Brothers Shaun and Lee describe their youth as “wrecked” as drinking, drugs, clubbing, and gambling were just a normal routine of their life. “The party was always at our house, put it that way. And I was the host,” said Shaun.
But, both of their lives took a U-turn as Shaun reverted to Islam while Lee travels around the country to join anti-Muslim rallies organized by the English Defence League.
The brothers have taken starkly different directions. “I know Lee loves me and I love him,” said Abdul.
The brothers’ story was seen in a three-part Channel 4 series, Extremely British Muslims.
“Based on a year of filming in and around Birmingham Central Mosque, it aims to show what ordinary Muslims’ lives are like beyond the negative headlines”, said series producer Fozia Khan.
Abdul who converted to Islam seven years ago said, “I never felt I was a bad boy. I was exposed to drugs and different elements, but I was never violent”
“I stumbled across Islam and instantly got attracted to the sense of structure and rules governing every aspect of his life,” said Abdul.
“I thought, ‘wow, this is amazing’. But I also enjoyed all those things in my life, and I didn’t want to let them go. It was a slow process – it took about three or four years to realise I was living a lie,” he said.
“It changed my life entirely. I was turning my back on my previous life.”
Lee was shocked at his brother’s decision. “I knew he had some sort of secret, but I thought he was gay or something. I wasn’t expecting this. If he was going to be religious, I’d have expected him to go into Christianity, not become a Muslim. It’s not something you’d expect a white man to do.”
“I have taken part in several EDL rallies against Muslims in general – the way they treat women, paedophilia, things like that. I didn’t really have a bad view of Muslims – it was something for me to do when I was bored,” said Lee.
The brothers grew up in Dudley. For nine months after he converted on Christmas Day 2009, Abdul commuted from his home town to Birmingham before moving to the city.
“I remember putting on my jubba [ankle-length robe] and literally shaking before I opened my front door, wondering what people would think. White people used to stare at me, sometimes with a look of betrayal. But I don’t take any notice.”
Soon Abdul met Hina, a Pakistani Muslim, on Facebook. A week or so later they met in person; seven days after that they got married.
“It was a leap of faith, trusting in God,” he said.
It was also instant fatherhood for Abdul who was still in his 20s. Hina had two teenage sons and a daughter from a previous marriage. Abdul’s relationship with the boys, and his insistence on them being strictly observant Muslims, has not been easy. The couple now have another two children, two-year-old Zahra and baby Mohammed.
In the film after Mohammed’s birth Abdul hosts a celebratory barbecue, inviting members of the local Muslim community and Lee. In an awkward scene in the back garden, Lee observes that all the other men, including Abdul, are eating with their hands. “It’s like you’re going backwards,” he says.
Afterwards, he says: “I wouldn’t say I was comfortable, to be honest, I just did it for Shaun. He’s chose this path, I’ve chose [another], but he’s still my brother. I miss the Shaun I grew up with.”
“We disagree but we have mutual respect. I still feel close to him – blood is thicker than water. But I don’t know if I’m deluded”
Khan spent six months persuading and reassuring the mosque elders before filming began. “We had to establish a relationship. They were saying ‘we trust you but how do we know it won’t be changed down the line?’ It was a difficult project. But I think there’s a sense of relief at the outcome,” she said.
Lee said his decision to take part in the film was “purely for my brother”, but added that the process had made him more tolerant of Muslims.
Abdul’s motive was “wanting our own voice to be heard rather than other people creating news about us”. He added: “I want people to start a conversation, just break the ice. Just talk to us. But British people won’t ask, they prefer to let things build up under the skin. We just need to communicate with each other and break down the barriers.”