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Fighting for Funny

Fighting for Funny

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

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Sarfraz Manzoor wants to know what comes to mind when you hear the word "Muslim." It's kind of a minefield... he suggests the natural thoughts are the 9/11 attacks, the Muhammad teddy bear, and the Danish newspaper cartoons... not exactly a barrel of monkeys. So he's on a mission to bring the humor of Muslim life to light, and his band is few, but mighty. According to him, Muslims as a group may suffer from "chronic" hypersensitivity and "over-earnestness." But there are a few bringing the funny to light, like Azhar Usman and Zarqa Nawaz (she has a sitcom called Little Mosque on the Prairie. Sample joke from an episode: "a Muslim defends his plan to turn the parish hall into a mosque. "It's only a pilot project, " he tells a local man, who responds, "You're training pilots?!" I laughed out loud.), and Manzoor says the work of these liberal Muslims is so easily undone by fury over a teddy bear that it's time for moderate Muslims to speak up in support of the lighter side of life. So listen in, laugh, and leave comments here.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

I am Jewish, and I have lots of Arab friends. Actually I even my Jewish friends also have Arabic friends. After suffer for so long, so long, so so so very very very long you only have a sense of humor.

Sent by Jonathan | 2:49 PM | 12-20-2007

"Little Mosque" is a wonderful show -- a very sweet, traditional 30-minute sitcom with many great characters. Hope it gets picked up for broadcast in the US. Big up to Zarqa Nawaz!

Sent by Drew Miller | 2:51 PM | 12-20-2007

I am Jewish, my wife is Muslim -- we both love to laugh -- Woody Allen & Mel Brooks are our heroes.

Steve from Syracuse, NY

Sent by Steve Setless | 2:54 PM | 12-20-2007

Sarfraz makes an excellent point on comedy disarming the argument. A television comedy from Canada, "Little Mosque on the Prairie" does an excellent job of exaggerating issues to show the absurdity on both sides.

Sent by Reid Haataja | 2:55 PM | 12-20-2007

There has been a lot of talk about how humor can bridge the gap between different communities, but I think more often humor is used as an excuse for White people to misrepresent people of color, women, and the sexually marginalized. I get the feeling that White people feel that as long as there is a punch line, they can say whatever they want, no matter how untrue or damaging.

Sent by Nate Gulley | College Student | University of Oregon | 2:58 PM | 12-20-2007

I am part of a conservative Christian group in the US who choose to practice modesty of dress and separation from general society by wearing a modest uniform. Our women also wear a head covering as part of our interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11. We get plenty of questions and stares in public and are often victims of stereotypes and incorrect assumptions made by people whose only knowledge of "plain people" comes from movies or something they've seen on the news. I absolutely love to react to questions, comments and stares in a humorous way. When a friend of mine was asked the common question "So, are you Amish?", he replied with the classic "No, are you?"

Sent by Katie Peters | 3:37 PM | 12-20-2007

Although the writer makes a good point; from my experience with some Muslims friends who weren't born or raised in western countries -they were very uncomfortable about mixing humor and religion. I am almost certain that if the author were to go Pakistan he would need proper security and I don't think he would be able to organize any shows. So if you consider Muslims all over the world and not just the developed (western) nations, I don't think his jokes would amuse majority of them as he likes to believe.

Sent by sandy, Baltimore MD | 6:12 PM | 12-20-2007

Sarfraz and a huge number of western Muslims are caught in a huge vat of confusion. Pulled between the conflicts of Islamic ritual or tradition and trying to live and fit in within American or western culture.

Of course Muslims have a sense of humor but there are serious reasons why others are so serious as well, and there are reasons for anger. That does NOT have to mean irrational violence as a result. It is very unfair and stereotypical as well to categorize everyone who is serious or strict in following their religion and taking the time to learn it and frame their lives around it as automatically fanatical. To do so is a very biased view and one that is common among westerners who view any person who revolves their life around religion as weird or odd.

Indeed it has, can and does mean people will clash about their views and some will even get violent about it, but it is NOT a given that religious=fanatic=oppressive=violent.

The argument is always be made that people need to 'lighten up', but many assumptions, stem from an American or decidedly western and often irreligious cultural point of view. How much does Sarfraz, and many of the Muslims who throw off their headscarves or others who go to clubs, celebrate Christmas etc. - things that seem perfectly reasonable and normal to the non-Muslim or non-religious public - know about the view of those acts in the view of Islam? Just because we insist was are something does not make it so. Muslims who traditionally have not studied the religion formally or who paid little attention to their religion's teachings and who just lived the average day to day life of most Brits or Americans with the occasional religious celebration that may have been practiced with little religious significance attached, would definitely skew or not understand why anyone would be upset at Islam, Muhammad or Allah being made fun of. Indeed, much like the Jews and Catholics of late.

Sent by Reese Jr. | 10:42 AM | 12-21-2007