like management speak – but these standards on a mosque’s obligations to society are part of a battle for hearts and minds in the face of violent extremism. The unwieldily-named Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (Minab) is seeking signatures on the dotted line. The question is whether any of it will make a difference. Today there are at least 1,500 institutions which are broadly independent of one and other. But while they may be about to get a dose of 21st Century management consultancy, tens of thousands of young British Muslims have already drifted away. Many British-born Muslims believe mosques offer them nothing – and so they are looking elsewhere for answers. Navid Akhtar is a commentator and a producer of muslimcafe.tv. It’s a polished internet broadcast with guests debating big issues of the day in a media-savvy way.