Reality television lifts veil on life as a temporary Muslim

WHAT do a gay hairdresser, an atheist taxi driver, a skincare centre manager, a glamour model and a mixed race couple have in common?

They all live in Harrogate and, for three weeks this summer, agreed to discard their normal routines and live as Muslims for a TV documentary series.

Under the watchful eye of a team of Muslim mentors, the diverse group were taught to abide by Sharia law while a camera crew followed them around.

Viewers will be able to follow their fortunes in a three-part series called Make Me a Muslim, which begins on Channel Four at 8pm tomorrow.

Narinder Minhas, the show's executive producer, said: "The idea was to try to find a way of demystifying Islam because a lot of people don't understand the religion at all.

"We wanted to come up with something that might allow ordinary people to experience it, getting people to practise it and see whether they like it or not."

Six non-Muslims and one lapsed Muslim took part in the ambitious exercise, which was filmed in Harrogate in June.

The three-week project also took the group to a retreat in the Peak District, near Sheffield, where the participants could learn more about the religion.

The team of mentors was led by Imam Ajmal Masroor, who believes passionately that Britain is in a state of meltdown, with anti-social behaviour, promiscuity and alcohol corroding the moral fabric of the nation.

In the documentary, he tells the group it is time to start a "spiritual revolution" in the UK to restore its moral backbone.

Mr Minhas said he decided to film in Harrogate because, unlike Bradford and Leeds, it has a small Muslim population.

"The Harrogate area, according to local statistics, has a population of about 150,000 people and 311 are Muslims.

"It's a tiny percentage, but we found that people were hungry to find out more about what the religion is about.

"Some of our team came across people who actually thought Islam was a country.

"What I found interesting was the fact that we had some surprising results.

"You will be gobsmacked to see who got a lot out of the experience and who didn't."

One of the participants, Haylie Winter, 33, found the lifestyle change difficult but rewarding.

Ms Winter, who owns a skincare centre, said: "There were four mentors teaching us the ways of Islam and we had to do a number of things, like not eat any pork, not have any sex, not drink alcohol, and pray five times a day.

"What I found most difficult was praying five times a day," she said.