COMEDIANS TACKLING ISLAMOPHOBIA – HASAN MINHAJ AND MAZ JOBRANI

Hasan John

Hopefully this is the first of many blog posts about comedians tackling Islamophobia through their stand-up comedy. First up we have Hasan Minhaj and Maz Jobrani…

I am a firm believer in the power of comedy to change the common narrative for the better. Here’s a quote to further my point:

If you laugh, you change. If you change, the whole world changes around you. – from the documentary Laughology (2009)

And that is one reason why I keep a nerds-eye-view on the Venn diagram intersection between stand-up comedy and Islam. Crossing my line of sight recently was an article about Hasan Minhaj, arguably the most famous Muslim comedian in the world (no, Omid Djalili is not a Muslim, he is a member of the Bahai faith, and the likes of Aziz Ansari, Kumail Nanjiani, Wajahat Ali, Azhar Usman, and others, aren’t quite getting the spotlight as much as Hasan currently is).

The article is called Hasan Minhaj Tackles Islamophobia With Comedy and is about a recent comedy gig he did on December 6th 2017 in the Turner Auditorium at the Johns Hopkins University East Baltimore campus in Baltimore, Maryland. The talk was the final event of the 50th anniversary Milton S Eisenhower Symposium’s 2017 speaker series, which also saw speeches from the likes of American Muslim activist Linda Sarsour, TV news host Joy Ann Reid, and Ohio governor John Kasich.

As well as being a regular throughout 2017 on the Daily Show With Trevor Noah, earlier this year Hasan hosted the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and on December 4th 2017 he was named one of Foreign Policy magazine’s Global Re-Thinkers. FP claimed that “at a difficult time for Muslims and immigrants in America, Minhaj has found an effective way to describe a side of the United States that its current president ignores and rejects.” In the FP article Hasan describes himself as “an angry optimist” whilst FP describes him as “the 32-year-old pompadoured Daily Show correspondent,” “an avatar of the bizarre political moment,” “a protagonist of the American narrative,” and more importantly “the right comedian for the wrong time.”

Maz Cover

All of this reminded me of similar articles where Muslim comedians use their comedy to point out the growing Islamophobia that exists all around us today. One such article that came to mind is called Fighting Islamophobia With Comedy. Written way back in March 2015, this particular article is about the comedian Maz Jobrani, another American comedian who is rather effectively using his humour to tackle anti-Islamic bigotry.

As well as an acclaimed comedian, Maz is also an actor and author (his book I’m Not A Terrorist, But I’ve Played One On TV: Memoirs Of A Middle Eastern Funny Man was released in 2015). More recently he hilariously hosted the 45th International Emmy Awards Gala in November 2017 in New York:

Anyways, as always the two main articles mentioned above are well worth reading in full, and a selection of my favourite quotes from these articles are presented below. Enjoy!


Fighting Islamophobia With Comedy

Robin Wright, 08 Mar 2015, Atlantic Monthly

Maz Jobrani is challenging extremist ideology and Muslim stereotypes, one punchline at a time. – Robin Wright

Jobrani’s journey reflects both the problems and the potential in using comedy to bridge the cultural chasm produced by Islamic extremism. In growing numbers, America’s Muslim comedians are using a sassy brand of humor to reach across the abyss. In the United States, their shticks both ridicule extremism within their own faith and challenge American stereotypes of Muslims. – Robin Wright

Comedy turns out to be a sly way of challenging autocratic rule and a potent antidote to the sophisticated social media campaigns of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. – Robin Wright

He lambasted the 2009 Christmas Day bomber who tried to blow up a Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, noting that the bomb carried in his underwear was proof that the guy was an idiot. Jobrani imagined the final conversation between the hijacker and his terror-masters. “Ah, excuse me. I have one, ah, one last question for you,” the terrorist says. “You say my reward in heaven will be seventy-two virgins. So do you think, maybe, we could put the bomb somewhere else? I mean, I really think I’m going to need my penis.” The crowd roared. – Robin Wright

Jobrani and other Muslim comedians take their mission as seriously as their craft. “For us,” Jobrani once told me, “the goal is not simply to make people laugh. It’s also to have people, when they leave the show, go, ‘Wow, that guy was funny, and he was Middle Eastern, and he didn’t try to kidnap or hijack us.” – Robin Wright

Comedy comes from tragedy, and being Iranian in America from 1979 on had been quite tragic. In stand-up comedy, I was able to take the reality and exaggerate it. – Maz Jobrani

Comedy was therapy for both Muslim performers and non-Muslim audiences. “As the weeks went on, I realized there was an important role comedy would play in healing the tragedies of September 11. Comedy can help people cope,” he wrote, “and many people were coming to the clubs to laugh out the stress.” Comedy brought back “a voice of reason to an irrational time.” – Robin Wright


Hasan Minhaj Tackles Islamophobia With Comedy

Emily McDonald, 07 Dec 2017, John Hopkins News Letter

NB All the quotes below are from Hasan Minhaj.

I can’t speak to my mom in Urdu on a plane, because people are afraid of terrorism. Fear of terrorism is the reason why we don’t let refugees into the country. We’re currently on our third travel ban because of that fear.

There is a double standard in the way terrorist attacks are portrayed in the media today. White terrorists are usually called “lone wolves,” while Muslim terrorists are branded as part of a terrorist organization. How is every crazy white dude just part wolf? How are all these guys just coincidentally Team Jacob? I don’t get the double standard. A brown dude goes crazy, we get teamed up. A white dude goes crazy: 12 individual wolves have gone cuckoo — if only there was a pattern.

The term “terrorism” is used disproportionately to describe acts of violence by people of color. There are over 100 definitions of the word terrorist, but in 2017 it’s been racialized to basically mean brown people, right? People who look like me, with beards. Coded language to describe things we’re afraid of is used a lot. You turn the news on, you hear words like ‘thug,’ ‘gangster,’ ‘illegal,’ ‘president.’

After the recent mass shooting at a Las Vegas concert, CNN was quick to question whether the attack was the work of ISIS or another terrorist organization, with little evidence to support the claim. I don’t expect anything more from CNN, they write headlines the way my dad writes emails. 1000-point font, incomplete sentences, random conspiracy theories. Vegas Shooter ISIS? Hasan Call Home, Mom Misses You.

Statistically, people in the United States are very unlikely to die of foreign terrorism. This statistic plays a key role in the refugee debate. How likely are you to die of foreign terrorism? Because that’s the crux of the debate. You are more likely to die from choking, lightning, crossing the street, furniture. You’re literally more likely to be killed by furniture than a terrorist organization. Despite these statistics, many Americans still oppose allowing refugees to immigrate into the country. People are still scared of terrorism, because I’m giving you a rational argument to an irrational fear, and we know that never works. We all argue with family members on Facebook. We love irrational fear in America, we’ve got other ones besides brown people: zika, Tsars, swine flu, anthrax, shark attacks, pirates.

A common argument made against the immigration of refugees is the idea that they do not share typical “American values.” If Muslims really don’t adopt American values, why do 92 percent of them say they’re proud to be American? Why do 72 percent of them say you get ahead with hard work? Why do 82 percent say they’re concerned about extremism? And why do U.S. Muslims accept gay marriage more than Republicans?

Immigration and diversity are fundamentally American values. The real question isn’t whether refugees can accept American values. It’s whether Americans can accept American values. Immigration is a fundamental American right, and yet it doesn’t get the same applause or attention as, say, freedom of speech or guns. We’re a nation of refugees, immigrants and free thinkers.

The current screening process for Syrian refugees includes an intensive background check and a two-year waiting period. If these people are willing to wait in line for over two years to enter this country, we owe it to them to at least look at their application.

The beauty of letting everybody in, no matter where we come from, as long as they go through proper procedures, is that people can practice their religion how they choose, not how someone else chooses. And when it comes to American Islam, that’s where it’s taken shape in really dope and innovative ways.

If after all that, you still want to ban refugees or Muslims, the reality of the situation is that we’re already here. We already control every aspect of your life. Think about it: food, transportation, medicine. We’ve got it on lock. We could’ve gotten you on every corner, but we didn’t. So you’re welcome, America.

Comedians are playing a more significant role in reporting and commenting on current events. The big thing that a lot of comedians are forced to do is, we’re forced to do things like primary reporting. Like CNN and Fox News, that’s where you go to get your sketch comedy on…It’s like bizarro-world, CNN is Comedy Central and comedians are like, ‘Why aren’t you reporting the truth?’ It’s forced all of us to elevate our game.

I like the recent increase in diversity in comedy. I think it’s awesome to get every single different perspective, because a lot of times you’ve got your blinders on, and there are blind spots we all have to different communities. I will say I think we need more female voices of color in comedy.

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ONLY THE LONELY DON’T SMILE

Muslim Woman Alone

Along with watching all the fancy TV adverts, it seems there is a new Christmas tradition: highlighting the issue of loneliness at this time of year. For many, Christmas is about joy and time spent with their families. For others, it can be one of the loneliest times of the year.

Whilst this tradition of highlighting loneliness has been around for several years, especially among charities such as Age UK, this year the issue has taken even greater prescience due to the findings of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission. The Commission is named after the British politician who was brutally murdered in June 2016 by a white extremist (I wrote about this tragedy in a previous blog post). Jo was in the middle of setting up the Commission to combat loneliness before her tragic death.

Her hope for the Commission was to turbo-charge public awareness of loneliness. She wanted everybody, all across society, to understand more about the extent of loneliness and then, together, to do something about it in our communities, as individuals, as employers, and through greater political leadership. One of the reasons why Jo wanted to set up the Commission was, as she said:

Young or old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate. – Jo Cox

Jo Loneliness

The study from the Commission, officially released Friday 15th December 2017, has presented many interesting findings around the subject of loneliness. Among many things it is calling on the government to fund new ways of battling loneliness. Labour MP Rachel Reeves, co-chair of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission, said:

Loneliness is no longer just a personal misfortune but has grown into a social epidemic. If we can tackle it effectively we can make Britain not just a happier but also a healthier country in which to live. – Rachel Reeves

The Commission has started a much wider debate on the subject. For example, the Chief Nursing Officer for England Jane Cummings said:

Loneliness can have a devastating impact. Evidence shows that social isolation increases the risk of premature death by around a third. – Jane Cummings

Whilst loneliness has been called a social epidemic and a public health crisis, Deborah Moggach, author of the novel adapted for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel films about retired people from the UK going to India, says that:

Loneliness really is the last taboo. – Deborah Moggach

A quick read of other articles on loneliness reveals that it can be devastating mentally and physically. Loneliness is so damaging to health it is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being obese. Being lonely is associated with an impaired immune system, it causes an increased incidence of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity. It raises levels of cortisol in the body which can lead to depression and anxiety. Long term loneliness can lead to stress, paranoia, coronary heart disease, substance misuse, eating issues, sleep disturbance, cognitive deterioration (dementia), arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, and even attempted suicides.

There are economic costs too. Researchers estimate that loneliness damages our national economy, to the tune of £32bn per annum. Another view point suggests that the epidemic of loneliness costs £6,000 per person in health costs and pressure on local services. But the London School of Economics study of older people also says that for every £1 spent in preventing loneliness there are £3 of savings.

The Jo Cox Loneliness Commission concludes by suggesting that the UK needs a national strategy to combat loneliness across all ages, and a corresponding ‘minister for loneliness’ needs to be appointed who would be responsible for implementing the strategy. With this in mind the aforementioned Rachel Reeves said, in a recent article for Prospect magazine:

The crisis of loneliness exposes the limits of our welfare system. If William Beveridge was alive today, I believe he would identify loneliness as one of his great evils. Alongside the need for bread and health he would add the need for attachment and connection. And he’d follow up on his belief in voluntary action and give more power and control to people. – Rachel Reeves, from an article in Prospect magazine (Lord Beveridge, a noted progressive and social reformer, was also one of the founding fathers of the modern British welfare state, i.e. the NHS)

So how does loneliness relate to smiling? At the time of reading all these articles on loneliness, I came across a 5 minute audio clip of my favourite Muslim scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf talking about how people don’t smile anymore, and how this is related to an increased number of us being more and more alone.

This sense of loneliness goes against the general principle of how Muslims should live their lives. Islam is a community based religion. We have the concept of the ummah, the global Muslim community, to which we are all spiritually connected to. From a young age we are taught that prayer offered in congregation is more rewarding than prayer offered alone. We are taught that it is better for us to have a teacher, a Shaykh, so that we can learn from a living breathing person, rather than sitting alone and reading from a lifeless book.

Also around this time I watched a documentary on the BBC called Attenborough And The Giant Elephant, about the famous elephant Jumbo. David Attenborough explained how Jumbo, when he was in London and isolated and had no contact at all with other elephants, would often have night terrors. However, when Jumbo was shipped out to America he was placed in a circus and found himself in the company of other elephants. The night terrors completely stopped immediately. So even elephants are community based creatures.

Smile Cushion

Islam is also a religion that encourages us to smile, something the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did often. In fact, in Islam smiling is not only considered a sunnah (a recommended act of the Prophet for us to follow) but it is also recognised as an act of charity (more on this in a previous blog post).

Pope Francis also recently said that smiling more is one of the three ways people can find happiness during this festive season. Add to this the recent scientific news that, according to the journal Psychology Of Sport And Exercise, smiling while working out can lead to a more productive workout. So the more you grin and bear it, literally, the healthier you become. It all bodes well for us to smile more.

Anyways, here is the aforementioned lecture by the always brilliant Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. Enjoy!


When Shaykh Khathri came from Mauritania to America he said that he noticed nobody smiled. Because one of the things about Mauritania is, and Sidi Ibrahim knows this, you got out in the desert and they are all smiling, right? People smile all the time because smiling is actually part of fitra (your natural instinct). The Prophet (SAW) smiled all the time. One of his names is ad-dahhak, the one who always smiles. He smiled all time. One of the sahabah (companions) said, “From the day I became Muslim I never once saw the Messenger of Allah except he smiled.” From the day he became Muslim he said “I never once saw the Messenger of Allah except he smiled.” It’s actually fitra to smile. If you see somebody, you know, this is a human being, you smile, he smiles, you feel good, he feels good, right?

And then you get these people, [serious tone] “As-salaam-alaikum brother.” Seriously! You go into the masjid and that’s what you hear, [serious tone] “As-salaam-alaikum brother.”

Just try a little harder on that one, just a little harder, like [polite tone] “As-salaam-alaikum”. You don’t even have to…Seriously, some people, it’s like getting a tooth out of them, or something, to get a salaam with a smile.

But he said that the reason he thinks nobody smiles is because he said he noticed they do everything alone. So he said they have shayateen (demons) with them and they get depressed. Because shaytaan (the devil) rides alone…There is a hadith (a saying of the Prophet), somebody who rides alone is a shaytaan, and two of them, two shaytaans, three is company.

You look in the West, everybody in their cars alone. And who are they listening to? Shaytaan on the radio. It’s amazing, they’re listening to shaytaan. And they’re driving alone. And then they go to work and they sit behind a cubicle alone. They don’t talk to anybody. In California they say “Send me an email.” They don’t even want to talk to them physically. They tell them “Send me an email.” Some of them have a sign, they just hold up a sign, they won’t even say anything.

Shaykh Khathri, when he was in New York, he said the strangest thing he saw, they were in a traffic jam, all these cars, and he said he looked over and he saw a car go in this place and it turned around and then he said it stopped, it rolled down it’s window and it spoke to a box. And then he said the box spoke back to him in a clear tongue. And then he said the car drove up a little further and he said some hands came out of a window with a white box. And he said he gave him money and they didn’t say anything to each other. He said he spoke to the box and he didn’t speak to the person. It was a fast-food restaurant.

But he was just looking at it, just seeing it for the first time. You see, you grew up seeing this, thinking it’s normal. It’s not normal, it’s neuroses, it’s a sickness. This is actually pathology. And somebody in fitra can see it for what it is, but people that are out of fitra they can’t see it. That’s what he said.

They go to work and then they go home and they eat alone. If one person eats alone shaytaan eats with you. And shaytaan just gets stronger and stronger. That’s the thing about shaytaan, people don’t realize this, shaytaan gets strong with heedlessness, he gets weak with dhikr (remembrance of Allah). The more ghaflah (heedlessness), he gets strong physically because he’s eating…if you don’t do dhikr when you eat, like say “Bismillah,” he eats with you. And he gets fat, he has energy because he’s got caloric strength. But if you say “Bismillah” then he can’t eat, he starts getting weak and withers away. If you say “Bismillah” when you go into your house, he can’t sleep with you.

There are two shaytaans, and this is from a sound hadith, they met, one was weak, the other was strong. He said “What’s the matter with you?” He said “I have a horrible assignment. Every time he eats he says ‘Bismillah,’ when he sleeps he says ‘Bismillah,’ when he goes to his wife he says ‘Bismillah.’ I’m not getting any strength.” He said “Oh, I’ve got a good one. He never says ‘Bismillah.’ I eat as all I want. When he goes home I have a nice bed to sleep in.”

So now look at the whole world. I mean, Christians they used to say “Bless us Lord for these gifts which we are about to receive.” They used to say that, and insha-Allah (God willing) it benefitted them. They don’t say that now, they just gobble it down. And so the shayateen are getting bigger and bigger.

And now they can just say they are shayateen, they actually can say it now. Really. They come out literally and say it, like rock bands. They say that “We are Satan.” I mean, they literally announce it. I saw this guy, he had a thing, “I worship Satan,” literally on his t-shirt. He had spiked hair, and it said on his t-shirt “I worship Satan.”

And this is happening in Christian lands, they used to be anyway. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf


PS I realised after posting the above that I had previously mentioned a Shaykh Hamza Yusuf quote where he spoke about the Prophet (S) smiling…

Our Prophet was not somebody who was sombre. In fact one of his names is ad-dahhak, the smiling one. He smiled a lot. But he is also da-i-mul-ahzan, a deeply contemplative person, someone who was in profound meditation with his Lord. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

 

I’m In A Shaykh Hamza Yusuf State Of Mind

Shaykh Hamza Smiling

The multi award-winning American singer and song-writer Billy Joel one sang that he was is a New York state of mind. Well, today I am in a Shaykh Hamza Yusuf state of mind. Don’t know why I am but I just am. Maybe it’s because I’ve been listening to a few of his lectures recently and that’s put me in a good mood. Or maybe I’m in a good mood because Trump and his cronies lost the Alabama Senate election. Or maybe it’s because the weather is turning for the better after a few hellish days of bitter cold and ice. As always, God knows best.

Whatever the reason, I’m glad I’m feeling this way because it gives me an excuse to present some quotes by the great man himself. We begin with 5 quotes from Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, followed by 10 funny quotes from others. Enjoy!


We do not reflect anymore, there is an absence of reflection. One of the reasons we do not reflect is that we have become a nation of entertainment. For example, many people know a lot about sports, movies, music, etc, but yet these same people know nothing about the national debt, or about foreign policy. There is not much focus on analysis or thinking on important issues. – adapted from a speech by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

We are becoming infant monsters, because we get what we want. And then we become impatient when we don’t get what we want. That’s the current human condition. And that’s why everybody out there is in this state of stress and anxiety. They are so used to getting what they want now. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

There is a hadith that says speed is from shaytaan and caution is from Allah. Why does shaytaan want us to speed up? He wants us to speed up because the faster you go the more likely you are going to trip up. The faster you speak the more likely you are going to make mistakes. The faster you run the more likely you are going to trip and fall. The faster your computers go the more likely they are going to do things that are going to harm you. – adapted from a speech by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

The Prophet (S) is the spiritual mechanism of photosynthesis in our world. He is this light that comes from the heavens, and it comes into the prism of prophecy and it transmits this extraordinary spectrum of light that becomes visible, because real light is invisible, you cannot see it, we cannot see white light, we only see traces of it, we can’t see a photon, we can’t see it. But when it goes through the prism, suddenly it becomes visible…His spiritual photosynthesis is resonating throughout this whole world. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

The meaning or the purpose of our life on this planet is to understand the intentions of Allah in creating us. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf


I think kids are great. I’ve got two kids. I’ve got a 4-year old boy who is the most important thing in the world to me. He really is. Especially now that I heard my kidneys might be on their way out. – Frankie Boyle

That Jesus movie came out, The Passion Of The Christ, and Jews didn’t want people to see it. Because they felt that everybody blames the Jews for killing Christ and then the Jews tried to pass it off on the Romans. But I’m one of the few people that believes it was the blacks. – Sarah Silverman

I saw a clown doing sit-ups. Funny how things work out. – Russell Kane

I was watching the London Marathon and saw one runner dressed as a chicken and another runner dressed as an egg. I thought, this could be interesting. – Paddy Lennox

If poor people knew how rich rich people are, there would be riots in the streets. If the average person could see the Virgin Airlines first-class lounge, they’d go, ‘What? What? This is food, and it’s free, and they…what? Massage? Are you kidding me?’ – Chris Rock

An independent Scotland would no longer have to invade places like Afghanistan for American interests. We’d invade them for heroin. Because I don’t support America’s wars. I don’t even think they ARE wars. They’re one-way traffic, mass murder. There’s never been a time when a shepherd has beaten a helicopter. You never switch on the news to see, “A shock result in Afghanistan today when a missile was destroyed by a wedding.” Because not only will America go to your country and kill all your people but what’s worse, I think, is they’ll come back 20 years later and make a movie about how killing your people made their soldiers feel sad. Oh, boo-hoo-hoo! Americans making a movie about what Vietnam did to their soldiers is like a serial killer telling you what stopping suddenly for hitchhikers did to his clutch. – Frankie Boyle

Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out alive. – Elbert Hubbard

Everything in life that’s any fun, as somebody wisely observed, is either immoral, illegal or fattening. – P G Wodehouse

Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half. – Gore Vidal

He is a sane man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head. – G K Chesterton

TRUMP IS TOTALLY ARACHNOPHOBIC. BUT OF MUSLIMS.

Paul Chowdhry

As usual there is much going on in the world. Trump continues to use his daily tweets to change the political weather, whether we like it or not, as his self-made Russian noose continues to tighten around his neck. Killings still continue in Pakistan, this time in a Peshawar university. A McDonald’s branch apparently refused to serve a woman because she was wearing a hijab. A teacher reported a six year old Muslim with Down’s for terrorism. An Afghan girls’ robotics team won a top European competition. Despite my earlier commentary on princesses, the world seems mesmerized by a new mixed-race American princess who is willing to marry an all-white ginger-haired prince (I guess opposites do attract). Anything else I can think of? Oh yes, how can I forget? Now, well into the 21st century, in Libya we have open slave markets, with Muslims buying and selling Muslims. Keep on rocking in the free world.

And through all this and everything else happening in the big wide world, I am trying my darnedest to make sense of it all. Therefore at times like this I listen to what others have to say. Their opinions and analysis help me to better understand the complexities of the news. In that light, please find below some selected videos you hopefully will find interesting.

First up we have the brilliant American author Ta-Nehisi Coates, who grew in popularity writing articles about Trump and racism in the States for the Atlantic Monthly. During a recent event where he was promoting his book We Were Eight Years In Power: An American Tragedy, he humorously explains why certain words, specifically the n-word, belong only to certain people.

Then we have comedian Paul Chowdhry, supporting a rather fetching beard on The Russell Howard Hour, giving us some of his thoughts on ISIS and terrorism. The video following this is also about terrorism, cleverly showing how things are not what they seem, and how easy it is to mix up the good guy and the bad guy. And last but by no means first we have another comedian, Hasan Minhaj, appearing on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, giving his views on the recent retweeting by Trump of Britain First.

As always transcripts of my favourite bits are presented. Enjoy!


Ta-Nehisi Coates

Words do not have meaning without context. My wife refers to me as “honey.” That is accepted and okay between us. If we were walking down the street together and a strange woman referred to me as “honey” that would not be acceptable. The understanding is that I have some sort of relationship with my wife. Hopefully I have no relationship with this strange woman.

When I was young and I used to go see my family in Philadelphia, where my dad was from, they would all call him Billy. His name was William Paul Coates. No one in Baltimore, however, called him Billy, and had I referred to my father as Billy that probably would have been a problem. That is because the relationship between myself and my dad is not the same as the relationship between my dad and his mother and his sisters who he grew up with. We understand that. It is the same thing with words within the African-American community, or within any community.

My wife, with her girlfriends, will use the word “bitch.” I do not join in. I do not say “Hey, I want to join in…” I do not do that. And perhaps more importantly I do not have a desire to do that.

A while ago Dan Savage, who is openly gay, was going to have a show that he was going to call “Hey, Faggot!” I am not going to yell “faggot” in Dan’s house, I am just not, that is not my relationship with the LGBTQ community, and I understand that and I am okay with that. I do not have a desire to yell out the word “faggot,” I just do not have that.

The question one must ask is, if that is accepted and normal for groups of people to use certain words that are derogatory in an ironic fashion, why is there so much hand-wringing when black people do it? Black people are basically, however you feel about it, not outside of the normal rules and laws for humanity.

I had a good friend and we used to have this cabin in upstate New York which he referred to as “the white trash cabin.” He was white. I would never refer to that cabin in that way, I would never tell him “I am coming to your white trash cabin.” I just would not do that. And I think you understand why I would not do that.

The question one must therefore ask is, why are so many white people having difficulty extending things that are basic laws of how human beings interact to black people? And I think I know why. When you are white in this country you are taught that everything belongs to you. You think you have a right to everything, you have a right to go where you want. You are conditioned this way. It is not because your hair is not textured or your skin is light. It is the fact that the laws and the culture tell you this. You have a right to go where you want to go, do what you want to do, be however you want to be, and other people, non-white people, have just got to accommodate themselves to you. So here comes this word that you feel like you invented and then I, a black person, will tell you how to use the word that you invented!

“Why can’t I use it? Everyone else gets to use it. That is racism that I do not get to use it. That is racist against me. I have to inconvenience myself and hear this hip-hop song, with this word in it, and I can’t sing along? How come I can’t sing along?”

I think for white people the experience of being a hip-hop fan and not being able to use the word “nigger” is actually very, very insightful. It will give you just a little peek into the world of what it means to be black, because to be black is to walk through the world and watch people doing things that you cannot do, that you cannot join in and do. And so I think there is actually a lot to be learned from refraining. – adapted from a speech made by Ta-Nehisi Coates


Paul Chowdhry

As-salaam-alaikum my brothers and sisters. Welcome to the conversion…Just grew a beard…I’ve got that kind of straight-out-of-Syria look. I’ve got that one-way-ticket look. – Paul Chowdhry

ISIS claim everything now. “We did it.” No you didn’t. “George Michael? We did it. Harambe? We did it.” What? You killed a gorilla in America a year ago?…Do you remember that Harambe incident? The kid dropped in and people were like “Oh my God! They shouldn’t have shot the gorilla, they should have shot the parents.”  That’s a good idea, innit. Let’s shoot the parents. Now the kid has got two dead parents, and he’s living with a fucking gorilla. – Paul Chowdhry

Doesn’t help with my look either…I can’t even get into America anymore…Last time I tried to get into America I went with my mate Dave and I said to Dave “How are we gonna get in?” And Dave said “Just say what I do for a living, we’ll both get in.” “Alright mate.” “Just copy me and we’ll both get in.” Then Dave gets to the desk and they go “So what do you do for a living?” Dave goes “I work in recruitment…” – Paul Chowdhry


Are Muslims Terrorists?


Hasan Minhaj

Trump does have some very specific fears. For example, he’s totally arachnophobic. But of Muslims. – Trevor Noah

[Referring to deputy leader of Britain First Jayda Fransen] One question maam, if you are so proud of being white then why do you use all that fake tan? – Trevor Noah

Here’s what pisses me off, these random videos are either totally out of context or straight-up false. This fringe British group wants people to think brown boogeymen are coming to kill them. They recently shared a viral photo of ISIS fighters but it wasn’t ISIS. It was Ice Cube. You idiots! You’re mixing up your ices. It’s ridiculous…The point is the president is retweeting false videos to stoke up Islamophobia. – Hasan Minhaj

Here’s my thing. Trump doesn’t need to send out these fake stories about Muslims. If Trump needs incriminating video of Muslims, ask Muslims! Ask me. I got plenty of dirt on my phone. Show my dad returning used underwear at Costco. Show my mom telling my aunt were ten minutes away when we haven’t left the house yet. Show my cousin lying to his parents about having a white girlfriend over Thanksgiving. Now that’s a viral video and that’s real Sahil. I shouldn’t have said his name, I’m sorry. I fucked up. I shouldn’t have said his name. – Hasan Minhaj

ALL PRINCESSES MATTER

Dear Parents

I read an article recently that described how we should rethink all those bedtime stories we know and love so well. In the article Five Reasons To Stop Reading Your Children Fairytales Now, journalist Olivia Petter warns us quite directly:

They’re the bedtime stories we’ve been telling for centuries; they’re the inspiration behind the box office hits that indoctrinated our childhood – and yet, fairytales are riddled with prejudicial and archaic stereotypes. Stories like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast are so ingrained in popular culture that it can be all too easy to overlook the damaging ideologies that they perpetuate via misogynistic characters, degrading plot lines and racial uniformity. – Olivia Petter

She goes on to reveal that the 5 reasons are: 1) women in fairytales are passive damsels who can only be saved by men, 2) marriage is the ultimate reward, with many fairytales presenting marriage as the sole goal for both the male and female characters, 3) there is a lack of racial/physical/sexual diversity, along with unrealistic body standards set by whippet-thin Belles and Ariels, 4) female characters are either bound to the home, 5) or they are evil step mothers/sisters/witches.

She ends the article by saying:

While fairytales can be brilliant for inspiring imaginative discussions in children, parents must be vigilant in their way of sharing these tales so as to avoid promoting outdated ideologies they continue to foster. – Olivia Petter

Disney Girls

An interesting article I’m sure you would agree, especially in light of the all the recent sexual harassment allegations and #MeToo discussions. I recently read another interesting article on the same subject of ‘princess culture’, this time by Stephanie Merritt (worth reading in full), and I also came across a story about PR consultant and mum Sarah Hall, from Newcastle, who said that Sleeping Beauty should be removed from her six-year-old son’s school curriculum, based on fears that the story may be giving young children the wrong message about consent.

She also says:

It’s not ok to wake a stranger with a kiss so why teach our kids it is?…I think it’s a specific issue in the Sleeping Beauty story about sexual behaviour and consent. It’s about saying is this still relevant, is it appropriate? In today’s society, it isn’t appropriate. – Sarah Hall

And then along comes comedian Hasan Minhaj who does a brilliant stand up routine about how “all princesses matter.” Hasan recently performed at the Night Of Too Many Stars benefit gig, which is a charity event held to raise money for autism.

Night Poster

In America the biggest charity helping people with autism is Next For Autism. Starting in 2006 and held about every 2 years since, the charity joins forces with Comedy Central and holds a star-studded event with A-list comedians and Hollywood stars. The event is known as the Night Of Too Many Stars, and proceeds from the event benefit a variety of autism programs across America. Over the years they have raised an impressive $18 million.

The most recent event was held this year on November 18th and was hosted by Jon Stewart. The show featured Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, Robert De Niro, Paul Rudd, J J Abrams, Ben Stiller, Billy Joel, and many others. As expected stand up comedy was high on the agenda, and this year featured some brilliant performances from Kumail Nanjiani, Michelle Wolfe, John Mulaney, and the aforementioned Hasan Minhaj. The clips are featured below but please be warned, some of the dialogue is a bit risqué, so adults only. Enjoy!


Michelle Wolfe on how womens bathrooms are very mysterious…

I think no matter whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat we gotta give Trump credit when he deserves it. Like, he pulled out of the Paris agreement and I think you should get credit for that cuz he said he was gonna pull out and then he did, and that’s a refreshing quality in a man. – Michelle Wolfe

And if you think that joke was rude wait until you hear her final punchline!


John Mulaney on being zoned out since 2014…

Have you ever just been sitting there thinking about something for 20, 25 minutes, and all of a sudden you’re like “Oh my God! I’m driving!” And you remember “I’m going 75 miles an hour. I have been for a while. I could have changed so many lives.” – John Mulaney


Kumail Nanjiani on how he is such a star now…

The other day I was sitting at this coffee shop and this young woman came up to me, and she was shaking and she looked at me, tears in her eyes, and she said “What you do is so important to me. Thank you for being you. I love you on The Big Bang Theory.” And that’s how much of a star I am, people see me in everything, even stuff I’m not in. – Kumail Nanjiani


Hasan Minhaj on why all princesses matter…

He looks at me and he’s just like “Look man, I just don’t get you guys.”

I was like “What?”

“I don’t get you guys. You guys got the beards. You’re women dress like ninjas. I don’t get it. Why do you repress your women?”

And I’m like “Why do you repress YOUR women?”

He’s like “What? No! No we don’t. This is America. We don’t do that.”

I was like “Look man, I grew up in America. Every Disney movie I’ve ever watched, every white Disney princess, super repressed.”

He’s like “What are you even talking about?”

I’m like “Look at all of them. Cinderella. Cinderella is a white princess, right, her family sells her into human bondage and then her best friends ARE MICE! What sort of sick backwards culture makes their women befriend mice? Sleeping Beauty. Sleeping Beauty is a princess from Caucasia. We know that. Then she falls asleep and some dude Bill Cosby’s her and we’re all like ‘Oh, this is a normal healthy loving relationship.’”

Don’t groan, these are just facts. And he’s like “No no no no, that is not a white princess problem, that’s just a Disney problem.”

I’m like “Nah man, every black or brown Disney princess, super liberated. I’m sorry, every single one of them, all of them. Mulan. Mulan changes genders and becomes a general in ancient China. You guys! She has gender fluidity and she achieves the highest military ranking in ancient China. Moana liberates the Polynesian islands, you guys. She’s ten, okay. Meanwhile Ariel’s like ‘I want to be where the people are. Here’s my voice.’ Believe in yourself Ariel! Lean in. Sheryl Sandberg. Defeat the patriarchy. And don’t even get me started on Princess Jasmine. My first crush, okay. Princess J. The entire movie she’s wearing a two-piece. Bananas! Then when her dad’s like ‘Get an arranged marriage,’ she’s like ‘Screw you dad,’ she leaves on a magic carpet with this shirtless Muslim dude, whose best friend is a monkey and a possessed blue man that lives inside of a bong. That is the most liberal shit ever. And that was in Saudi Arabia! So we got to liberate these poor white princesses because all princesses matter, okay.”

TO CHRISTMAS OR NOT TO CHRISTMAS? IS THAT THE QUESTION?

andTesco Muslims

Christmas. The season to be jolly. The season of peace and good will to all. But perhaps not to us British Muslims. Perchance a little context to that last statement. In recent years a new Christmas tradition has begun, that of the festive TV ad. So much has this tradition taken prevalence that journalist and author Caitlin Moran said the following:

In an increasingly non-secular age, where we are on the wane, culturally, the British Christmas is no longer defined by either the church or new Christmas singles from Wizzard, Slade and Wham! In 2017 the meaning of Britain’s Christmas is down to the real power-players: multinationals and their blockbusting Christmas ads. – Caitlin Moran, 17 Nov 2017, thetimes.co.uk, from an article entitled What Christmas Is Really About — Adverts For Supermarkets

For a good few years now the leader of the pack has been the department store John Lewis, whose ads are now eagerly awaited by millions. This years blockbuster campaign was easily the most anticipated in the 10 year history of their TV Christmas ads. Featuring a cover of The Beatles song Golden Slumbers, performed by the band Elbow, the ad tells the story of a boy called Joe who is afraid of the dark, and his 7 foot guardian monster named Moz who lives under his bed.

Not that you will notice but there are actually two men hiding inside Moz’s costume while Joe is played by two actors, twins Ethan and Tobias. The ad runs for 130 seconds, cost £7 million in total (including buying air time), and took 8 months to make, which perhaps takes away from the sweet sentimentality a bit. For that amount of time and money you could probably get 3 Bollywood movies, each one about 3 hours long.

John Lewis were not the only ones trying to capture our TV watching hearts. According to the Advertising Association, due to intense market competition, especially within the retail sector, and the rise of big-budget campaigns, this year brands will be spending a record £6bn on Christmas ads, with spending jumping nearly 40% in just seven years. So this year on your TV you will also find glossy ads from Amazon, Lidl, Argos, Toys R Us, Aldi, Currys, Asda, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, McDonald’s, Debenhams, Swarovski , Boots, H&M, and Sky Movies, to name but most of them.

Whilst the John Lewis ad was the most eagerly awaited, it was not the most controversial. From all of these ads 2 controversies arose. The lesser controversy came from the Marks & Spencer ad, which featured the children’s character Paddington Bear. Paddington helps a would-be robber discover the true meaning of Christmas, and the robber in return, rather than saying a simple “thank you” apparently drops the f-bomb instead. The Advertising Standards Authority has said that he doesn’t, but judge for yourselves:

The far greater controversy came from the ad from Britain’s biggest supermarket Tesco. Their ad featured several British families all preparing for the festive season in their own way. One such family happened to be Muslim. Shock horror indeed. The ad was supposed to be one of inclusivity, showing the diverse make-up of our population by featuring families from all walks of British life. As well as the Muslim family, the ad features 14 families in all, including a black family, a same sex couple, a single parent family, and a stressed mother ordering people out of her kitchen.

This is the first time that Muslims have been represented by Tesco in a marketing campaign. It is ironic that it happened to be for a Christian holiday. And what heinous acts were these Muslims committing? In no more than a couple of seconds of the full 60 second ad you see 3 hijabi Muslim women and a young child greet and embrace each other in a tinsel-decorated house, with a wreath hanging on the front door, and you see them exchange festive gifts. The ad ends with the phrase “Everyone welcome”.

Surprise surprise, Twitter was aflame with opposing opinions. Here are just some of the many online comments from those offended:

And here are some comments making opposite points to those mentioned above:

Aside from Twitter the ad has been discussed elsewhere, such as on the radio station LBC by Maajid Nawaz:

We even have Trump supporter and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones weigh in on this ad:

The aforementioned journalist and author Caitlin Moran also commented on Muslims and how they celebrate this most festive of seasons:

“This is PC gone mad! Muslims don’t celebrate Christmas!” various columnists have scolded, clearly unaware that most (practising) Muslims treat Christmas exactly as (non-practising) Christians do: as a bank holiday to lie on your mum’s sofa stuffing yourself silly and bickering. – Caitlin Moran, 17 Nov 2017, thetimes.co.uk, from an article entitled What Christmas Is Really About — Adverts For Supermarkets

When I the read article by Moran, I noticed the following in the Comments section, from a Dr Annabelle, making a rather intriguing point: “I’ve just returned from Dubai where shops and malls are already festooned with bounteous amounts of Christmas decoration, apparently not offending anyone.”

All of this digital noise just adds to the usual annual debates that take place for us Muslims. Every year I find myself theologically debating with others questions such as: Are we Muslims allowed to say “Merry Christmas”? Are we, according to some Muslim scholars, integrating too much if we celebrate Christmas? Are we, according to some non-Muslims, not integrating enough? Are we allowed to up tinsel and a tree? Do we tell Christians that this is all a pagan festival? Are we allowed to eat mice pies? Is it mincemeat in there? Do I have to take part in the office secret Santa?

And now we have this ad which has opened up other cans of non-halal worms: Do such ads erode Christian values? Do they erode British values? Is this another example of political correctness gone maddeningly too far? Do such ads attack Islamic religious principles by moving Muslims towards assimilation rather than integration?

These seasonal issues all feed into the rhetoric that there is an open ‘war on Christmas’, something that is heavily debated not just here in Britain but also across the Atlantic in the United States. Only recently President Trump, a twice-divorced casino owner, stood before a mainly evangelical Christian crowd in October this year, and told them (to rapturous applause), “Guess what? We’re saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” fully unaware that nobody really stopped saying it in the first place, but never mind.

Back here in the UK Tesco, feeling the heat from the backlash to their ad, felt the need to respond. In an official statement the supermarket said: “Everyone is welcome at Tesco this Christmas and we’re proud to celebrate the many ways our customers come together over the festive season. We want our customers to know that however they choose to do Christmas, and no matter what they need, we can help – Everyone’s Welcome at Tesco.” The supermarket also said it “will celebrate the many ways we come together at Christmas, and how food sits at the heart of it all.”

In a satirical piece journalist Patrick West suggested that maybe Tesco had not gone far enough:

John Lewis and Tesco should hang their heads in shame. Their Christmas TV adverts are an outrage. They depict Muslims, people of Afro-Caribbean heritage, gays and women, but what is so glaringly absent, so disgracefully airbrushed out, is any representation of Britain’s Aztec community. Britain’s Aztecs, who first arrived at Southampton in 1876 on the SS Chapultepec, and who now mostly live in Southend-on-Sea, are an integral part of Britain’s vibrant, diverse, multicultural landscape, with their practice of human sacrifice and cannibalism adding so much to the rich tapestry of the nation. – Patrick West

I find it interesting that for some people a profane Santa-wannabe and a monster with a phallic shaped nose who physically handles your sleeping child (not creepy at all as I am sure he is fully CRB checked), are deemed to be more in the spirit of Christmas than a British family (who happen to have brown skin and follow the religion of Islam) buying things from Tesco. These same people, who openly object to the inclusion of Muslims in Christmas ads, will then be the same Islamophobes who accuse Muslims of not integrating, but then paradoxically, at the slightest sign of Muslims integrating in any way, will talk about how Muslims are taking over.

Another interesting point is that of how negatively Muslims are represented on TV. Here in this Tesco ad we have Muslims in non-stereotypical roles. There are no terrorists, no oppressed women, no forced marriages, no racist chants, no burning flags, no dodgy accents, no one longing for the motherland, and no one shouting “Allah-hu-akbar.” This is a point also recognised by journalist Melena Ryzik:

It has never been easy to put a Muslim character on American screens. Even in this TV renaissance, most characters are on shows that rely on terrorism — or at least, terrorist-adjacent — story lines. Other kinds of Muslim characters are woefully absent across the dial. – Melena Ryzik, 30 Nov 2016, nytimes.com, from an article entitled Can Television Be Fair To Muslims?

The same sentiment also applies to British TV. In this day and age where Islamophobia is well on the rise, where Trump is trying to reinstall his Muslim travel ban (fourth time lucky?), and where the far right march openly in America and Europe and beyond, we Muslims need all the positive representation we can get. In that light, I for one am more than happy at Tesco and their ad, even if others (Muslim and non-Muslim) are not.

I will leave you with a brilliant article written by Ruqaya Izzidien in the New Statesman. Enjoy!


If You Find Muslims In A Christmas Ad Offensive, The Grinch Of The Year Is You

Ruqaya Izzidien, 10 Nov 2017, newstatesman.com

Is the idea of a seeing a British Muslim on your telly really more outlandish than an Antarctic penguin?

This week Tesco released it Christmas advert for 2017, featuring snapshots of British families preparing, eating and squabbling over the Christmas turkey. It portrayed families with different races, classes, ages and sexual orientations, but one element that – predictably – brought out the PC police – hijabis.

One scene in the advert depicts Muslim women greeting each other at the door, with tinsel-adorned walls. The response has been overwhelmingly negative, with critics lamenting the lack of overt Christian symbols in the advert. Right, because who can forget the celebrated Christian symbolism of adverts past, Buster the bouncing boxer dog, the man on the moon and that bastion of religion, Monty the penguin?

Christian symbolism is always absent or, at best, an undercurrent in Christmas supermarket adverts, whose modus operandi is to evoke nostalgia in order to sell products, not to promote Christianity. The only reason critics are offended by this advert, is because they dared to acknowledge that Muslims exist.

As British Muslims, we spend our whole lives being told to integrate, to be part of British culture, to embrace British traditions. So we win medals at sports days, we bake in county shows, we cure your colds and complain about the rain. We have roast dinners and shepherd’s pies, we vote for our councillors and we petition to have that terrible road fixed.

But God forbid we exist during Christmas. Because, yes, critics of this advert expect us to integrate, but not too much. Not so much that we have good jobs, that we celebrate British holidays, that they have to see our integration, not so much that we break the stereotype that they’ve thrust upon us.

It’s a predicable cycle. A television channel, or newspaper article, or advert features a Muslim in hijab, and it is perceived as an incitement, of giving Muslims special treatment. Our mere existence is a political statement, and an explicit example of our integration is – as this advertisment has been called time and again – “offensive”.

The fear that Christmas is being Islamicised is unfounded. The Tesco advert didn’t imply that Muslims are filling up the churches on Christmas morning – it didn’t even suggest we are all guzzling turkey come the 25th, since Tesco doesn’t actually produce any halal turkey – all it did was demonstrate that Muslims, like any other Brits, get together during holiday seasons. We throw a bit of tinsel up, have dinner at friends’ houses. And if you find that offensive, then the Grinch of the year is you.

Opponents of the advert were quick to point out that Christians – or normal Brits – don’t celebrate Muslim holidays. That is not entirely true, the difference is that British Muslims welcome solidarity fasts in Ramadan, and plenty of us celebrate Eid with non-Muslim friends. Integration is a loaded word, and its meaning is a lot more nuanced than its general usage; there are those who argue that the word should be cast aside for another that doesn’t imply assimilation. But for those Muslims who attempt to integrate, whether they ought to or not – there is always the inescapable obstacle that we see with this advert; integration is a two-way street.

No matter how many Olympic medals we win or how many music records we sell, even if we bake a birthday cake for the Queen, the idea of a seeing a British Muslim on your telly is still more outlandish than an Antarctic penguin, magical creatures under your bed and an elderly man living in a shack on the moon.

To all those people who tell us that their problem with Muslims is that we don’t want to integrate, this is your moment. Either you accept our integration, and rejoice in the Muslim celebration of the holiday season, or admit that the sight of a brown woman in hijab showing festive cheer offends you. It would just bigot if you could admit it.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH MADE ME SAY “ALLAH-HU-AKBAR”

BLUE PLANET II

I was watching the brilliant BBC TV wildlife program Blue Planet II, narrated by broadcasting legend David Attenborough, and they were showing these amazing crystal-like coral reef sponges. They showed a shiny silver coral known as Venus’s flower basket, which lives several miles down in the bottom of an ocean trench. Living inside this particular sponge were two shrimp who had crawled in when they were young but were now too big to crawl back out the same way they came in. These shrimp, one male and one female, had mated and the female was now pregnant. You could clearly see it was carrying several eggs. As I was watching this I just sat there amazed and dumb founded, so much so that I involuntarily whispered “Allah-hu-akbar” under my breath. I said this Arabic phrase because I was genuinely astonished at what I was seeing. Now, here is my question: does saying this Arabic phrase make me a terrorist?

The reason I ask is this phrase has once again hit the headlines because a certain Muslim was heard shouting it repeatedly as he killed eight people in New York on the 31st of October 2017. As can be imagined the phrase has been widely discussed and dissected in the media since the attack. Even the Sun, a right wing British newspaper, felt the need to write a somewhat positive article about it. Likewise, CNN’s Jake Tapper, who said the phrase was “sometimes said under the most beautiful of circumstances,” got caught up in then trying to defend his comments from various Fox News pundits:

As someone who says “Allah-hu-akbar” many times each day (I did the math and can confidently say that I have said this phrase over 1.1 million times in my life so far, and continue to say it over 150 times per day), I personally believe this phrase should not be so violently misaligned just because some hoo-haa-numb-nut decides to yell it loudly (and probably with incorrect syntax) before killing innocent people for a twisted ideology that, under close scrutiny, makes no sense whatsoever. (For more on this please read the brilliantly satirical article ISIS Wondering Where Insane Medieval Fantasy Project Went Wrong by the always hilarious Daily Mash). As Hassan Shibly, executive director of CAIR-Florida, said in response to this recent terror attack in New York, “That is the biggest act of heresy, to shout God’s glorious name when committing the worst crime against God.”

Unfortunately one can choose from a plethora of morons who over the years have committed atrocities while shouting “Allah-hu-akbar” at the top of their lungs. Another recent example that springs to mind is that of a man who was arrested outside Buckingham Palace in August 2017, armed with a 4-foot sword. He was shouting (you guessed it) “Allah-hu-akbar” as he struggled with London’s Metropolitan police officers. Three unarmed officers suffered minor injuries as they detained the 26-year-old man, whilst two were treated at a hospital for cuts. The man drove his car at a police van and stopped in front of it in a restricted area near Buckingham Palace. He was eventually incapacitated with CS spray.

In order to try and bring some reasoned context to the debate surrounding the phrase “Allah-hu-akbar”, I thought it best to examine what it actually means and what Muslims actually feel about it.


What it looks like in Arabic…

Before we get to the deeper meaning, this is what it looks like when written fancifully in its original Arabic form:

Allah-Hu-Akbar


How to pronounce it…

And this is how to actually say it:

The phonetic transliteration is “Al-law-hu-ak-bur” and the simplest translation is “God is great.” However, after the New York terror attack, it is noticeable that various news readers clearly not versed in the Arabic tongue were mispronouncing this as “Aloo-ak-bur” which literally means “potatoes are great.” This small and weird bit of comic relief, in the context of a horrific tragedy, was noticed by the likes of journalist Aisha Sultan, lawyer Rabia Chaudry, and the journalist Mehreen Kasana. Chaudry even offered her services to help those in linguistic need, tweeting:


What it does and does not actually mean…

Before we get to what it really means, let us start with what the phrase is not. Contrary to the bigoted views of some, the phrase is not the war cry of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He first uttered the phrase whilst praying and meditating in the mountains around Mecca. Likewise, when translated by some as “God is greater” or “God is greatest,” this is not meant comparatively to other gods and religions. Muslims are not saying Allah is greater than your God. These words are therefore not, to refute the magazine American Thinker, “a statement of Islamic supremacism and war.”

There is indeed a comparative nature of the phrase which is explained simply as follows:

Allahu Akbar means “God is greater than…”; it suggests that Allah is greater than any noun with which one might choose to complete the sentence. – from the book The Complete Idiots Guide To The Koran by Shaykh Muhammad Sarwar and Brandon Toropov

And here are a few other definitions that hopefully bring greater depth to what this phrase actually means:

Allah is Allah-hu-akbar, Allah is greater than anything I could ever say about Allah. We can’t praise You as You have praised Yourself. You are as You praise Yourself. Anything I say about Allah, it’s deficient. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

For the record, “Allahu Akbar” has no inherent political/violent connotation meriting instant terror diagnosis. I say it like 20 times a day…If you understand how it is used in common parlance amongst Muslims for nearly every single situation maybe it would make sense…Favorite team wins? You say it. Fav team loses? You say it. Something wonderful happens? You say it. Something terrible happens? You say it. – Rabia Chaudry

In the West, “Allahu akbar” is commonly confused for only being a battle cry but in reality, millions and millions of Muslims say this phrase in a variety of situations. From extraordinary contexts like when someone gets cured of a debilitating disease to everyday and ordinary situations like praying or even getting up from bed, there is no fixed situation for which “Allahu akbar” must be uttered…In the wake of the Tuesday terror attack in New York City, there’s going to be a ton of discussion on the phrase, its meaning, and how in some cases it has definitely been used by terrorists. But the resounding majority of Muslims use “Allahu akbar” for innocuous matters and things that are utterly harmless. – Mehreen Kasana

“Allahu Akbar” is a powerful declaration used by Muslims on many occasions and in many prayers. It is a celebration of life, not death and destruction, the first words fathers whisper in the ears of their newborns. They are used to indicate gratitude when God bestows something upon you that you would have been incapable of attaining were it not for divine benevolence. It is a prayerful phrase that reminds us that, no matter what our concerns may be, God is greater than them. – Imam Omar Suleiman, founder and president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research

The phrase Allahu akbar has a long history of use within Islam. It expresses a sentiment that is at its heart a theological reflection about humanity’s place in the world: That no matter what trials or victories people face, God is greater than it all…Allahu akbar is an affirmation of a belief in a monotheistic God…since it suggests that God has no partners. Belief in absolute monotheism is a core part of orthodox Islamic theology. – Carol Kuruvilla


When do we say it…

We Muslims say this phrase all the time, in a myriad of different situations. Aside from the example above of Sir David making me involuntarily say it several miles deep in the ocean, here are a few more examples just to illustrate the wide and varied usage of this phrase.

A friend of mine used to work for the computer giant Cap Gemini. He was part of a test team working on a complicated project. They were testing a particularly complex piece of code. My friend hit the button and several people from the project team, including a few managers, stood there anxiously waiting to see what would happen. After a few minutes the computer returned a result: success! The stunned silence was punctuated by the voice of my friend, who just uttered “Allah-hu-akbar!” My friend said this made a few people laugh, and everyone present was pleasantly surprised, as such an intricate piece code worked first time. The phrase was uttered and no one died.

In an episode of the BBC TV program Have I Got News For You, Adil Ray (aka Citizen Khan) explains how context really is everything:

Here we have a few more differing examples:

After every sneeze a Muslim is taught to say “Alhamdulillah” (thanks be to God). – Faisal Kutty

I say “Allahu akbar” out loud more than 100 times a day. Yesterday, I uttered it several times during my late-evening Isha prayer. Earlier, during dinner, I said it with my mouth full after biting into my succulent halal chicken kebab. In the afternoon, I dropped it in a conference room at the State Department, where I’d been invited to address a packed room of government employees about the power of storytelling. Specifically, I expressed my continuing gratitude for the election of Barack Obama, whom, in a joking nod to the Islamophobic paranoia that surrounded him, I called “our first Muslim American president,” adding “Allahu akbar!” People in the crowd laughed and applauded, the world continued to spin, no one had an aneurysm, and only a few people seemed to wonder with arched, Sarah Sanders-like eyebrows, “Wait, is he …?” I even confess to saying “Allahu akbar” two days ago in a restroom after losing the battle, but ultimately winning the war, against a nasty stomach virus. – Wajahat Ali, 01 Nov 2017, from a brilliant article entitled I Want ‘Allahu Akbar’ Back

It is a powerful expression that can also lend strength and fortitude in difficult times. In his final days, before succumbing to the cancer that lent us nineteen years with him, my father often invoked the words. In the midst of enduring unimaginable pain, we’d find him calmly and quietly reciting “Allahu Akbar. Sabr aur shukr.” God is the Greatest. Be patient, be grateful. – Dr Zainab Chaudry

In fact, we say it so many times that Eric Nagourney may be right when he says:

Allahu akbar is so commonplace a saying as to be utterly unworthy of note. It’s quite an innocuous expression. – Eric Nagourney


When not to say it…

Here we have a few examples of the phrase being used way out of context. We start with Ahdaf Soueif who, somewhat incorrectly, uses it for less divinely inspired and rather more prosaic matters:

Let’s say your football team is mounting an attack. You can say, ‘Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar,’ and you’re pushing them along, like, ‘Go for it, go for it, go for it.’…You see a really beautiful woman or a good-looking guy, you go, ‘Allahu akbar.’ – Ahdaf Soueif, an Egyptian author

Another bizarre example of the use of this phrase comes from the 1987 movie Beverly Hills Cop II, where Axel Foley (iconically played by Eddie Murphy) says the phrase in order to wriggle his way out of a difficult situation:

And here we have the animated TV program Family Guy using it rather controversially as a literal wakeup call with their Palestinian alarm clock:


What other Muslims are saying about it…

Sarah A Harvard uses this phrase and Muhammad Ali as daily inspiration:

In my room, hanging on the wall across my bed, is a framed poster of Ali holding a copy of Muhammad Speaks, once the official journal for the Nation of Islam, with a headline that reads “Allah is the Greatest.” It serves as a reminder every time I wake up in the morning that even Ali—who, at the boiling point of the Civil Rights Era, convinced America that a black man was “the greatest” and also submitted to one God. He was never afraid to shout “Allahu Akbar.” Ali was proud to say it and the world loved him for it. – Sarah A Harvard

Ali Newspaper

She goes on to say:

“Allahu Akbar” unites over 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, who all speak different dialects and languages, as well as Arab Greek Orthodox and Christians who use the expression. It’s a versatile, humble phrase, said about 100 times a day during our five daily prayers. It’s whispered into a newborn’s ear. It’s muttered as the last words before one’s death. It’s said at the sight of a beautiful sunset or a starry night, and roared during moments of chaos and strife. It’s a reminder that no matter how invincible or vulnerable we feel, God—the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful—is greater than all other powers and has always sought out the best for us. – Sarah A Harvard

Mehreen Kasana explains why is it important to understand this phrase properly:

Social vilification of such a common phrase among Muslims is dangerous because it gives a distorted portrayal of a religious minority’s practices. It depicts an ordinary phrase in exaggerated and negative light, only leading to more animus against a community that has already been witnessing Islamophobia for years now. A phrase can be used in both good and bad contexts, and remembering to take a nuanced stance on that as opposed to panic and paranoia will help people learn more about a community and bridge divisions. – Mehreen Kasana

And here we have Karim Shamsi-Basha who grew up with the phrase:

I grew up saying “Allahu Akbar” numerous times every day. And no, I wasn’t, and am not, a terrorist. I wasn’t someone who blew buildings up, killed people or shot a missile from my rocket launcher. As far as the West is concerned, those are the events associated with the saying when something bad is about to happen. People of the West are terrified of the phrase…The phrase is to remind Muslims that God is supreme. That’s it. It was never to be used as a battle cry during horrendous actions furthering political agendas with evil motives. – Karim Shamsi-Basha


Final point…

After all is said, done, and written by myself and others, be they Muslim or otherwise, the truth of the matter is that this murderous idiot in New York and all the other zealot idiots can say what they like as it actually makes no difference in terms of body count. This cold harsh reality was pointed out by Nathan Lean, author of such books as The Islamophobia Industry and Understanding Islam And The West:

This sentiment was also shared by the aforementioned Wajahat Ali and Imam Omar Suleiman:

It’s easy to forget that language is often hijacked and weaponized by violent extremists. Some people yell “Allahu akbar” and others chant “heritage,” “culture” and “white pride.” The preferred slogans of a killer don’t make much difference to the people whose lives are lost or their loved ones, but they make all the difference in Americans’ collective understanding of a tragedy. – Wajahat Ali

We mustn’t allow terrorists or agendas of fear to own any of the words, concepts, or devotions found in the sacred text of a quarter of the world’s population. That would give them exactly what they want. And God is far greater than the ugliness committed in His name. “Allahu Akbar…” – Imam Omar Suleiman