Hatem Bazian On Creating The First Accredited Muslim College In The U.S.

Hatem Bazian, 55, holds many titles not the least of which is a devout Muslim trying to make the world a better place.

Hatem Bazian On Creating The First Accredited Muslim College In The U.S.

Hatem Bazian, 55, holds many titles not the least of which is a devout Muslim trying to make the world a better place.

By

Nuran Alteir

Art - Shayma Al-shiri

This feature is in partnership with Asian American Journalist Associations’ Muslim American Task Force with the mission to uplift Muslim community members. 


Hatem Bazian, 55, holds many titles not the least of which is a devout Muslim trying to make the world a better place. 

He is a father, a husband, a faculty member at UC Berkeley, founder of Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project at UC Berkeley, founder and national Chair of American Muslims for Palestine, a columnist, and a professor and co-founder of Zaytuna College — among many other things. 

Acquiring many of these titles came from decades of working to fill various needs of the community. For example, founding Zaytuna College alongside Sheikh Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir was in response to the growing complexities facing the Muslim community in the early 2000s. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the number of hate crimes directed against Arabs, Muslims and people perceived to be Arab or Muslim was increasing, social justice groups protested against more frequent and blatant racial profiling, and the mainstream media sought to highlight Muslims and Islam more than ever before. 

“The process of only doing halaqas or a weekend class was no longer sufficient,” said Bazian, Ph.D. in philosophy and Islamic studies. 

What would suffice was an academic institution that integrated western and Islamic tradition with the purpose of graduating morally committed leaders, Bazian said. Planning took years.  

Today, Zaytuna College is the first independently accredited Muslim college in the United States. The college, located in Berkeley, Calif., offers a bachelor’s degree in Islamic law and theology and a master’s degree in Islamic texts. 


How would you describe the significance of Zaytuna College being the first accredited Muslim college in the United States?

There were earlier attempts at formulating a college, but they were not successful in getting accredited. This is the only independently accredited Muslim institution in the western world. If there are institutions, these are institutions that either have an accreditation by a partnership with an existing western institution that gives them the right to issue a degree or they’re getting accreditation from a Muslim majority state institution like a certification or accreditation from Al-Azhar University in Cairo or from Turkey and so on. Zaytuna College received the same accreditation from the same agency that accredits UC Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA, USC. Now, Zaytuna College is sitting on the same academic table being able to offer ideas and perspective on higher education coming from the long history and long tradition of Muslim academic institutions. Some of the early colleges in our human history can be dated back to the Muslim world. The fact we have been able to arrive at this point is something not for us to celebrate but actually to give to the Muslim community and to the future generations.


I’m sure there were people who doubted you at the beginning and doubted this could be possible. How did you and the group keep going?

You always have critics. You always people who say “Well, so-and-so tried but they didn’t succeed.” But again, the fact that this was not done before is because it was difficult. We don’t have a book on how to build colleges for dummies. If there were such a book, then we would have bought it. In general it was a major challenge because there isn’t a framework. The most difficult task was how to create a Muslim college that brings in the Islamic tradition with a seamless integration into Western tradition. We are trying to carry both scholarly approaches of tradition to empower our students. 

We began right around the time of the economic collapse in 2008. We did not have an endowment — no resources. If you think miracles don’t come about, then you should come visit Zaytuna College because that was a miracle for us to get the college going at the height of the financial crisis.


What is Zaytuna College’s place in empowering Muslim Americans to speak up and take a position in American society?

Each of our students must fulfill 50 hours of community engagement. In this way we wanted to have knowledge, al-ilm, attached to action, al-aml. Not to say al-aml comes before al-ilm. We wanted our students to have the knowledge and to go out and address the broader needs of the society.


What is your hope for the Muslim youth living in America today?

We are beholden to a tradition of a prophet who was born in Mecca, illiterate, an orphan and we are here whether in the United States or the western world as a result of the idea of our beloved prophet. He came with one of the most powerful messages that humanity has received calling on us to read, iqra. That for me is the main source of most transformative power of knowledge. What I want is for our Muslim youth to understand that our tradition put knowledge at the center of everything that we do. It is knowledge that makes the human a human. Muslims are here to stay and to contribute and be beacons wherever they are.

This interview was edited for length and clarity. 

To follow along Hatem and to stay updated, be sure to follow his Twitter.

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About AAJA’s Muslim American Task Force

The Asian American Journalists Association’s mission is to ensure accurate and fair coverage of AAPI communities and, more broadly, communities of color. More than 60 percent of the world’s Muslim population is in Asia and, as such, AAJA created a task force to develop resources for journalists covering Muslim/Muslim American communities and ongoing changes to U.S. immigration policies. The task force seeks to improve coverage of Muslim American issues and serve as a resource to journalists covering Muslim American communities. Learn more at aaja.org.

Islamic Scholar Dalia Mogahed Wants You To Know That You Are ‘Muslim Enough’

“We have to demand the right to be fully human, which means Muslims being allowed to be as messed up as anyone else and still treated as equal."

Islamic Scholar Dalia Mogahed Wants You To Know That You Are ‘Muslim Enough’

“We have to demand the right to be fully human, which means Muslims being allowed to be as messed up as anyone else and still treated as equal.”

By

Rania Rizvi
Art - Shayma Al-shiri

This feature is in partnership with Asian American Journalist Associations’ Muslim American Task Force with the mission to uplift Muslim community members. 

 

Islamic scholar and Muslim media figure Dalia Mogahed got candid with Muslim about identity, her personal battle with being the “perfect” Muslim, and her experience as a minority figurehead in America.

After going viral in 2016 for her raw Ted Talk on “What It’s Like to Be Muslim in America,” Mogahed was named by CNN as one of the “25 Most Influential American Muslims” and has made several appearances on major media outlets, including MSNBC, PBC, and even The Daily Show with Trevor Noah

But despite the name that she has made for herself as an Islamic figurehead in American media, Mogahed shared how growing up she, too, felt the immense pressure to be a “perfect” Muslim to “counter-stereotype” the villainic, belligerent image of Muslims pervading the media. 

“My biggest struggle was both being misunderstood and having to do the emotional labor of being a walking educational webinar…  to be the perfect representative of Islam,” said Mogahed. “It is exhausting to be a mascot, a 24-hours-a-day counter-stereotype… What if I don’t give my rightfully obtained parking spot to the white lady who came after me? Will she now hate all Muslims and I’m responsible?” 

Dalia Mogahed with Trevor Noah, on his show.

 

Though Mogahed is no stranger to the systemic oppression that Muslims must face on a daily basis for simply existing, she offered valuable advice for those who feel that they may be crumbling under this debilitating pressure, insisting that regardless of one’s religiousness and the status quo, all Muslims are allowed their right to being human.  

“Be your human self in full, and not a counter-stereotype, which is as dehumanizing as being a stereotype,” stated Mogahed. “We have to demand the right to be fully human, which means Muslims being allowed to be as messed up as anyone else and still treated as equal. We should not have to be perfect as the minimum requirement for inclusion,  while the dominant culture displays its deep and pervasive flaws, and still demands full rights. 

Outside of the media world, Mogahed is also the director of research for, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a research and education organization that studies American Muslims and the issues that impact them in Washington D.C. 

The non-profit is dedicated to providing thousands of schools, workplaces, and media outlets with leading research on issues impacting Muslims in America. 

“Our vision [Institute of Social Policy for Understanding] is an America where Muslims are thriving and equal,” said Mogahed. “Our research helps provide the recommendations needed to build more inclusive Muslim spaces,” shared Mogahed. 

Mogahed continued on, stating that the organization only aims to continue “to do groundbreaking research on the American Muslim community and the issues that impact the community disproportionately” with the goal of reaching “the hands of change-makers to make a positive impact.” 

As for her own future plans, the scholar divulged that she would like to extend into the field of rehabilitation for Muslims. 

“’I’m very passionate about building a rehab center to address addiction in the Muslim community  that builds on the 12 steps program with additional Islam-based principles and strategies,” shared Mogahed. 

When she is not doing ground-breaking work as a researcher or making appearances on the news as a powerful voice for Muslims in the media, Mogahed resides in Washington D.C. with her husband and two kids. 

To learn more about Mogahed’s work for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, visit ISPU’s website here. 

 

 

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 About AAJA’s Muslim American Task Force

The Asian American Journalists Association’s mission is to ensure accurate and fair coverage of AAPI communities and, more broadly, communities of color. More than 60 percent of the world’s Muslim population is in Asia and, as such, AAJA created a task force to develop resources for journalists covering Muslim/Muslim American communities and ongoing changes to U.S. immigration policies. The task force seeks to improve coverage of Muslim American issues and serve as a resource to journalists covering Muslim American communities. Learn more at aaja.org.

Defying The Norm, Again: Activist Qasim Rashid Runs For Congress

Running for Congress isn't new for the Muslim human rights lawyer. But his push for change and a better America is heightened during these times.

Defying The Norm, Again: Activist Qasim Rashid Runs For Congress

Running for Congress isn’t new for the Muslim human rights lawyer. But his push for change and a better America is heightened during these times.

By

Mohamed Alagteaa
Art - Shayma Al-shiri

This feature is in partnership with Asian American Journalist Associations’ Muslim American Task Force with the mission to uplift Muslim community members. 

Earlier this year, human rights lawyer Qasim Rashid announced his bid for Virginia’s 1st District seat in the U.S. Congress.

Muslim spoke to Rashid about migrating to the United States, the significance of his bid, being Muslim Ahmadi, and the issues he cares about and his message to young Muslims. 

 

Pursuing the “American Dream” 

Like any story of immigration, Rashid’s contains signs of sacrifice and hope. His parents fled to the U.S. to ensure safety for their children and to practice their religion without the fear of repercussions. His parents were adamant to be immersive and engaged. “There was no sense of hesitancy from them to keep us involved in our new community,” Rashid said. 

The democratic candidate, who is 37, recalls working from an early age to help his parents put food on the table, pay rent and other utilities. 

According to him, “out of that struggle came a lot of good.”

While so many of us are over the cliché of the American dream, Rashid’s story is a manifestation of a guiding promise that people suffering from all sorts of ordeals believe in: Not only is he is a person of color, Asian American, Muslim and an immigrant. He is also a successful human rights lawyer, best-selling author, politician and a Congressional candidate.   


 

Why the run for Congress?

This will not be Rashid’s first attempt at running for office.

The best-selling author ran against Virginia state Sen. Richard Stuart, in 2019 and lost by 15 points. This might have been a major blow for Rashid, but the Congressional candidate sees it as a learning experience through which he can benefit from going into the race for Congress, which he describes as “more balanced in terms of liberal vs conservative voters,” compared to the Senate.

However it may seem, Rashid’s second attempt is derived from the same everlasting principle, fighting for marginalized communities.

The human rights lawyer spent most of his career and adult life advocating for the rights of the voiceless, supporting women who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence, working with non-profits on advancing health care and education access for children from low income communities.

“Running for office is about transforming my advocacy for marginalized communities into policy”, said Rashid.

He is also running a race without corporate money, relying solely on small donors, something he achieved previously in his senate campaign, where he raised more money from small donors than any other state Senate candidate in Virginia, according to The Prince William Times

All this rings true to Rashid, who is from a marginalized community, a persecuted religious group and a person of color. 

It will be a great challenge for the author of TalkToMe: Changing the Narrative on Race, Religion, & Education as Virginia 1 district has a population of more than 700 thousand people, more than 70% of which are white. Yet, Rashid believes that these constituents are ready to be represented by a Muslim.

No matter their political or ideological affiliation, people are struggling with the same issues and people are especially sick of corruption in politics. He is counting on his track record of uplifting others and running an “honest, transparent, people focused campaign on the issues” to win hearts, minds and votes.

 

Being Ahmadi Muslim & Support from Muslim Community

Qasim Rashid is an Ahmadi Muslim and served as the national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA from 2010-2018. 

Many may believe that all Muslims practice the same way or believe the same exact things, which couldn’t be further from the truth – there are many different Muslim sects. 

Ahmadiyya suffer significant sanctioned violence and persecution in Pakistan. These Muslims pray five times a day, perform Hajj, pay the Zakat and believe that prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is the seal of the prophets.

The support to Rashid’s campaign from fellow Muslims was noticeable but was not particularly overflowing or unanimous. Some Muslim communities took it upon themselves to display their disapproval of his candidacy and going as far as labelling him an infidel.

“There are Masajid that passed out flyers calling me Kafir and telling people not to vote for me,” Rashid said. 

However, his response to those who were discriminatory, bigoted and harmful towards him was of a Muslim who has decided to follow the example of the prophet Mohamed PBUH.

“Once I am elected and they need help…I will be the very first person to help them without exception, with no hesitancy on my part, because my responsibility is to uphold justice,” Rashid said. 

The Congressional candidate is instead focusing on the positive assistance seen from Muslim organizations such as Emgage USA, which is the nation’s largest Muslim political action committee. Emgage endorsed Rashid’s bid for the senate last year and is expected to endorse the human rights lawyer again this year.

Qasim and his brother Tayyib, who served as a marine veteran to the United States. (Photo/Qasim, Graphic/Ameer Al-Khatahtbeh)

 

Veterans: Front and Center

Policy-wise, Rashid’s proposals include a variety of solutions to issues such as healthcare, climate change, immigration and criminal justice reform, among many others. However, one issue Rashid is putting under the spotlight of his campaign is veterans, which is often used as a token and a talking point for politicians – but for this candidate it hits close to home.

His brother, Tayyib Rashid, is a U.S. Marine who served in the court when 9/11 happened, which was “a horrifying and traumatic event for our country and also for our family,” the Congressional candidate said. 

It is also about painting an accurate story about the participation of Muslim-Americans in the military.

Many do not realize that “American Muslims served and defended the United States in every war this nation has ever fought in” Rashid said, adding that this is about “taking our rightful place in this country’s history” and fighting the notion that Muslims are unpatriotic or un-American.

This only adds a personal dimension to the problem, one he can speak of from experience, but the matter remains around the fact that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) does not have adequate financial support, veterans do not have access to mental health treatment, or job placement that they need. There are 40,000-50,000 homeless veterans across the U.S., which is to Rashid, “immoral and completely unjust.”

 

Message for Muslim Youth 

Whether you agree with his proposals or adhere to his ideologies and beliefs, Qasim Rashid is a person of substance with a track record of great deeds and a successful career in law practice and writing. 

When asked for any word of wisdom for the younger Muslim generation, his answer centered around staying true to oneself and speaking with conviction. He added that as Muslims living in this country “you are an equal citizen and resident of this state, and you have as much stake in this nation as anyone and you have as little stake as anyone.” 

 

To learn more information, you can find the Congressional candidate Qasim Rashid on Twitter. 

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 About AAJA’s Muslim American Task Force
The Asian American Journalists Association’s mission is to ensure accurate and fair coverage of AAPI communities and, more broadly, communities of color. More than 60 percent of the world’s Muslim population is in Asia and, as such, AAJA created a task force to develop resources for journalists covering Muslim/Muslim American communities and ongoing changes to U.S. immigration policies. The task force seeks to improve coverage of Muslim American issues and serve as a resource to journalists covering Muslim American communities. Learn more at aaja.org.

Activist Zahra Billoo Says Check Your Privilege, Focus On Your Faith

For Billoo, part of the struggle is not in the outcome, it’s in the practice of having faith.

Activist Zahra Billoo Says Check Your Privilege, Focus On Your Faith

For Billoo, part of the struggle is not in the outcome, it’s in the practice of having faith.

By

Ameena Qobrtay
Art - Shayma Al-shiri

This feature is in partnership with Asian American Journalist Associations’ Muslim American Task Force with the mission to uplift Muslim community members. 

You may have seen her before, standing up for Muslim’s rights on TV or shutting haters down on Twitter. Zahra Billoo is a civil rights lawyer and executive director of the oldest chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), located in the San Francisco Bay Area. CAIR is a grassroots funded civil liberties organization that defends Muslims across the nation, with headquarters in Washington, D.C. and chapters across the nation. 

Since the very beginning of her career, Billoo has proved that she won’t let Islamophobes or white supremacists shut her down. At CAIR, she took on some major cases right from her start, combating entities from Hollister to the FBI. 

But even FBI agents couldn’t rattle the young Muslim lawyer. She shared that because she represented so many cases against them for a number of years, FBI agents would “talk trash” about Billoo to her own clients. 

Now more than 10 years later, Billoo is still keeping up the fight, and not letting anything slow down her fight for justice – not even a global pandemic. 

During the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Zahra shut-Islamaphobes-down-and-protect-your-peace Billoo isn’t losing hope or giving up the fight. Just recently, she penned an open letter, along with 200 Muslim activists, to condemn the death threats againt Congressional candidate Amani Al-Khatahtbeh.

The activist talked with Muslim about what coronavirus means for many of us, how exploring faith can benefit us during trying times, and ways people can rethink their privilege. 

Billoo first discussed how the “No Ban Act” – the federal legislation to repeal the Muslim ban – was scheduled to go for a vote on March 12, which didn’t happen due to the spread of the virus. The activist described her disappointment with the unfortunate turn of events, especially since according to Billoo, it took a lot of hard work to get there.

Despite the activist’s concerns over passing legislation after the coronavirus pandemic in whatever “the new normal” looks like, Billoo also talked about how this pandemic should remind people to check their privilege. 

 

Zahra Billoo and Mina Kim in conversation. Photo by Ed Ritger.

 

She said, “I’m also hopeful that for so many people, the reality we’re experiencing right now is an important reminder about our privilege. If we emerge from this healthy, and with jobs, we will have an obligation to help our neighbors, our friends, our brothers, our sisters, our community members.” 

Billo described something that not many have said will come from the COVID-19 experience – empathy. 

She said, “Someone said the other day that like we’re not working from home, we’re at home trying to avoid a virus and trying to work. It’s not business as usual, and that gives us an opening to dig deep to empathize and to think about how we support each other.” 

The activist also discussed how she remains hopeful during times that are as difficult as these. Billoo talked about “leaning into faith,” and remembering that as Muslims, our work is judged on intention, not outcome. 

She said, “We have to submit to the fact that the outcome is not in our control. One of the common examples is that we are supposed to tie our camel, and trust in Allah. So we do have an obligation to tie the camel. But it’s not just tying the camel, it’s also trusting in Allah.”

For Billoo, part of the struggle is not in the outcome, it’s in the practice of having faith. She discussed the importance of not getting too wrapped up in results and remembering that this life isn’t permanent. 

The lawyer also discussed the importance of taking care of our mental health, especially during a time of heightened anxiety and stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Billoo shared that she goes to a therapist regularly, which is not something that many activists discuss. 

Besides remaining hopeful, Billoo suggests that people should connect with family and their community, and to try to increase our service during this time. 

She said, “For those of us who have privilege, really dig deep. As Muslims we believe that we should give from what we love, and so the question that I always ask myself is, if I truly love something it’s going to be uncomfortable to give it. And that’s what I want people to lean into right now. 

“Lean into some slight discomfort. If I have not lost my job, can I give more to charity than I ordinarily would? If I have my health, can I put on a mask, find a charity that is serving people who are unhoused or food insecure and help them… Every person has varying kinds of privilege. And so I’m not wanting to tell people what exactly they need to do, but saying this is a moment to really do more.” 

Billoo’s tips come as a change of pace from most of our social media feeds that are riddled with more materialistic goals about “chasing the bag” or being productive for our own sakes. After all, Ramadan is the right time to follow our good sis Billoo’s sound advice. 

 

For a great source of information and more advice, cat pictures, and snaps of her amazing baking creations, you can find and follow Billoo on Twitter.

 

About AAJA’s Muslim American Task Force

The Asian American Journalists Association’s mission is to ensure accurate and fair coverage of AAPI communities and, more broadly, communities of color. More than 60 percent of the world’s Muslim population is in Asia and, as such, AAJA created a task force to develop resources for journalists covering Muslim/Muslim American communities and ongoing changes to U.S. immigration policies. The task force seeks to improve coverage of Muslim American issues and serve as a resource to journalists covering Muslim American communities. Learn more at aaja.org.

Ramy Youssef: Millennial Muslims’ Favorite Conversation-Starter Is Back

Ramy Youssef talks about the future of Muslim representation and gives us an exclusive look inside season two.

Ramy Youssef: Millennial Muslims’ Favorite Conversation-Starter Is Back

Ramy Youssef talks about the future of Muslim representation and gives us an exclusive look inside season two.

By

Ameena Qobrtay
Photo - Marissa Mooney

Recent Golden Globe winner and table-shaker Ramy Youssef sat down with Muslim and talked representation, responsibility, and season two of the self-titled Hulu original show he co-created, which is set to release May 29. 

Season one of Ramy follows a Palestinian-Egyptian Jersey native (Youssef) as he navigates 21st century life and his Muslim identity in a hilarious ten-episode journey. The show includes a range of diverse characters that appear on screens for the first time – and as year after year of low Muslim representation reminds us, to even have a show depicting Muslims in a positive way is something that makes Ramy stand out. 

But the show does a lot more than simply put Muslim characters on a screen. The characters portrayed include a young millennial Muslim man questioning his morals and faith (Youssef), a Muslim woman who’s not your stereotypical hijabi-in-need-of-saving (May Calamawy), an Arab mother searching for fulfillment outside of the family space (Hiam Abbass), and so many other rich and characteristically diverse personalities that serve as a change of pace from mainstream narratives. 

It’s no secret that through these characters, Ramy touches on more than a few “controversial” subjects in the Muslim community – everything from pre-marital sex and dating to struggling with faith. Although these are areas that millennial and Gen Z Muslims are battling, these conversations are still hush-hush in Muslim spaces. 

Youssef talked about the importance of having conversations that communities may not be ready to have, but need to be addressed. He described how some of season two of his show deals with important issues that aren’t at the forefront of discussions. 

“(The show) is always about conversations that I want to have with my community, and season two even more so,” Youssef explained. “And a lot of the conversations are ones that I don’t think the community necessarily wants to have in an open way, but they’re happening.”

Photo - Hulu

 

Youssef discussed why many millennial and Gen Z Muslims resonate with his show, explaining that media depictions of religious people generally don’t accurately portray what it’s like to be somewhere in the middle of “super religious” and “atheist.” Many young Muslims interact with religion somewhere in between the extremes, which can often get lost in media portrayals.  

“Our generation wants to participate in our faith and we are so actively holding onto our culture in a way that I don’t think has been depicted … It’s exciting to be one of, I hope, many depictions of this,” Youssef said. 

Youssef also described how representing Muslims shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of one TV show – even if the show in question does provide a diverse range of relatable Muslim characters, like Ramy. According to Youssef, totally accurate Muslim representation won’t come from a single series. 

“I don’t think it’s my responsibility to do anything other than make people ask certain questions and think about things in a different way, hopefully,” Youssef expressed. “But the idea of representing people or representing a group that’s as large and as diverse as Muslims is a really difficult thing and not really something that anyone can fully do.” 

 

Photo - Hulu

 

According to Youssef, better Muslim representation will come with more shows providing different story lines and characters, not one show attempting to cover every Muslim identity. Youssef added that until there’s a show – or, in an ideal world, multiple shows – with a Muslim woman as a lead, there won’t be a complete representation of Muslim women. 

“I have my own corner that I have to cover, and I do my best trying to cover it, but there’s always going to be gaps in terms of representation,” Youssef shared, calling for others to fill that gap. 

Although many Muslim viewers praised the first season of the show, after its release in April 2019 it was met with mixed reactions from Muslim viewers and critics alike. Some described the show as limited in its representation of Muslim women, while others saw it as a colorful and funny story about a Muslim millennial. 

However, Youssef expressed the show shouldn’t be seen as speaking only to a Muslim audience, and talked about how the show’s relatability extends far beyond the people it represents. The bottom line Youssef expressed about Ramy is that just because the show is about Muslims, doesn’t mean it’s only for Muslims. 

He mentions the series dares communities to confront aren’t limited to just Muslims, but can be applied to all communities and groups. Youssef explained how it’s not just Muslim communities that have to face serious inter-generational conflicts and tensions — these are worldwide and cross-cultural experiences — and shows like Ramy display these tensions and differences.

 

Photo - Hulu

 

Outside of season two probably containing some of the most hotly debated topics on Muslim Instagram comment threads, Youssef teased that the next season of Ramy also holds a lot of interesting developments for the characters of the show. 

“I think season two will, in some ways, be a bit more uncomfortable,” Youssef shared. “But also in many ways it has a lot more of Ramy trying to commit to his faith as he deals with his problems.” 

Some of the details Youssef revealed include his character committing to a new mosque, Ramy’s anti-semitic Uncle Naseem getting his own episode and backstory, and having Academy Award-winning actor Mahershala Ali play Ramy’s sheikh. 

According to Youssef, the show’s writers were working for a month before finding out that Ali was interested in being a part of the show. An actor with an incredible resume, Ali starred in movies like Moonlight, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One, Hidden Figures and much more. After hearing about Ali’s interest, Youssef and the writers rewrote the season to include Ali.

“It was really, really exciting to have someone of his caliber join, and I think he’s such a natural fit in the show and really elevates it,” Youssef said fondly of his cast member. 

He explained that Ali will be one of the first (if not the first) to play an active sheikh role in a positive light. “We’ve never really seen a sheikh like him on TV before … but (Ali) is such an amazing force and presence and I’m really excited about that.” 

Youssef revealed that season two also explores “really fun storylines” for some of his characters, like Ramy’s sister Dena and mother Maysa, while unearthing more of Ramy’s father’s backstory. 

With Youssef’s Golden Globe win, award-winning additional cast member, excited fans, and a quarantine with no end in sight, it seems like more recognition is on the way for Ramy  – and different insights to some of season’s two’s new questions are likely to arrive with it.

 

‘Ramy’ Season Two premieres on Hulu May 29, 2020.