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Thursday, June 30, 2005

RECAP of "30 Days" Episode: "Inside an American Muslim Family"

Morgan Spurlock's new reality TV series, 30 Days, "places people in a variety of unfamiliar circumstances for 30 days" [previous posts here, here, and here]. Last night's episode featured Dave Stacy, a Caucasian man from West Virginia, who was forced to live with a Muslim-American family in Dearborn, Michigan and follow certain Muslim practices for 30 days. Here are some initial thoughts and recaps from the episode:

In brief, Stacy lived with the Haques, a Muslim-American family, ate only Halal food products (and went to a proper Muslim slaughterhouse in order to learn how and why the sacrifices take place in a certain fashion), and attended the five daily Muslim prayers. Stacy was set up with a Muslim spiritual advisor who attempted to explain that members of the Muslim faith pray to the same God as Jews and Christians, only in a different language, way, and angle. The Imam contended that Jesus is not the physical son of God, but the spiritual son of God. Stacy was asked to read a prayer in Arabic during a Friday session at the mosque, but he did not feel comfortable, as he did not know what was being said in Arabic and he also felt as if he would be betraying his own faith if he read the prayer.

Stacy was unsatisfied with having this particular Imam as his spiritual advisor; he was looking for more concrete knowledge and guidance, for example on what each of the physical movements in the prayer mean. Stacy turned to another spiritual advisor who provided him with this information. Stacy also took lessons in Arabic.

Throughout the 30 days, Stacy wears a Muslim-style hat, keeps a beard, and wears traditional Muslim clothing for men. In other words, he is made to "look" Muslim. To test his appearance, Stacy is sent to another town to ask mainly Caucasians to support a petition against racial profiling of Muslims. The footage shows Stacy being rudely turned down by a number of potential respondents - all of whom are Caucasian. In fact, one woman asks Stacy point blank if he is there to cause trouble.

Stacy also participates in a radio call-in show, in which callers question Stacy about Muslim beliefs and make reference to them as terrorists. Stacy notes after the show that he felt as if he was defending Islam, and really his own association with them.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the show was the debate that took place between Stacy and one of his Muslim hosts. Stacy argued that Muslims, particularly Muslim clerics, should speak out against the terrorist attacks, as some Muslim terrorists are acting out in violent ways because they believe their faith dictates their actions; in other words, terrorism is being conducted on the basis of faith. A Muslim lawyer later explained to Stacy that there is a crucial, albeit subtle, distinction between apologizing and condemning terrorist activity - Muslims should and do condemn the terrorist attacks, but do not apologize for it, which would imply some sort of responsibility for the attacks.

Also mentioned was the controversy in Dearborn regarding the Muslim call to prayer, which is broadcast over a loud speaker outside of the mosque. This call has angered some of the locals, who feel it is too loud and unpleasant, unlike church bells. Also, Spurlock interviewed a few non-Muslims, asking them about their feelings if they sat next to a Muslim on a plane (the reactions were not positive). Spurlock also placed brief segments in the episode explaining basic aspects of Islam, such as its relationship to Judaism and Christianity.

By the end of the episode, Stacy feels comfortable enough to pray along with other Muslim men in the mosque - he goes through all of the physical movements, including the kneeling and bowing, but he holds a cross in his right hand as he goes through the motions.

Overall, the show was extremely intruiging and informative. Respect must be given to Stacy for placing himself in this unfamiliar situation, one in which he was away from home and obviously uncomfortable. He left with greater knowledge of the faith, and with an appreciation for his hosts and especially for his Arabic teacher. Contrary to initial speculation, Stacy was an honest and reasonable person, not a hick from West Virginia.

We highly recommend that you watch this show, if you haven't already.

A very good recap of the episode can be found here.

UPDATE: In the interests of fairness, we are linking to an article, "Unreal for 30 Days", from the Wall Street Journal that contends this episode was fixed.

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