Muslim guest vows never to appear on BBC The Big Questions again

A Muslim guest who appeared on a BBC debate show about British Islam has vowed never to appear on the controversial programme again.

Sahar Al-Faifi, a Muslim activist from Cardiff, called the BBC The Big Questions show on January 31 a “circus” which ignored the previously agreed upon topics. She said that the programme was “unrepresentative,” “laughable” and “toxic” and would “advise anyone not to participate in it.”

Al-Faifi was particularly scathing about the show’s presenter Nicky Campbell whom she accused of chairing the programme poorly and being overly friendly with another guest, Adam Deen from the Quilliam Foundation.

In a Facebook post entitled “Never Again and Here’s Why,” Al Faifi said: “I was advised by a few of my friends and colleagues not to participate in the show because of the presenter’s anti-Islam views and the nature of the programme. However, despite my hesitation I accepted the invitation in order to shape the debate around the topics I was given.

Sahar Al-Faifi
Sahar Al-Faifi

“Unfortunately, the show as expected turned out to be a circus on air, where none of the topics I was informed about were discussed. Instead most of the questions were theological and required extensive explanations of the ruling, text, context, history and epistemology.

“Given that there were several topics and seven panelists in a one hour show, it was almost impossible to articulate a complex nuanced position in a few seconds soundbite, for these theological questions. Some might argue that this is the panelists’ problem but only last year, for example, the topic of the BBC Big Question was ‘Do British Muslims have problems with Apostates?’! Yet Nicky Campbell deliberately ignored all the topics the panelists agreed upon and repeatedly asked the same questions that feedback into the meta-narrative that Islam is the problem and Muslims are the ‘other’ and therefore they need to be treated exceptionally and unequally.

“Given the topics mentioned above it cannot be overlooked that Nicky Campbell chaired the show poorly and failed to direct the show around these topics but I guess the show is designed to be that way to play the game of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Muslims.”

Al-Faifi also took umbrage over the invitation of the Quilliam Foundation’s Adam Deen to the programme. Quilliam are widely reviled in the Muslim community and are considered completely unrepresentative of mainstream Muslim opinion.

The BBC's Nicky Campbell
The BBC’s Nicky Campbell

She said: “In every BBC Big Question show about Islam in Britain, a representative from Quilliam Foundation (QF) is invited, mostly the disreputable Maajid Nawaz and the newly joined Adam Deen. The QF has absolutely no representation nor credibility or grassroot links amongst the majority of British Muslims because of the anti-Muslim narrative that QF is pushing as well as its links with US far-right organisations such as the Tea party that has funded QF. Furthermore, QF has signed a statement with the Gatestone institute, an organisation obsessed with Islamophobia and whose online contributors include Robert Spencer who runs the right-wing Jihad Watch website.

“In addition and despite the deep concerns expressed by the majority of Muslims about QF, our current government decides on engaging with QF by inviting it to the recent community engagement forum, which is fine, but ironically many Muslim organisations including Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), the most representative organisation, were excluded!

“Before the show and behind the scenes in particular, when the panelists had the chance to prepare and converse, the warm and close relationship between Nicky Campbell, the producer and Adam Deen from QF was indeed unquestionable…

“I have concluded from the show and from my interaction with the audience that there is an immense desire amongst the presenter and the producer for some sort of ‘watchable controversy’ that makes the show completely unrepresentative, intense, laughable and toxic.

“The Big Questions does hold the potential of being a more coherent show with slightly more depth, but its own practices seem designed to exclude these possibilities and until then the show is terminally damaging and I would advise anyone not to participate in it.”

5Pillars has contacted The Big Questions for a response to Al-Faifi’s comments.

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