Negin Farsad is an Iranian-American Muslim comedian, and a few years ago she teamed up with several other Muslim American comics, including Dean Obeidallah and Aasif Mandvi, to do a comedy tour of the US. That undertaking was the subject of a documentary film The Muslims Are Coming that was shown recently at the Oklahoma City Dead Center Film Festival. The movie makes clear that the tour was inspired in part as an attempt to counter the negative view of Muslims that is often seen in the media.
Countering Fear Through Comedy
In the film we are shown clips of people such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich warning Americans that Muslims are intent on imposing Sharia law in the US. Scenes like that are followed up with another clip that showing that there have been no attempts made to bring Sharia law in the American legal system. Scenes that recall the controversy of efforts to construct a mosque adjacent to the site where the World Trade Center stood in New York City are part of the documentary as well. There is also an interview with a representative of the Southern Poverty Law Center who speaks of the growth of what he terms “Islamophobia” that is found throughout the nation.
In addition to presenting Islamophobia in a comedic fashion, the comic troupe also plays a game they call Name that Religion in some of the communities that they visit. In that they asked people on the street to identify which holy text a particular quote originates from. While most of the participants guess that some of the quotes that call for the “smiting” of people come from the Muslim Holy book, the Koran, they are shown to be from the either the Old or New Testament.
Islam: A Religion of Violence?
At one point in the film, the comedians visit a Christian pastor in Alabama who frequently attacks Muslims and their faith, and cites passages from the Koran that call for violence against unbelievers. When they read him a passage from the Christian Bible with similar wording, the Pastor explains that such language in the bible is allegorical and not to be taken literally. The comics then point out that they see violent language in their holy text as allegorical as well.
Comedy and Gender Roles
Like many contemporary female comedians, Negin Farsad’s act is somewhat risqué and contains references to sex and drugs. One of the more poignant moments in the film occurs when several young Muslim women wearing head scarves leave the show seemingly as a result of Farsad joking about body parts and hook ups. Farsad is genuinely saddened by their departure, and laments the lack of acceptance that she feels from fellow Muslims at such times. But the real importance of that scene may be that it reflects the conservatism of most American Muslims on such matters.
Hug a Muslim
The end of the tour takes them to Salt Lake City Utah, where they hold up signs at a busy street corner that asks people to “Hug a Muslim”. A surprising number of people do hug them, and it would seem that the Muslim comedians, like the vast majority of their co-religionists in the United States, just want to be accepted by their countrymen of other faiths.
William F. O’Brien is a retired Oklahoma City attorney.