Hulu’s ‘Ramy’ Tackles Spirituality And Self-Identity In Its Second Season

Hulu's 'Ramy' season two focuses primarily on Ramy Youssef’s lack of self-discipline and his internal struggle with faith.

Hulu’s ‘Ramy’ Tackles Spirituality And Self-Identity In Its Second Season

Hulu’s ‘Ramy’ season two focuses primarily on Ramy Youssef’s lack of self-discipline and his internal struggle with faith.

By

Mareena Emran
Photo from Hulu's 'Ramy'

The highly anticipated sophomore season of smash-hit comedy Ramy hit Hulu’s streaming service on May 29th and, unsurprisingly, was both a critical and commercial success. Jam-packed with hysterical scenes and new characters—including Oscar winner Mahershala Ali as Sheikh Malik, and a cameo appearance from actress Mia Khalifa— Ramy season two brought home an overall critic rating of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. 

Expanding upon season one’s themes of spirituality and self-identity, season two provides viewers not only with more of Ramy’s struggle with his deen, but more profound exploratory storylines revolving around Ramy’s family members, including the now-iconic Uncle Naseem. 

While season one mainly centered around Ramy’s tumultuous journey of navigating adulthood and identity, season two focuses primarily on Ramy’s lack of self-discipline and his internal struggle with faith. Throughout the series, viewers find that, while Ramy’s lack of introspection gets him into trouble, his fragility and knowledge that he is not the “ideal” Muslim makes him relatable. 

 

After failing to “find himself” while traveling abroad, season two starts with a dejected Ramy returning home from his trip. Defeated and more lost than ever, he spirals into a deep depression. As he isolates from the world and falls back into old habits, he reveals a much darker side to himself, juxtaposed with the more lighthearted and youthful Ramy of season one. 

Queue Sheikh Malik, played by Ali, the leader of the Sufi Center across town. In an effort to redeem himself, Ramy asks the Sheikh to be his spiritual guide. Sheikh Malik, a cool, level-headed man, agrees to teach Ramy the ways of “living halal” and becomes a role-model inspiring Ramy to make an effort to change.

 

Initially, we see a seemingly changed Ramy. However, his spiritual demise begins to unfold as his inability to understand the consequences of his actions takes a toll on his relationship with Sheikh Malik. 

Frustrated by Ramy’s behavior, Sheikh Mailk scolds him on multiple occasions: “discipline, Ramy, it’s a muscle; be the solution to your own problems,” are just two of the first lessons the Sheikh struggles to get through Ramy’s thick skull (and honestly, very thick hair). 

Malik’s brazen, yet charming, personality is perfectly portrayed by Ali, and through urging Ramy to set his path straight, he gives the audience a wake up call of their own. 

But while Sheikh Malik’s character development was well-executed, interestingly enough, Uncle Naseem’s was notable as well. Although one of the more unlikable characters of the show, episode nine of the season is focused on delving into Uncle Naseem’s character and how his seemingly dominant masculinity is actually quite fragile. 

In fact, nearly half of the season focuses outside of Ramy’s story, and instead, concentrates on wider cultural issues, including gender roles, stereotyping, the struggles of being a double minority, and  the challenges of achieving the American dream.

But despite Ramy’s efforts to change and become the Muslim he envisioned he could be, towards the end of the season, we see Ramy right back at square one, letting his actions get in the way of fulfilling his ultimate goal of reconnecting spiritually with himself and Allah. Ramy not only lets down the Sheikh, but ultimately, himself. 

This disheartening realization is amplified in the last episode, in which a narration playing from a radio connects Ramy’s originally comical comment on “washing between the toes” to his continual feeling of emptiness, exhibiting how Ramy himself ironically lets his selfish desires get in the way of his happy ending. 

From raising much needed conversations about spirituality and culture, to exploring profound themes about taboo struggles, all while maintaining the cheekiness of Ramy’s character, Ramy season two is not only binge-worthy, but is sure to leave fans in a state of reflection and awe.

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

What’s With The Islamophobia In Netflix’s ‘Never Have I Ever’?

"Are you out of your mind? You heard me say he was Muslim."

What’s With The Islamophobia In Netflix’s ‘Never Have I Ever’?

“Are you out of your mind? You heard me say he was Muslim.”

By

Elizabeth Aziz
Screen grab from Netflix

In the words of the great Kelly Clarkson, “Some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this.” This week, I was “people” and “a moment like this” was tuning into Never Have I Ever, a TV show created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, which premiered at the end of April on Netflix. 

Finally, the teenage dram-rom-com with a brown female lead I have been craving my whole life. And not just *any* brown female lead, but a strong-willed, difficult, grieving, imperfect brown female lead named Devi Vishwakumar (played by the wonderful Maitreyi Ramakrishnan). One with a temper, who smashes glass on the ground at school in front of her whole class when her nemesis scores higher than her on an exam. Not to mention… she has a single mom? AND goes to therapy? Progressive. Unheard of. I’m in. What could possibly go wrong?

Boy, was I in for a ride. I started the show on a Wednesday. I spent the first couple of episodes falling in love with Kamala (played by Richa Moorjani), the seemingly perfect, clueless cousin from back home who lives with Devi and mother Nalini (Poorna Jaganathan) while studying in the US. I instantly felt invested in this all-female South Asian family unit. I related to and cried inside for each one of them for completely unique reasons at various points during the ten episodes which comprise the first season. 

By the time episode four rolled around, I almost forgot that I was yet again watching upper-caste Hindu Indians get to be the official face of South Asians in Hollywood™. I was fully invested by now and wanted to know how this family of strong, independent ladies were going to fare. 

In one episode, we see the ladies at a holiday party, their first since the death of Devi’s father Rohan (Sendhil Ramamurthy) eight months prior. After an unsavory run-in with a swarm of judgmental aunties, Kamala and Nalini search for a place to sit and eat in peace. 

They happen upon a lovely woman dressed in purple (Aarti Mann) sitting at a table alone, who Kamala attempts to approach. Nalini keeps walking, “Come, come,” she insists. The cousin lingers for a moment in the woman’s presence, confused, ultimately following her aunt’s orders. The dialog that ensues next was, let’s just say… a moment.

Kamala: Why could we not sit there?

Nalini: That’s Jaya Kuyavar. She came from Chennai, went to UCLA for her doctorate, parents found her a nice boy back home to marry. Then she ran off with an American man… a Muslim. 

K: *gasps*

N: Parents never spoke to her again.

K: Did they come for the wedding?

N: Are you out of your mind? You heard me say he was a Muslim.

K: I feel bad for her. We should sit with her. 

N: Mm-mm, can’t risk it right now. We’re already borderline outcasts.

 

Pause. “Are you out of your mind? You heard me say he was a Muslim.” 

This line has been playing over and over in my head for days. Hats off to Poorna Jaganathan for tackling that character’s dialog with the hatred of thousands of Islamophobic aunties that came before. When she said that, I felt that. For those of you who haven’t seen the episode, there isn’t even an ounce of jest, let alone compassion in Nalini’s comment about Jaya’s situation. 

One part of me feels like art imitates life. Another part of me wants this entire episode pulled. This line was frankly very distracting from trying to convince myself this show is worth watching, something I didn’t question for a second when I first heard it was coming out but now found myself scrambling to justify watching at all. 

I collected myself. Okay, there are six episodes left. Maybe this topic gets resolved by way of a Muslim friend Devi makes, or some kind of positive encounter to cleanse the palette after this hellish moment. Nothing.

 

The season finale comes and goes, the credits roll, I grab the remote and pause the screen. What did I just spend the last two days watching? A hairy-armed, boy-crazy teen coping with the untimely death of her dad, who happens to have an affirmative-action style social life that includes exactly one person from every major ethnic minority group as per the U.S. Census. Why couldn’t she have a Muslim friend? Why couldn’t she at least have a hijabi lab partner? That seems like an easy place to insert a neutral/positive Muslim character. Maybe a brown boy crush that’s a different religion than her to spice things up? Anything? I could barely spot even a background character who seemed like they could maybe be Muslim.

This feels like a MASSIVE missed opportunity. How much more groundbreaking could this show have been if they weren’t afraid to somehow mess up the bag by including a single Muslim person? How freaking cool would that have been? 

I’m really hoping for some kind of turnaround in season two, if there is one. I would love for this topic to be explored, and for young Muslim girls to see themselves represented in this show that’s supposed to be some kind of watershed moment for South Asians. 

I don’t really feel like this show is a watershed moment for anyone. Not if it had to require putting down Muslims with absolutely no recourse. That doesn’t mean my 12 year old inner child wasn’t extremely psyched to see her own hairy armed, white boy-crazy reflection in the form of Devi, but like… ouch. Either way, she’ll be right here, waiting for season two with an open mind and heart. Can Nalini do the same?

READ MORE: ‘Skam’ Is The Hijabi Representation We Needed

Muslims Celebrated Eid On ‘Animal Crossing’ And It Was Beautiful

Meet the Muslims who spent iftars and celebrated Eid on Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Muslims Celebrated Eid On ‘Animal Crossing’ And It Was Beautiful

Meet the Muslims who spent iftars and celebrated Eid on Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

By

Lina Qaderi
Art - Noor Ali

Eid is known to be a very social celebration as Muslims traditionally gather together with family and friends and basically enjoy each other’s company while celebrating the end of fasting.  

Obviously due to quarantine, Eid felt a bit off since Muslims couldn’t hang out with their friends and relatives as usual, but some Muslims found a unique and cool way to celebrate while being at home.

The game Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been on the rise due to its modern and lifelike simulation where you get to create your own island and also socialize and communicate with other users virtually. 

These Muslims all came together virtually in the game and celebrated their Iftars and Eid together. 

Rami Ismail (@tha_rami) was one of the Muslims who spent iftars and celebrated Eid on Animal Crossing. According to Ismail, not all of the days were consistently the same for his friends on Animal Crossing. He said, “For suhoors and iftars, it varied per day I organized the gatherings. Some days felt very ‘normal’ – people talking, laughing, and discussing their lives. Some days were more game-like with lots of running around and playing.”

Obviously communicating in a game isn’t the same as social interaction, but in the situations we are in right now this is a good way of keeping in contact with others and making Iftar and Eid feel as real as possible.

Ismail also mentions how he was “disappointed” as he says he had to build everything for the celebration himself –  holidays like Christmas or Easter already have set ups. 

He said, “Animal Crossing is a game that is meant to feel homely and it usually succeeds, but when it comes to culture it is homely to Western, Christian, and Japanese people.” He also described what his first ideas of spending Eid on the game were.

Ismail’s friends that joined him for the Animal Crossing experience were a mix of Muslim and non-Muslims that he met from his travels. He states that he loved explaining to the group of what the meaning of the moon in relation to Eid is, as well as what Ramadan is all about, since he only had one other person fasting with him.

The celebrations were made more interesting considering Animal Crossing stands true to realistic simulation, as the moon in the game is the same phase as the moon in real life.

Another Muslim, Ahmed Ali Akbar (@radbrowndads), decided to take his Eid on Animal Crossing and Zoom. Akbar explained that along with dressing up in the game, he and his cousins who were also playing from all around the country dressed up in real life as well. 

Akbar wasn’t completely by himself as he had his wife, his uncle, and his father in the household with him to celebrate and enjoy the day. 

As if in person, Akbar and his cousins were taking pictures – except they were taking pictures of them in the game as their characters, which was apparently a hassle to do according to Ahmed. Despite the difficulties, it was still one of the most memorable experiences for him.

Both Ismail and Akbar had a beautifully decorated setup for each of their “parties.” Animal Crossing may not exactly have Islamic clothing yet but they have some nice options that could resemble it.

Eid was still able to be celebrated safely, whether it was through other virtual games or even just through video calling, proving that Eid is more than just a lot of people being under one roof.

READ MORE: What Celebrating Eid Under Quarantine Looks Like

Has Rumi’s Poetry Fallen Prey To ‘Spiritual Colonialism’?

A viral Twitter thread addresses the absence of any mention of Islam, the Quran, or anything in Barks’ books. Basically, anything that connects Rumi with his original identity.

Has Rumi’s Poetry Fallen Prey To ‘Spiritual Colonialism’?

A viral Twitter thread addresses the absence of any mention of Islam, the Quran, or anything in Barks’ books. Basically, anything that connects Rumi with his original identity.

By

Hafsa Chughtai
Art - Ameer Al-Khatahtbeh

In a world where the influence of poetry has diminished to be important for only a small fraction of people, Maulana Rumi’s writings still garner a large number of fans. He is undoubtedly one of the most widely loved and most-read poets in the world at this point. His poetry is used at weddings, in songs, under Instagram pictures, and circulates social media every day. 

A lot of famous people such as Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Madonna, Beyonce, and numerous others shared how Rumi’s poetry helped them in their spiritual journey. Subsequently, his writings also became a significant part of their works. Various motivational speakers incorporate Rumi’s quotes in their speeches for an added impression of inspiration. 

However, do these words belong to the same Rumi the Islamic world is familiar with?

A recent Twitter thread raised voice on the said matter. It led people to doubt every Rumi quote they have come across.

This thread discusses the interpretations of Rumi’s work by Coleman Barks, all of which are big hits in America even in times when not a lot of people pay heed to poetry. Barks is credited for almost every Rumi English quote that we know. He is an American poet who wrote multiple books translating Rumi’s Farsi scriptures. Almost all of them acquired a large readership, and most would agree that he is the reason how the Western world grew to be familiar with Rumi. 

The thread addresses the absence of any mention of Islam, the Quran, or anything in Barks’ books. Basically, anything that connects Rumi with his original identity.

Persian Poetics, in this thread, put a question mark on Barks’ credibility, given that Barks’ knowledge of Persian, Sufism, and Islam is little to none. Barks’ books on the topic seem to eliminate the essence of Islam from Rumi’s writings completely, changing them in their entirety and alienating them from the original author.

Rumi was a well known Islamic scholar in the 13-century-world. He was a devout Muslim and a true follower of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). This is also why his teachings were highly regarded by those around him. 

What we see in Barks’ books is a different Rumi, he is less frequently described as a Muslim at all. Some enlightening comparisons between Barks’ translations and literal translations were also brought forward:

The act of separating Islam from not only Rumi’s poetry started long before Barks came into the picture. In fact, people in the Victorian Era began to disconnect Islam from the writings of various Muslim poets. 

But no one can deny the fact that it was Barks who contributed most to building a readership around his diluted interpretations for Rumi. He has interpreted these poems even when he has never studied Persian and written them in such a way that it catches the contemporary American eye. 

Barks said, “Of course, as I work on these poems, I don’t have the Persian to consult. I literally have nothing to be faithful to, except what the scholars give.” 

There are other comparisons that show the magnitude of difference between the original words and those written by Coleman Barks. The first book of translations that Barks came across was written by A.J. Arberry in which he translated the poem Like This as follows:

“Whoever asks you about the Houris, show (your) face (and say) Like this.” 

In reference to the poem, Houris are often interpreted as beautiful virgins promised to pious Muslims in Paradise. Barks translated this exact verse as:

“If anyone asks you how the perfect satisfaction of all our sexual wanting will look, lift your face and say, Like this.”

We see an absence of the Islamic context in this translation while the mention of Prophets Joseph and Jesus remained somewhat the same in the same poem. When asked about why he did this, Barks stated he does not remember if he did this knowingly. Where Rumi’s poetry is concerned, he sees religion as secondary and a point of controversy. 

This thread reached thousands in a matter of a few days and a lot of mixed reactions surfaced. Some stood in support of Barks saying he brought Rumi to the modern world, making it easier for people to understand his poetry. Others are completely against him for taking this liberty. Most stand with the fact that Rumi was a Muslim and should be portrayed as one.

 

Other translations that are accused of the same misinterpretations are done by Andrew Harvey, Deepak Chopra, Shahram Shiva, and John Moyne. 

While these distortions may be easily identified by some, this situation poses a problem for those who are unable to understand Persian, especially for Muslims who greatly rely on translations: they are reading words that Rumi wrote in a completely different context.

READ MORE: Muslims Can’t Get Enough Of ‘Dirilis: Ertugrul’

Muslims Can’t Get Enough Of ‘Dirilis: Ertugrul’

We put together the all-you-need-to-know guide to the hit Turkish show.

Muslims Can’t Get Enough Of ‘Dirilis: Ertugrul’

We put together the all-you-need-to-know guide to the hit Turkish show.

By

Mareena Emran
Art - Hedzlynn K.

If you’ve been lurking around Muslim Twitter recently, there’s a good chance you’ve noticed tweets circulating around a Turkish show Dirilis: Ertugrul and a warrior named Erutugrul. At first glance, it may seem like another foreign Netflix show. However, among the global Muslim population, this show represents an unprecedented hype. 

As reported by the Daily Sabah, the show has amassed over 21 million viewers while streaming across 70 countries. Countless social media stan accounts, especially from Pakistan, caused the show to become an overnight sensation that exploded during the month of Ramadan. With its recent Urdu-dubbed version on PTV and YouTube, Dirilis: Ertugrul has received record breaking numbers. It took over five years for the Turkish market to see 240 million views of the show whereas in Pakistan, over four million subscribers and 344 million views occurred in the month of May alone.

It was originally produced by Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) in 2014 with three seasons, but was broken down into a total of five seasons for its recent release on Netflix with English subtitles. With around 70-100 episodes per season, there is no shortage of amazing acting, complex storylines, and Islamic content, but certain episodes can seem long at times, so if you like a good binge-watch session, this show is perfect for you.

Many of the Turkish actors are industry leaders of theater, movies, and music who crossed over to create a sensational production that has millions of loyal fans waiting for episodes each week. The plot lines are full of multiple cliff-hangers and unexpected twists that are different than traditionally redundant Turkish, Arab, and Pakistani shows that focus on just marriage, gossip, or evil neighbors. 

The drama is set in 1280 and revolves around the life and history of Ertugrul Ghazi, son of Suleman Shah, and leader of the Kayi Tribe. The Kayi tribe was a Muslim Turkish tribe that fought the Mongols, Templars, and Byzantine empire to create a foundation that ultimately led to the creation of the Ottoman empire. Ertugrul’s son, Osman, would become the first Sultan of the Ottoman empire and his descendants would rule much of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia for over 600 years. 

Ertugrul is played by Engin Altan Düzyatan, who has won over the hearts of millions. The other characters include Halime Sultan, Turgut Alp, Bamsi Bey, Selcan Hatun, Gundogdu Bey, ibn Arabi, and Abdur Rehman. These were not just historical figures who supported Ertugrul on his quests, but they also provided a viewpoint on family struggles, hand to hand combat, and the value of loyalty in the face of overwhelming odds. 

Many Americans have compared the show to Game of Thrones based on the stunning wardrobes, historical conflicts, and deaths of main characters with surprise twists. Others have compared it to a new age in Islamic drama production by focusing on the role of religion and faith in Allah instead of superheroes, technology, and money. 

The popularity of this show has expanded across the globe with fans showing their love and appreciation of Ertugrul with dedicated fans, artwork and events.

After the fifth season of Ertugral, the demand from audiences spilled over and a new series was produced – Kuruluş: Osman. Some of the characters from Ertugral stay in the new series for continuity and provide two more seasons of similar content with new characters, plot lines, and excitement. 

Many of the names and handshakes have become popular among teens and families. Children address their fathers as Bey. Friends greet each other in hallways and playgrounds with chest-fist bumps like the Alps. Countless plastic, wooden and metal swords, shields, and axes have been ordered online by people wanting to be like the Alps or Templar Knights. Kayi flags and symbols are being displayed proudly in offices, cars, and living rooms of people who are not even turkish in a sign of solidarity.

Fans have even made Pinterest boards dedicated to the fashion and style of characters, and some have even gone as far as to convert to Islam entirely:

Those who have not watched the show are definitely missing out. Many fans are urging their friends and family to watch episodes on Netflix, PTV and YouTube.

Has Ertugrul won you over yet? We know you parents are obsessed, so you might as well hop on too!

READ MORE: ‘Skam’ Is The Hijabi Representation We Needed

‘Skam’ Is The Hijabi Representation We Needed

The hijab stays ON in this one.

‘Skam’ Is The Hijabi Representation We Needed

The hijab stays ON in this one.

By

Najaha Nauf
Art - Merna Ahmed

If you’re tired of trying to gouge your eyes out every time a hijabi on screen molds herself to white supremacy, you’re not in this alone. I like my TV shows with a bit of diversity that retains itself and keeps things fresh and controversial. 

So if you’re anything like me, Skam is about to become your new favorite series. 

This Norwegian teen-drama is a web series that follows the daily lives of teenagers. It deals with some heavy themes including mental health, homosexuality and in our case, religion. 

Skam in Norwegian literally means shame so you can expect quite a few topics to surface through all four seasons which by society’s standards are considered “shameful,” like sexual assault, breaking gender-stereotypes, and belief in a faith the world thinks is “extreme.” 

Here’s five reasons why Skam is the hijabi representation we needed: 

Screen grab from 'Skam'

1. Sana Bakkoush is a fierce hijabi with her own season. 

Now, if you’re not familiar with how Skam works, each season tells the story of a different protagonist but the cast remains the same. This way, everyone gets a bit of representation and everyone’s story is told. 

Sana Bakkoush is the protagonist of season four, and she’s a practicing Muslim teenager who wears the hijab and struggles to find a balance between high school, faith and family life. You get a thorough run-down of how Sana finds herself in crossroads with religion and self-identity, despite seeming at the beginning to be the physical embodiment of faith-assured. 

It’s the most realistic portrayal of a hijabi I’ve seen in modern day TV. She doesn’t give up on Islam to do the things she likes or get with the people that she likes: what more could a fellow hijabi want the world to know and comprehend?

Screen grab from 'Skam'

2. Her attitude about Islam

While most TV shows hint at Muslim characters feeling forced to deal with the hijab, Skam portrays it as it is: you have this honest, realistic, level-headed hijabi going about her day while being authentically herself. She does not compromise her prayers during the show. She isn’t trying to glorify Islam or defame it. 

Skam includes several scenes where stereotypes are challenged. One of my favorite scenes is when Sana’s introduction occurs and she wants to join the other girls to be a Russ. If you aren’t familiar, russefeiring is a high school tradition in Norway, where students in their last year celebrate their final spring term through means of a parade. It’s usually linked with drunkenness and public disturbances. 

When Sana tries to join, Vilde asks her if “Muslims are allowed to be a Russ” to which Sana jokingly replies with “it’s punished by stoning.” 

While being a Russ is certainly NOT punishable by stoning, western media has made Islam seem more extreme than it actually is and a lot of people truly do believe that Muslims are punished regularly for things that bring them joy. Skam helps burst that bubble and bring to light the truth behind almost everything through Sana’s wit.

Screen grab from 'Skam'

3. The friend group

Every great TV series has a great friend circle, and honestly, Skam has one of the best portrayals of friendship I’ve seen in a long while. While Sana is the only hijabi in her predominantly female circle of friends, there is nothing else that makes her any different from the rest of them. They’re all strong, even-minded females with every bit of teenage angst we know and love. 

In particular, I really loved how the show suggests that hijabis aren’t loners by nature. Sana is an extrovert who isn’t the meek hijabi girl popular stereotypes love to shove down our throats. She’s a genius of her own caliber and her friendships with the other girls are not conceded in any way. It’s nice to see hijabis fitting in, especially in places we were always told we wouldn’t. Bonus points for Sana playing basketball like an absolute legend to reiterate the fact that the hijab is not an obstacle.

Screen grab from 'Skam'

4. Not a damsel in distress 

Although it’s true that Sana’s potential love interest is introduced in season four, her story has more depth to itself than just that aspect. Her struggle with her beliefs and possible relationships plays an important role in reminding us that just because we’re hijabis doesn’t mean we don’t fall in love. We’re Muslims, not monks. The idea that a hijabi girl can fall in love and withhold a relationship so that it adheres with the religion she’s known her whole life is a ray of hope for most of us who have been in similar situations. 

Skam takes a wholesome approach where Sana challenges the norm and uses her religion to make good choices. As early as season one, when sponsors come in for their Russ bus, Sana makes a claim that most people would not believe hijabis are capable of making: she speaks up about sexism and the double-standards people have for women when it comes to earning money through sexual favors. There’s a fine line of appreciation reserved for the way in which this show hints, continuously, of how thinking women owe men anything is a primitive mentality.

Screen grab from 'Skam'

5. Quotes you can plaster your walls with

I have yet to hear of a person who does not willingly quote Skam after watching it. It has these one-liners that give you a very realistic idea of how conversations regarding the hijab, religion and friendships should really go. 

Some of my favorite quotes are, unsurprisingly, Sana’s, mostly because she speaks it as it is and that’s not easy to come by in a time where overly-dramatized lines are the norm. With regards to being asked about Islam being a hateful religion, Sana’s quick to say, “Islam says what it always says… Hate doesn’t come from religion, it comes from fear.”

I believe that’s a timeless line we need in our lives, as a constant reminder that religion doesn’t hate. No religion, especially not Islam, would promote hate. For a teen drama series to capture the essence of Islam so wonderfully is a feat worth many accolades. 

When it comes to defending her friends, Sana likes to use words people have used against her, against them. When a group of girls calls Vilde a slut for hooking up with William, Sana is quick to defend her friend. After the defense she says, “That’s how it’s done in my Muslim gangster world,” air-quoting the words “Muslim gangster” and continuing with, “You don’t judge your friends and you stand up for them, no matter what,” which I believe is as important for hijabis as it is for teenage girls who find themselves in situations where they are pitted against their own friends. 

With regards to the hijab, Sana’s response is easily the most frequent line I’ve used in University every time someone asks me if my parents are forcing me to wear the hijab: “No one is forcing me to wear it. I wear it because I want to.” Could it get any better than this? 

Skam is the hijabi representation we needed and we will continue to need more shows like Skam for a long time to come. It’s wholesome and hilarious in its own way and its range is unparalleled. This is not to say it has no faults: Sana Bakkoush isn’t the poster hijabi or the blueprint other shows need to copy because she has her own shortcomings. However, while there are many ways in which this representation could have gone horribly wrong, they managed to pull it off with quite an impressive character. Hijabi representation in TV series is scarce and most often misplaced but Skam is one of the shows that got it right. And if they can do it, so can everyone else. 

 

READ MORE: 5 Scenes From Hulu’s ‘Ramy’ That Start Important Conversations For Muslims

5 Scenes From Hulu’s ‘Ramy’ That Start Important Conversations For Muslims

“Do you think God cares if I wash between my toes?”

5 Scenes From Hulu’s ‘Ramy’ That Start Important Conversations For Muslims

“Do you think God cares if I wash between my toes?”

By

Arbaz Khan

Photo - Hulu

Ramy Youssef came to my attention through another show starring an Egyptian-American. In Mr. Robot, Ramy had a recurring role as security analyst Samar who regularly bragged about his fake sexual exploits. He gave me a chuckle interacting with Rami Malek’s stoic Elliot. 

A little later, I noticed Youssef on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, making his network television debut performing stand-up. In earnest, the thing that captured me about him was his invitation into the intricacies of the Muslim-American experience, the confusion of being told who you are by others, and simply in finding the commonalities between people. Even more compelling, was his analysis of the struggles of maintaining the traditions of faith while living in a modern and secular society. So when I saw he was working on a  A24 show executive-produced by Jerrod Carmichael, I was excited to see his his full range. 

Of course the show falters occasionally and has some generalizations, but there is a consistent universal perspective that pervades the first season. As a Muslim kid from a Pakistani household, the show doesn’t exactly capture my experience. I’m not from Jersey City, I’m not Egyptian. And while I’m aware the show is fictitious, each episode embodies an autobiography of how myriad Muslims feel in this county. 

I’m not Ramy, and yet I feel like we’re one and the same. 

Ramy offers the chance for the disparate parts of our community to empathize with each other, in a way that doesn’t make any of us feel like outliers. Throughout the first season, the show presents some key moments that are particularly poignant for us Muslims. Here are five that stuck out to me:

Photo - A24

Episode 1: Between the Toes

“I’m in this little Muslim Box in your head. I’m supposed to be the wife or the mother of your kids. But I’m not supposed to come.”

After a date with a Muslim woman surprisingly gets too intimate, Ramy gets called out for his hypocrisy. In truth, this is where the show managed to display its means of creating dialogue but also its hindrance. Earlier in the episode, Ramy hides his adherence to his religion for the sake of finding comfort in his non-Muslim endeavors. 

After being set up to meet a Muslim Egyptian girl named Nour at a restaurant, Ramy and Nour get intimate. Ramy is surprised by her sexual desires, and Nour rightfully gets frustrated at him. The irony of this scene is that he denies this woman the same understanding he pursues in other women. He enraptures his expectations and limitations in perspective of Muslim women in American and Egyptian culture onto her. 

However, this insight seems to hold onto the perspective of restraint. This is the instance where the show offers its first glimpse into what women within the Muslim culture experience. While this show does excel in its juxtaposition and revealing hypocrisies of people, it incites consistent reminder that Muslim women are limited. Within my personal experiences, while heavily biased is not true. I’ve interacted with Muslim women that are leaders and pioneers within their fields. They are so much more than just their limitations, and while this show plays at this we don’t get that moment of liberation beyond it. 

This was observed in two episodes that focused on the characters of Dena, Ramy’s sister and Maysa, Ramy’s mother. Throughout the two episodes there is consistent lack of agency, especially within their erotics. For Dena, it is her confounding restrictions towards expressing her sexual desires. Specifically, the boundaries that are in place for her while her brother roams freely. For Ramy, he is given the male privilege to traverse through the world exploring his sexual identity. With Dena, she doesn’t even have the vocabulary to comprehend certain acts of intimacy despite their prevalence within American culture. With Maysa, it is a woman who was once vibrant and beautiful who became chained to the mundane life of a housewife. 

The truth is, this is a commonality amongst Muslim households. However, I do tire of constantly seeing things feed into the lack of agency Muslim women have. Inherently, I find this to be untrue, but I hope for this to be the beginning of Muslim women having a larger representative voice and narrative within media.

Photo - Hulu

Episode 8: Saving Mikaela

“Think of the children. They’ll grow up confused. They won’t know who they are, because they won’t know their land! They need to know their roots. They need to grow up learning Islam, or they won’t lead the right path!”

Some of the greatest stories we are told as kids are the ones about our parents’ lives before America. For those who still remained in the country, they take pride in knowing their national identities.Returning to the homeland has always been this romanticized theory of finding oneself. 

For most, the idea of returning to the motherland is this retreat. For Ramy, it’s a genuine escape into belief. The beauty of this show is seeing Ramy’s existential crisis of his actions. Having been confronted by his own father about the extended affair he took part in, Ramy is chastised. His father relates to his son the journey of coming to America. 

Worse, is his father telling him that he was wrong for leaving. In truth, the scene is powerful for the generational admittance of the confusion first and second generation Muslims, especially those immigrants must plunder through.

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Episode 4:  “You fit in just fine”

This is by far the most brazen episode of the show. Throughout the episode people are pushing Ramy to align themselves with America. Not only that, but they are excluding him from being an American. Being a pre-teen is awkward enough. 

In its most controversial and subversive episode of the season, a young Ramy has a discussion with Osama Bin Laden. In one of the finest moments of surrealism to combat David Lynch, we take a look at one of Ramy’s conflicts. One side is torn for not being able to live like other Americans, and another wants to honor the heritage and people he comes from. 

Within this scene, the show offers a concise moment of capturing someone’s own internal struggle for defining what they want to do as someone who doesn’t fit in. It is a decision of who he is to the whole world. In earnest it’s an acceptance of his own identity. Ramy never hides his beliefs, but instead sees how he can incorporate them into his definition of America.

 

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Episode 3: A Black Spot On The Heart 

“You know the Prophet (PBUH) said the dopest thing in a hadith, ‘when a believer commits a sin, a black spot forms on his heart’. Don’t spend all night thinking about how you messed up. Just think about how you wanna clean those black spots.”

Being hard on yourself is a costly thing. In a moment where Ramy is under the effects of taking too much THC, he finds himself at a mosque. He admits to a congregant at the mosque that he doesn’t feel like he is himself. That he’s just another sinner. In a moment of depth needed for many Muslims, we are told that we are allowed to be wrong. For someone who believes himself to be more superior than others, you’re not. 

For most of the Muslims I’ve interacted with their identification with faith has been too strict. The ones that always inspired me weren’t the people that were dismissive or the ones who executed devout faith – it was people who admitted their flaws in faith. Some of them had logic as simple as why not try it? Or I’m probably not going to be able to do anything fun when I’m older.  Despite the logic, there was always a desire to be better. Most of these people have been the greatest push for me to understand the necessity of  faith in self.

Photo - Hulu

Episode 1: Between the Toes

“Do you think God cares if I wash between my toes?”

In the self-realization of Ramy being a hypocrite for his own judgements, he confides in the same man who judged him for not washing his toes. It’s an earnest expression of faith and the paranoia of not knowing yourself. The show’s thesis is an earnest question of faith itself. But instead of renouncing it, it’s about striving to follow the practice of it. 

For years, I hoped to find something that validated my feelings of faith. But I know there are Muslims who don’t know themselves and some who are trying to see where they can just be, shows where they see their lives. I know there are still Muslims who are learning that their faiths don’t make them happier and others who hide behind it. I hope we can all be accepted, if not by each other, at least by ourselves. This, too, is faith. Astaghfirullah. 

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

This Is What Netflix’s ‘Elite’ Got Wrong About Muslims

No. Not every hijabi is in need of a white man to save her.

This Is What Netflix’s ‘Elite’ Got Wrong About Muslims

No. Not every hijabi is in need of a white man to save her.

By

Lina Qaderi
Art - Ameer Al-Khatahtbeh

 

Disclaimer: every opinion expressed in written pieces is that of the writer, and doesn’t represent the view of our publication.

The Netflix show Elite is polarizing – some Muslim viewers love it and others aren’t so happy with it. The frustration mainly comes from the fact that the TV show presents a Muslim girl taking off her hijab for a guy, and her drug dealer gay brother’s dillemma with his faith. 

For those who are unaware of the show, the main Muslim characters share pretty similar plot lines. Starting off with the hijabi, Nadia, she starts off as a shy new girl at school who only studies and doesn’t want to be friends with others. 

It’s safe to assume that the writers were trying to include the stereotype of all hijabis being quiet and not speaking for themselves. 

Nadia accidentally spots two antagonists of the show having sex, leading them to make a bet with each other to see if the white boy, Guzman, can humiliate Nadia by seducing her. The both of them end up having feelings for each other and Nadia begins to do things like not wearing her hijab as much and having sex. 

This is a common theme in almost every hijabi’s storyline and it’s pretty old to the point where there is almost no point in putting a Muslim girl in a movie or TV show because it just ends with false representation and the girl just being “saved” by a white guy as a “happy ending.”

 

 

Things are no better for Nadia’s brother, Omar, a gay drug dealer who starts to fall in love with another main character in the show. I’m sure the only reason Elite made Omar, out of all characters, to be homosexual was to turn him being Muslim as just a dilemma or obstacle in his life. 

This should never be presented for any type of belief, especially the ones that are continuously being underrepresented.

There is another gay muslim character that enters the show in season 3 named Malick. Malick starts to date Nadia even though she still has feelings for Guzman. Her parents approve of her dating Malick. Nadia later finds out he is secretly gay and has been hooking up with her brother, Omar… seriously? Talk about family tea!

Malick convinces Nadia to continue dating him. He also ends up proposing to Nadia near the end of the show and she accepts – until the next day when she realizes she doesn’t want to live a lie – but the two remain friends. The season finishes with Nadia still wanting to be with Guzman as well as Omar leaving Malick for his first boyfriend.

Most Muslims would say that these characters are disrespectful to all Muslim teenagers, as the show is in a backhanded way of making it seem to the audience that the religion of Islam goes against any teens’ desires and is practically oppressing Muslims, leaving them with no choices.

 

 

The writers of Elite consist of Spanish men, aside from Abril Zamora, a trans woman. None of the writers are Muslim. The problem with this is that it shows that the writers may have used only the preexisting stereotypes they had in mind while making and shaping these characters and didn’t even think about having a Muslim writer to clarify whats right and wrong. 

It’s already sad enough that having Muslim characters in films isn’t considered a regular thing, but when they are being represented incorrectly as well, it just makes it worse. 

I believe that the show is trying to give off the idea that all Muslims are needing to rebel to live a happy life because otherwise they are nothing but “oppressed” kids. Which is completely untrue. 

I think this is a dangerous idea to be spreading too, especially for the hijabi stereotype,  since nowadays there are a lot of films expressing the idea of hijabis being oppressed and being unhappy until meeting some white boy that makes her feel “true freedom.” 

These films will lead non-Muslims, or even some Muslim girls who are considering wearing the hijab to think it’s just force from parents and will completely change others idea of what the hijab is actually supposed to represent, which is modesty. 

Also the show adds to the stereotype of ALL muslims having insanely strict parents, which I find pretty unfair. Sure there are Muslim parents that are strict but not all are. There are a lot of laid back Muslim parents out there who have a healthy relationship with their children. 

I’m pretty sure if there were Muslims among the writing crew for the show, Nadia and Omar would probably be completely different characters from what they are currently. I’m also sure that Nadia wouldn’t need or want to take off her hijab at all through the show. 

Personally, I don’t think Elite is a bad show, as a matter of fact I find the show pretty interesting. My only issue, along with many people’s issue with the show, is their idea of Muslim teens and how they’re choosing to present them.

 

 

I watched this one show a while back called Skam, and it’s one of my favorite shows of all time because they have a strong and amazing hijabi lead that doesn’t show her as embarrassed of her religion or wanting to take off her hijab (she doesn’t remove her hijab throughout the show.) 

It’s also not that hard to create a good plot line for a hijabi. For example, it could be the opposite of pretty much all the hijabi films, where the guy falls in love with the Muslim girl and wants to convert for her. 

 It’s not everyday you will see a show or a movie wanting to feature a hijabi, let alone a Muslim. I think if film writers are wanting to create a Muslim character, they should respect the religion of Islam and the lives of most Muslim teenagers. 

I also believe that Elite should start to introduce a better portrayal of these Muslim characters. The popular show only has three seasons, who knows where it will lead. We just simply ask for good representation.