Continuing on the topic of "Spoof Art" from my previous post, I think it is a real indicator that Western culture can produce works of satire like the Objective Ministries site, or Ali G for example. Sure, there are people who get upset by this type of stuff, but by and large they respect the rights of other people to express differing views. On the other hand, in the Muslim world today it is quite hard to find people openly making fun of their own society and culture. Muslims today really have a hard time swallowing satire and self-criticism, or even respecting someone else's right to air a different view. One needs only to think back to the Rushdie Affair, or the more recent case of Taslima Nasrin. The day that it is able to absorb and digest satire without death threats and burning effigies I will be satisfied that the Muslim world has undergone the much-needed reform that I am always talking about.
There are signs however that this change is already taking place. There are, for example, now many Muslim comedians around the world who feel comfortable making fun of Muslim stereotypes. In the US there is the Allah Made Me Funny comedy tour featuring Azhar Usman; in the UK there is Shazia Mirza; and in Norway, the hugely controversial Shabana Rehman. These folks have really done a great deal to get Muslims and non-Muslims alike to think hard about several cultural and religious issues that are part of modern (Western) Muslim life. As you can see, the divide I suggested earlier of "Muslim world vs. the West" just doesn't work since all of the comedians I have mentioned here belong to both of these traditions. However it does lead me to believe that Western Muslims are certainly leading the global march in the reform amongst Muslims.
One of my favourite "self aware" Muslim groups is the Islamica Network which issues Islamica News, a "Muslim" version of the satire news website The Onion. Their humour plays on aspects of life that are peculiar to Muslims, more specifically, modern American Muslims. In that respect, many of the jokes they use might not be fully understood by non-Muslim Americans, or non-American Muslims. They address the typical stereotypes of Muslims, and the different ethnicities that make up today's American Muslim communities. They also highlight the way in which many American Muslims today are obesessed with external ritual piety, rather than focusing on the more substantial issues of spirituality or ethics. Below I've presented excerpts from some of my favourite spoof articles in IslamicaNews and tried to give an explanation where it might not be obvious to non-Muslims or non-American Muslims.
The following article is so appropriate when we consider recent statements of yahoodi-blaming close to home.
Man Blames Everything on Jews
ISRAEL, IN - Witnesses stood in awe this morning when a 47 year old Egyptian man by the name of Habib Yawari lunged into a verbal assault at an area gas station.
"The damn thing wouldn't take my credit card," exclaimed Yawari, "They wanted to make me late, I know it! It's all because of the Jews!"
This marks the fifteenth incident this month where Yawari has blamed his misfortunes on the children of Israel. From having his credit declined to stubbing his pinky toe, Yawari seems to find a correlation between Jews and everything going bad in his life. (Continued)
Here is another classic which makes fun of the many Muslim men who insist maintaining complete segregation at all costs. Again, very apt when we consider recent events like Asra Nomani's movement, or the proposal to segregate the University of Bahrain. (Note to non-Muslim readers: The terms "brother" and "sister" are commonly used to address other male or female Muslims regardless of whether they are genealogically related or not).
Man Enraged That Two-Year Old Sister Is In Brothers Section
TULSA, OK - Chaos was nearly averted at the Islamic Center of Tulsa when Dadam Bazaam blew into a wave of histrionics when spotting a sister in the men’s section of the prayer hall. Two-year-old Nida Malik had her hand in her mouth when Bazaam spotted her.
"It was like I was at a wild disco with all this free mixing of the genders!" exclaimed an irate Bazaam. "Why don't we setup a casino in here with girls in peacock outfit?" (Continued)
I'm sure that every Muslim with an e-mail address has received a message with an attached image that shows a tree supposedly prostrating towards Mecca, or a tomato that has its seeds naturally arranged so that they appear to spell "bismillah". Asides from the questionable authenticity, it is so annoying to get the same thing 20 times from different people. And do we really require these gimmicks to believe in God? Anyways, the artice below plays on this common aspect of modern Muslim life (and I love the zebra photo). (Note to non-Muslim readers: "Shirk" is the Arabic word for "polytheism").
Area Sister Receives Miraculous E-mail, Forwards Message To 1200 Closest Friends
Birmingspam, NC - "I couldn't believe it, they were so beautiful," remarked Sister Aamina Fourwardu after viewing a picture attached to an e-mail forward she received early this morning. The e-mail, sent to her by a close and trusted friend, included approximately one dozen pictures portraying "Really Freaky Stuff That Has to do with Islam". Some of the pictures had subtle undertones of miracles whereas others were out and out unusual.
"The way that the clouds look, it's so clear that they say 'The streets will be flowing with the blood of the infidels'", she stated as she sifted through one of the attached pictures. Other pictures included in the e-mail portray images of a mongoose with a prayer hat, a zebra with the words 'Shirk' seemingly visible amongst its stripes and a bag of Basmati rice with a $3 price tag. (Continued)
And here are some one-liner headlines:
Pakistanis Think African-American Guest Speaker Is Angry
This refers to the ethnic differences among American Muslims, and the way they view each other.
Second Glance Taken, Followed By Third
Haha, this is a great one. One of the many rules that many Muslims are fed while growing up is that it is wrong for you to look at someone of the opposite sex. However, since you don't know what you're looking at until you actually see it, your first glance will be forgiven. A second glance is prohibited since you do it of your own will.
Throat-Clearing Sounds Plague Masjid Wudu Area
Now you really have to experience Muslim life to understand this one. The "wudu area" is the part of the mosque where Muslims perform their ablutions prior to praying. One of the requirements is to wash out your mouth, and many of the older folk insist coughing out the last drop of phlegm from their throats.
Brother Can't Delete Internet History With Allah
This one is about the paranoia of Muslims feeling that they will be labelled as terrorists if they are found to have any association with Islam. So I'm sure that any Muslim who has had a non-Muslim roommate or officemate laughed hard when they read this one.
And finally two great ones that play on Muslims' obsession with the Islamic rules that govern farting. Let me explain. In order to pray, one must be in a state of physical purity, which is achieved by performing the wudu (ablution). So the jurists have written manuscripts and books debating which actions break the state of purity after having performed the wudu. Among the things that "break one's wudu" are vomiting, letting blood, cutting fingernails (I think, but I'm not sure), pissing, shitting, and of course, farting.
Imam Farts But Keeps Going
The question below was featured in the advice column:
If you can't hear it, does it still break it?
Read the thought-provoking response to the question here.
We will have to wait a bit longer before we someone as outrageous as Ali G come from within the Muslim community. And it will be a while longer before we see Muslims outside of the West who feel comfortable having some fun with their religion. But Islamica, and the other Muslim comedians I've mentioned have made a good start, worth crediting, towards getting Muslims to question taboo issues, become more self-aware and self-critical and of course, have a laugh every now and then. Let's hope this tradition continues and spreads in the future.
UPDATE (21-9-04): I forgot to mention another source of American Muslim humour: DS-films. These are a bunch of Muslim college students from Texas who have produced a number of "mockumentary" videos about American Muslim life, very much in the same spirit as IslamicaNews. Again, non-Muslims might not get all of the jokes, but if you're interested go ahead and download their videos.