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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 June, 2004, 10:19 GMT 11:19 UK
Muslim comedians laugh at racism
The BBC's Jannat Jalil
By Jannat Jalil
BBC correspondent in Washington

Preacher Moss wants to use comedy to bridge the divide between Muslims and others
With his bushy black beard and skullcap, Azhar Usman strides on to the stage with a raucous "Assalam Aleikum."

"For those who don't know what that means, I'll explain it to you," he declares. "It means: 'I'm gonna kill you.'" The audience bursts into laughter.

But his accent reveals that as well as being a Muslim, Azhar Usman is also an American.

The "Allah Made Me Funny" comedy show is an attempt by a group of American Muslim comics to counter the negative stereotypes and attitudes about Muslims and Arabs by poking fun at themselves, their communities and the prejudices they face.

Skewering stereotypes

Like their Jewish or African American counterparts, the Muslim comedians in "Allah Made Me Funny" aren't afraid to poke fun at themselves.

There are jokes about Muslims being late and about faulty sound systems in mosques.

Comedian Azhar Usman
Just as Muslims feel that Islam is greatly misunderstood in America so too America is greatly misunderstood in the Muslim world
Azhar Usman, comedian
The show made its US debut at a club in Washington earlier this month.

The founder of the show, Preacher Moss, says the intention is to bridge the gap between different communities, which he believes has widened since the 11 September attacks of 2001.

"Post-9/11, we wanted to do something to bring the Islamic community into the mainstream," says Mr Moss, an African-American Muslim. "It's an opportunity to have some dialogue and to make people, Muslims and non-Muslims, feel enlightened and entertained."

The audience at the show is unusually diverse for Washington.

Trendy young professionals sit alongside women in Islamic headscarves, African robes and Asian shalwar kameezes.

This is where mainstream America meets Islam, not with conflict but with laughter.

"You have a fair amount of people here who aren't Muslim," says Mr Moss. "They're just interested in dialogue and having that fellowship that's been lacking. And you have Muslims out here who are trying to come out and express themselves as well."

Unifying humour

The response from the audience is overwhelmingly positive.

"Humour brings us all together," says one young woman. "It doesn't matter whether you're black, white, Muslim, Chinese, Indian. Humour is humour."

A Muslim man at the show says: "I think anything for the Muslims in the public eye is good right now especially if it is funny and it's showing people that we also have a sense of humour.

"In the jokes the comedians highlight things like stereotypes. This performs an educational function, so it's very positive," he added.

The comedian Azhar Usman says that as well as showing Americans that most Muslims are not fanatics, he also wants to take the show to Muslim countries to help the Islamic world gain a better understanding of America.

They have had requests to tour around the world including Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar.

"Now I think that this tour without a doubt is ready to really explode into the Muslim world, no pun intended," Mr Usman said.

"I think what's important to recognise is that just as Muslims feel that Islam is greatly misunderstood in America so too America is greatly misunderstood in the Muslim world," he added.


America's moral credibility among Muslims has been badly damaged by the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers. American leaders insist only a handful of soldiers are to blame.

What this show is aiming to do is demonstrate that the actions of a handful of extremists acting in the name of Islam have nothing to do with most Muslims.

But since the 11 September attacks, many Muslims now believe American justice is biased against them.

That's a theme Azhar Usman tackles in his stand-up routine.

"We've made a lot of progress towards ending racism in America," he tells the audience. "But we've been hearing about it for decades. A black man says he can never get a fair trial in America."

He pauses. "But Arabs and Muslims say they can't even get a trial."

The audience roars appreciatively.

Muslim comic sees the funny side
19 Oct 01  |  Entertainment


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