Make Me A Muslim: What brings women to faith?

Wednesday 30 January 2013, 10:58

Emily Hughes Emily Hughes Producer/ Director

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Getting the chance to make a documentary for BBC Three about young women converting to Islam was the job of my dreams!

It was what I always hoped filmmaking would be like, a tiny but strong team (me and my assistant producer Alys Harte), a fascinating subject (I've always been intrigued by what brings people to faith), and most importantly - our own camera!

As soon as I met our presenter Shanna Bukhari I knew the project would be a lot of fun. The production team was complete.

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What can the converts teach Shanna about her own faith?

It was a massive challenge finding the converts to take part. After two weeks of calling mosques and support groups for new Muslims and drawing a complete blank, we decided we needed change tactics.

The people we initially contacted were suspicious of us on the phone simply because we were journalists.

We decided to meet people face to face to explain what we wanted to do, and that our aim was to challenge stereotypes about Islam.

We set out on a massive nationwide search - visiting mosques in each city along the way. Often we would need to convince the men in charge about the documentary before we could meet any women at all.

It was a hard task, and we weren't always received warmly. But in the end it worked!

We found that once we got to meet the women ourselves, as two young professionals with a genuine interest in Islam, we were welcomed with open arms.

It was still tough to find the best young women to take part, it's a very personal thing talking about faith, and it's a big deal to do it on camera.

Shanna and Alana Presenter Shanna Bukhari met Alana, who became a devout Muslim after she met her fiancé

A lot of people find it hard to tell their family and friends about their conversion, so the last thing they want is to tell millions of viewers.

We were really lucky to meet women who were frank and funny, and who could express how important their new faith was to them.

Safiyyah was the first one we knew was totally right for the film - and I met her totally by chance.

  Safiyyah Saffiyah: 'Islam was so appealing to me... because it was a religion where it was quite conservative'

It had been a long and disheartening day, and despite going to two mosques and meeting many people - I hadn't met any converts. As I was leaving a Cardiff mosque I bumped into a white Welsh woman.

It turned out that she had only converted to Islam a few hours ago! Not only that, she was really keen to take part in the film as a chance to explain how hard it is if your family don't approve of your conversion.

After that everything else seemed to fall into place, and we found all the other contributors quite quickly.

I love doing all the camera work myself, as it creates an intimacy that allows people to share personal beliefs they might be scared to if there was a big intimidating crew filming in their bedroom.

It makes it hard work as Alys and I had to perform so many roles - runner, researcher, producer, director, camerawoman, we did them all!

Often we would be lugging camera kit in and out of the hire car late at night in the rain - grab a few hours' sleep - then drive onto our next location to film the next day. We'd be lucky if we had time to grab a sandwich.

I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to make this documentary, and I learnt so much from Shanna and the others who took part.

There were some very powerful moments.

Inaya Inaya converted to Islam after a difficult time in her life

When Inaya confided in me that converting was like a weight being lifted off her shoulders, it really brought home to me how for each of the women, converting had enabled them to close a door on hard times in their past.

I saw with my own eyes that Islam is a truly peaceful religion. So often it is associated with angry men and extremism, but this couldn't be further from my experience of the British Muslim community. 

The women's sections of the mosques were full of warmth, children running around, a sense of female solidarity, faith, devotion - but most of all laughter. I don't think you often hear about that in headline news.

Emily Hughes is the producer and director of Make Me A Muslim.

Make Me A Muslim is on Wednesday, 30 January at 9pm on BBC Three. For further programme times, please see the upcoming broadcasts page.

Listen to Shanna Bukhari on Radio 4's Woman's Hour

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    For the first time in 33 years of being a British Muslim and having grown up with the BBC, I feel compelled to write in and say thank you for airing this thought provoking objective documentary. I for one am ensuring that all those I know appreciate this programme, which has an insight to the values that an Muslim woman has, and the difficult choices she has to make.

    I'm also very proud of the presenter, I think Shanna did an amazing job - I applaud Shanna, the producer, production team and the BBC, it's very easy to criticise than to congratulate but I believe the latter is in order in vast measures.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Documentary's like these will always divide peoples opinions especially when its about religion.
    Im just grateful they explained some of the truths about islam and not cut out the bits that can be found extreme.

    Well made

    Im sure the young lady who's looking for a husband will find him soon.

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    Comment number 43.

    This is for gbxc, I agree totally with what you have said, im a muslim but I believe in all the Prophets and they are all present in our Holy Quran with their stories, the only difference is that Christianity considers Jesus as God, or the Son of God, while we should all cherish and believe in one God for all religions. I think converts should be able to understand the muslim religion and read thoroughly about it and its not just by wearing the Hijab head scarf. It is tough for them to go against their families and loved ones and the way they were brought up. But I have realised that the English in particular are very tolerant and keen to learn and discover new knowledge, so im sure their families would understand and love them in the same way.
    With regards to Xmas, I celebrate it in a nice way by having a xmas tree and sending cards for my Christian and English friends.Celebrating Prophet Jesus's birth doesn't mean that he is my God, I also celebrate Eid with friends and family.
    What one of the muslim lady convert said about the two religions having 2 Gods is not true.
    I also agree that depending on Ethnicity and background, muslims are what they are to be.

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    Comment number 44.

    Maash'Allah, I watched the program twice today, and found it very inspiring. I reverted some34 years ago, and the issues I remember still resonate with these women. The Director, although not Muslim, I believe did a fair task of showing the reverts as themselves, without compromising on their dignity. I now live abroad and was curious to see how mutahijabas were received in a society which suffers from growing Islamaphobia. They were all proud and intelligent women, who were both British and Covered Muslimas, who had productive and normal lives. I have daughters who wished to travel to the UK for postgraduate studies, we were hesitant, but as these women displayed, it can be possible. I would so like to pursue this narrative further. Could the program have a follow-up? May Allah guide all the Sisters to the True Path, Thank you, Jazzakalloh Khairan

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    garryq. I know that Jesus is a prophet in Islamic belief, not a God as Christianity believes. I know this because I have learned these things through reading and discussion with my Muslim friends. My point was that Alana (apologies for spelling error) did not appear to know this, or much else about the religion. The expression "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread" comes to mind. One does not say "I am now Muslim... What's it about anyway?" One ought to know at least the basic tenets of a religion.

    Many of my Muslim friends do involve themselves in Christmas; they celebrate the birth of a prophet just as they celebrate THE Prophet.

  • Comment number 46.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 47.

    I accidentally flicked on to this channel last night.
    I thought it was great! Having Shanna on it was a brilliant idea. Put a different dynamic on it, Shanna’s journey as much as anyone else’s. More episodes please!! I hope this episode is the 1st of many Maybe the odd so called scholar drop in for a few minutes with Shanna to help or advise on some of the more technical aspects. I don’t think making it too clinical, will help get my none religious Clan to tune in. Too many people complaining about Shanna. All the ladies and girl’s did a fantastic job. WELL DONE !!! I’m going to round up my Clan to watch and discus it. I pray my family get as much out of it as i did.
    This program planted a thousand questions/seeds in my head, since watching it last night. When I went to work last night, there was a young guy/boy there, he work’s with me sometimes. I was asking him a few questions about what I had seen on tv. He said its called ISLAM which means peace, surrender, submission to the will of the GOD almighty and it’s the GOD almighty that decides who is a good muslim, NOT people decide . He also said we are all children of Adam. i.e. all human kind are brothers and sisters and we are all Muslim’s. But some of these children of Adam are blessed, with the ability/faith to recognise they’re Creator. And it’s these blessed people that single the GOD almighty out for worship, prays and thanks 5 times a day every day. Then between this 5 acts of worship a day, they should be hungry to do GOOD by there family’s, parents, friends, Nabors and strangers. Try to do a good honest job to the best of there ability. Not selling alcohol, steeling or telling lies. You shouldn’t oppress ANY people, animals or waste or abuse the planets resources . . . . . This young man 20+ years younger than me at my work ( i thought he was just a wee boy, dont judge a book by the cover) he has got a glow about him ( not like scottish whisky glow ) but slight glow like the moon, not the face of a liar. I’ve seen him do some of his 5 a day at work depending what time of year it is, he is discreet without hiding what he’s doing. He was also telling me this morning that the GOD almighty has 99 names. He said when thinking about these names he feels closer/stronger. the names for example( i tried to write a few of these down, please forgive me if i’m wrong, or advise me) the Names are like= THE ONE!, THE LORD!, THE MOST MERCIFUL!, THE MOST GIVING IN MERCY!, THE MOST JUST!, THE MOST HIGH!, THE MOST GREAT!, THE FASHIONER!, THE ACHETECT!, THE DESIGHNER!, THE CREATOR!, THE FORGIVER! THE MOST FORGIVING! THE ALL KNOWING!,THE ALL HEARING!, THE ALL SEEING!,THE MOST WISE! THE MOST GLORIUS! THE MOST SUBLIME! THE CHERISHER! THE PROVIDER! THE ALL AWARE! THE HEALER! That’s a few of the GOD almighty’s names.. . . . . . I’ve heard and seen this statement words on the news or in movies or in news papers a lot. ALLAH AKBAR! Due to my up bringing, education, twisted media, i thought it meant something is going to go BOOM! But no he my work friend told me it actually means THE GOD IS GREATER! Or THE GOD IS GREATEST! To hear it or say it is like a reality check a grounding a reminder. When you hear the truth you can feel it like an echo in your chest. When he told me that, i just started crying uncontrollably lips trembling, tears and snot all over my face, hands, arms and shirt. My work friend said you just been struck by the SWORD OF ISLAM! And then he started crying...
    I bare witness there no god, except the GOD almighty, who came before, is going to be after, has No partners/equals and there is nothing comparable in creation to the GOD almighty.
    I also bare witness that Mohammed is the Servant and the last Messenger from the GOD almighty 1400+ year’s ago, the last in a long line of Messengers from the GOD almighty.
    The young lad at work he said there is a lot of people out there with, so called muslim names from so called muslim countrys with big beards or hijabs or speaking arabic. That have not been blessed yet with the REALITY of things and not to be too harsh with them, or don’t expect too much from them, there human as that nice person said in that early post and definitely dont judge them.thats GOD almighty’s jurisdiction. But if you see oppression, no matter what there name is, you should try to stop it with your hand or with your words. Your doing it for your own benefit, it’s personal between you and the LORD GOD! THE ONE! THE MOST MERCIFULL! The lad at work my new brother said be careful of people praying to the creation rather than THE CREATOR i.e. if you can see it feel it hear it comprehend it, its creation.
    I was only at work half a shift, i need to take that as a Holliday. Or i think it would be steeling, i did no work. My new brother helped explain that to me this morning.. .
    Thank you bbc3 for putting that programme on. . . Kindest regards George scot

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    To be honest I felt elements of the show rather predictable... most notably the inevitable ending where Shanna Bukhari feels that she has been shown up by the converts and feels that she should be a "better" Muslim.

    I'm not entirely sure what their experiences can actually teach her about her own spirituality, she seemed naturally (I don't mean this in an unkind way) more attractive and well rounded as a person, and the counter cultural rebellion aspect of the converts adoption of Islam obviously would not apply to her. Its hard to be enthusiastic about the outcome, unless you buy into a doctrinaire and prescriptive view of religion, and think that people should be emotionally coerced into following their ancestral faith.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Thanks for such an interesting TV show! People should not feel a stigma for becoming Muslim!

    I'd like to invite any of the reverts (converts to Islam) in this show or any reverts reading this message at all to participate in a life Internet chat show about Islam. You will only need Skype installed to join in.

    Please email


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    Comment number 50.

    There's a lot of comments here which are mixing up the difference between the religion Islam and the culture/traditions in which Muslims are from. Like one comment stated, each area such as Pakistan, MIddle East etc have different cultures and practice methods. So we should remember that more often it is the culture that is being practised through generations and not the true practices or teachings of Islam. Some people may say I am wrong, but where does it state that women should be treated as second class? To the contrary, the Prophet himself and Allah mention many times how women are equal to men and have rights to do what they want. If someone contests that statement they are contesting the word of Allah and the teachings of the Prophet. They emphasis the importance of women through Mary, Khadija etc. Like many I didn't know what to expect with this programme, but as it started I found myself wanting to know the 'reason' for these women converting, I didn't hear any. I appreciate that during difficult times everyone turns to God in some form but some of the girls didn't provide a reason which made you think 'oh that's why'. As for the lady who is a second wife, I was shocked when the presenter commented that men in Islam are allowed four wives, before making a statement we should do research. Men in Islam are not allowed to have 4 wives at one time, they are only allowed tore-marry should a) their wife die b)is terminally ill c) cannot have kids and most importantly the husband has to seek his wife's permission before he re-marries. So that lady's husband is not following the religion but a culture in which men can do pretty much anything. If Islam is followed to the letter then men have no more rights than women in all matters, they are equal. Alt of ppl on this blog hate Islam and express there views as such, after all this is freedom of speech but I would recommend that they read up on Islam by going to Waterstones or getting reputable books by authors who have studied the religion such as Oxford and Cambridge professors - by gaining the right knowledge will you be able to understand the religion you 'hate' so much. So don't read newspapers but widen your reading material. Further, someone mentioned about Christmas, I too like them was surprised at the comment made by the lady on her reasons for not celebrating Xmas. Jesus is a prophet in Islam as is Moses, and fundamentally we all share/pray/have the same God. So that reason is silly. Islam is not all about wearing the headscarf, majority of the Muslim women do not wear hijabs but headscarves as appropriate to their culture, but it seems that they fashionable trend of wearing a hijab from the Middle East is penetrating the minds of the converted Muslim ladies. Before you decide to wear one you should study your faith, understand it and know its true meaning. Wearing a hijab does not make you a better muslim than the lady not wearing it, because for all we know the one not wearing a hijab reads 5 times a day compared to the one who wears a hijab. BBC should look to produce a programme which explores the real reasons why men and women convert. My husband converted to Islam and was welcomed by the community well but like a theme running through this programme the perception of converts within the Pakistani community is that they are extreme etc, which I felt at first hand because me and my husband went through that and to fight the stereotype. I'm a Muslim woman and I always explore and learn about my religion my husband converted for the right reasons because he believed in Allah and its teachings, he had read the holy book and the teachings of the prophet before he converted. It wasn't a fashion statement nor an excuse to be with me. He did it the right way. That is what I would have liked to see the reasons why someone converted not just because they fell in love and it was the done thing etc. in London there are lots of converts, so it's not hard to find the 'right' ppl to talk to. I must admit though many converted women think by wearing the Burka and the niqaab but its not Islam. That is the culture from Middle East, the holy book only states that a women should dress modestly and cover her hair (the same is said in the Torah and the first bible) which is why when you look at the women who properly practice Islam, Judaism and Christianity dress similarly in ideas, such as Jewish women wear hair pieces to cover their real hair (so that only there husbands see their real hair), they clothing covers them upto their necks, showing no arms, legs or feet. If we look deeper and objectively we will see that the true deep roots of these religions is the same. It is culture that is changed it but the religion is the same as it always was, just used by ppl for the wrong reasons and excuses, always mis-interpreted and misunderstood in translation of its text. Lastly, if you do make another programme address the deep issues of real reason and the actual difficulties faced (excluding finding a husband as that happens to all women and not just converted Muslims women).

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Hi Yasmin,

    I'm Currently doing a third year student in London and completeing a Research project into British female converts. would you be interested in completing a Questionaire for my research?


  • Comment number 52.

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    Comment number 53.

    Alhamdulillah, (give thanks to God) for an excellent program. I would definitely love to see more films like this that also covering other aspects of Islam and I would like to be involved.

    Respect due to Emily for her creative skills and talent also to Shanna who was brave to present the show has a non practicing Muslim. Shanna is young and influenced by her western life style which is not a godly life, InshaAllah the film helped her to realise what is more important, pleasing God, the creator of all that exists or fame, fashion, shoes and handbags. :-) to golfer, it is not religions that divide but closed minded and ignorant people.

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    Comment number 54.

    Ashleigh, i am willing to help your research, please send me a copy of your questionnaire x

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Not a criticism of the programme itself, but the subject matter was a very narrow and uncommon group that doesn't really help White British people like me understand British Muslims better. As the blog itself admits it was a struggle to find suitable participants, white female muslims are not especially numerous, and conversions not for matrimonial purposes (as 3 out of 4 were here) are even rarer.

    To be honest converts like this are probably seen by White Britons in the same way Muslims view a Muslim convert to Sikhism or an outspoken atheist, ie. a little bit strange.

    I would be more interested in a film about the hundreds of thousands of Pakistani British families and how they fit in to Britain, everyday people who to be honest people could relate to better. Focusing on converts simply makes people defensive, whatever the community.

  • Comment number 56.

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    Comment number 57.

    Well done Emily Hughes. I really enjoyed your program last night and have recommended it to friends.
    I found every convert's tale fascinating and illuminating as well as Shanna Bukhari's.
    What came over was how, despite some inherent problems, all the converts were happy and cheerful and expressed what it was Islam gave to them. About time we had a program about British Muslims that reflect their day to day life as opposed to the often ranting hyperbole of the main stream media's negative and erroneous view.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    If Islam is the religion of peace and understanding then shame on all those who call themselves muslim who sent the hate mail to Shanna Bukhari.I would however have more respect for her had she not shown her feelings in response to the emails on TV because by doing so she allows them to win .
    We saw one lady with three children who described herself as a co-wife ,she stated that her husband spends half the week with her and the other half with his other wife in another house in the next street. I have no problem with that if she is happy with the arrangement but who is funding this lifestyle? I suspect the tax payer through the benefit system and if that is so then it is wrong. If they are truly one complete family then they should all live together unless the husband and family can fully fund both households through his own efforts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    @Jay According to the head of the sharia courts in the UK, Islam means submission and is not a religion of peace. So no wonder the majority in this country are so confused with it all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Once again, another biased documentary from the BBC. How about the BBC do a documentary about the women who leave Islam. My girlfriend has been disowned by her family and if she went to Saudi Arabia she would be executed - apostocy. How about my other friend who lives in London, a native Arabic speaker who excelled in Islamic Studies. She confirms that the Koran incites indescriminate violence against the non-believers and sanctions the beating of wifes by their husbands. Islam also has Taqiyya or 'holy deception.' This allows Muslims to lie to non beleivers as they are engaged in holy war. Oh and while you are at it, ask an expert in Sharia law what the legal age for marriage is? For more details go to


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