Recently I wrote about how Muslim Americans may be more afraid of you than you are of them! (See my post 1001 More Ways to Die in America.) With all the prejudice Muslims face, sometimes even the threat of personal violence, how can they best respond?
If American Muslims chose to hide, or to be offended and angry, I think it would be totally understandable. But even though the stereotype of Muslims is that they’re overly serious, many of them choose to face difficulty with a wonderful sense of humor. In fact, there are some terrific Muslim-American comedians I’d like to introduce you to.
On December 1st Arab-American comedian Mo Amer was seated on a plane to Scotland next to none other than Eric Trump. He was thrilled. “Sometimes God just sends you the material,” he tweeted.
Being a Muslim-American is tough these days, whether you’re trying to get through TSA at the airport or just trying to fit in at your job or in your neighborhood. For Mo Amer, it’s learning how to get along with the gun-carrying cowboys of Texas.
He tells about growing up in Houston and being put in ESL class where he learned Spanish—which came in handy. When kids picked on him for being a Muslim or an Arab, he pretended he was a Mexican instead. But it hasn’t helped his 20-year quest to receive his citizenship. He’s pretty sure his first name being “Mohammed” has something to do with the delays. But what can he do except laugh? Catch his comedy here.
American comedian Ahmed Ahmed feels like racism and religious conflicts “are not going away,” but that laughter is one common meeting point for us all. Once Ahmed took 10 American comedians on a comedy tour of the Middle East called “Just Like Us.” The resulting documentary earned him an invitation to the White House. Explore his comedy here.
Maysoon Zayid, perhaps the first Muslim woman standup comedian in America, co-founded the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival in 2003, with the goal of changing the negative image of Arab-Americans in media. She also speaks out for the handicapped. Maysoon has cerebral palsy. But she says that’s only one of her many problems: “I’m Palestinian, Muslim, female, disabled…and I live in New Jersey.” “The world is broken,” Maysoon admits, “but I believe we can fix it.” Check out her comedy here.
“People say stupid things to me all the time,” says American comedian Azhar Usman, a large Arab-looking man with a full beard. He tells about waiting at a stop light when a car full of young white men pulls up and they start taunting him. “What’s up, Osama!” the driver yells. Before he can respond, another guy calls out, “Yeah, what’s going on, Gandhi!”
Azhar was confused—how could he be Osama and Gandhi at the same time? “What is this—terror through non-violence? I will kill you—by not eating?”
But in spite of the racism and xenophobia Azhar experiences, he chooses to see hope. “We are actually witnessing this country undergo a transformation in front of our eyes, it’s amazing,” he claims. If you want to know why, try his comedy here.
When these comedians share their true horror stories but choose to laugh, the audience is drawn into a new empathy for what Muslim-Americans have to go through. Their human qualities shine through, and the audience realizes that though we face different types of difficulties in life than Muslim-Americans do, as Ahmed Ahmed says, they’re “just like us.”
DISCLAIMER: This is not an endorsement of any comedian’s opinions or their use of coarse language. This is simply a recognition of their efforts to build bridges through laughter.