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.”