Islam and popular culture: an Inside Islam recap

All-American Muslim, a reality TV show we covered in 2011. Photo: TLC

It’s fitting to end Inside Islam where we started. When we first began the project, we focused heavily on Islam in popular culture and media. Our first shows and posts focused on Muslim youth and new media, videobloggers, and even fashion.

Our focus on cultural topics was deliberate. In our efforts to break down stereotypes about Islam, our strategy was to humanize Muslims by showing them engaged in activities non-Muslims could relate to. Popular culture has always cut across cultural and geographic borders, so we focused heavily on the medium. Continue reading

Muslim-Jewish Comedy

Comedian Azhar Usman Photo: Shoaib Bin Altif

Two weeks ago, the Laugh in Peace Tour dropped by the UW-Madison campus to entertain hundreds as part of the White House Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. Chicago-based Muslim-American lawyer-turned-comedian Azhar Usman and Vermont-based comedian and rabbi Bob Alper had the crowd roaring. As Usman entered the stage, Alper conducted a full-body pat-down, poking fun at the ridiculousness of the profiling that Usman has received post-9/11 because of his physical appearance and Muslim name. To return the favor, Usman patted down Alper before performing his own comedy sketch.

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What’s in a Name?

Artistic rendition of then Mos Def. Source:

This past fall, Brooklyn-based international hip hop star Mos Def (Dante Terrell Smith) announced that he is changing his name in 2012 to Yasiin Bey. Bey reverted to Islam in 1992 at the age of 19, just before his career as a hip hop artist took off. Famous for his collaboration with Talib Kweli in the duo Black Star and subsequent solo work, Bey will move forward with his music and acting careers under his new name. This Friday, Bey will officially perform under his new identity for the first time and rap in front of hometown fans at New York City’s Highline Ballroom.

The decision to change his name highlights an issue faced by many Muslims. Since approximately one fourth of all practicing Muslims in the US identify as reverts or converts, it’s a common topic for many that taps into a range of emotions related to personal identity.

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Does Comedy Help?

Can comedy defuse an increasingly Islamophobic atmosphere in the west? Or do short films, sketches, and new media actually solidify preexisting bigotry and reinforce stereotypes through caricatures of Muslim people?

In the wake of the Lowe’s controversy, some comedy sketches have poked fun at the ridiculousness nature of fearing Muslims and Islam. In one sketch (below), two men of presumably South Asian Muslim descent, visit a Lowe’s Superstore to shop for “materials.” The epic background, set by what is meant to be “Islamic-sounding” music, presents an ominous mood, preparing the viewer for the culminating, climactic event. I don’t want to spoil the ending, so watch the clip to see what happens.

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All-American Muslim Revisited

Last night, TLC aired the second episode of All-American Muslim, an 8-part series that follows the lives of five Muslim American families in Dearborn, Michigan. As I wrote in an earlier post, the show aims to dispel the stereotypes that surround Muslims and Islam. As a Muslim American, I had high expectations of the show. I was excited that an entire program would focus on the Muslim American community and would generate more discussion on this minority group. Well, the show certainly created more discussion,  after watching two episodes of All-American Muslim as well as Anderson Cooper’s daytime show about it, I am a bit disappointed by certain aspects of the show. Continue reading

Khalil Bendib: A Muslim American Political Cartoonist

On Friday, September 30th, the Institute for Research in the Humanties (IRH) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison hosted a symposium titled “Arab Spring and the Humanities.” Khalil Bendib, an Algerian American Muslim artist and political cartoonist, was among the speakers. In his presentation, Bendib spoke about his personal story and the challenges he faces as a political cartoonist. According to Bendib, his biggest challenge is finding places that will run his work without censoring it. Continue reading

“The 99”

On, Wednesday, May 11th, Jean will be speaking with Naif Al-Mutawa, the creator of “The 99,” the first Islamically themed superhero comic. Al-Mutawa created the comics to provide Muslim children with superheroes that they could identify with. The characters come from all over the world, in order to emphasize the diversity of the worldwide Muslim community. Even though the names of the characters stem from the 99 names of God mentioned in the Qur’an, Sunnah, and Islamic tradition and each character represents some of the core values of Islam, the series is not specifically about Islam as a faith but about broader themes like tolerance.

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An Islamic Version of “American Idol”?

“Imam Muda” (Young Imam), a Malaysian Islamic reality show searching for the next young imam, just began its second season this week. The show, based on “American Idol” and “The X Factor,” first aired in 2010. The show now has a bigger following and has drawn over 1,000 possible contestants from around Southeast Asia.

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Can Comedy and Religion Go Together?

In a world where religion is part of so many conflicts, some have found ways  to bring people together and force them to address their stereotypes. Comedy is one way to achieve this goal. Laughing together can create a sense of understanding across differences. While some may people may not associate the two terms “Muslim” and “comedian” (or even “religion” and “comedy”), there have been many Muslims like Azhar Usman, Mo Amer, Preacher Moss, Maysoon Ziad, Tissa Hami, who have used comedy as a way to break stereotypes  and to make the audience appreciate their differences.

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Tehran: Capital of Nose Jobs

Yes, Tehran is the world capital of nose jobs. While western news concentrates a disproportionate amount of time on the occasional ridiculous statement from President Ahmadinejad and Iranian nuclear ambitions, other stories seem to be flying under the radar. In no way am I suggesting that homophobia, anti-Semitism, or regional security threats are unimportant, but there are myriad other issues that provide more insight into the lives of average Iranians.

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