Fighting against a growing tide of hostility in Tennessee, American Muslims are using comedy to draw a brighter face of the Muslim community and their faith.
“We’ve been trying for quite a while to show that Islam has another face,” Saleh Sbenaty, a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, told The Tennessean on Sunday, August 7.
“People need to see that.”
The show “The Muslims are Coming” will be featured in Murfreesboro and Nashville, Tennessee, this month.
Through laugh, the show aims to clear stereotypes and misconceptions about Muslims and their faith.
In Murfreesboro, a Jewish and a Christian comedian will join the cast as special guests. In Nashville, an independent music group will also join in.
At the end of each show, there will be a 20-minute question-and-answer session for audience members.
“Muslims, regardless of the talents we have, whether it’s sports or comedy, whatever, need to use those avenues to reach mainstream Americans,” said Abdelghani Barre, president of the Islamic Center of Nashville and adviser of the Muslim Student Association at Middle Tennessee State University.
“So many questions have been raised about Islam and Muslims, particularly about our loyalty and faith, and I think we have an opportunity here to dispel some myths about Islam.”
The comedy show comes amid a growing controversy over the building of an Islamic center in Murfreesboro.
“There is this teeny percentage of people in the Muslim community that are threats to America,” New York-based comedian Dean Obeidallah, co-producer of the show and a member in the Comedy Central special Axis of Evil, said.
“They are not the majority, but so often we are defined by the worst of us, and that isn’t right.”
Obeidallah, who began planning the tour last year, said he heard about the mosque controversy on the news.
“It’s easy to demonize a person you’ve never met. And then you meet them, and generally it breaks down the stereotyping.”
A Gallup poll found this week that the majority of Americans Muslims are loyal to their country and optimistic about their future in the United States.
Refuting misconceptions that Islam discriminates against women, the Muslim comedy show will feature two female comedians.
“There’s this perception that Arab and Persian women can’t open their mouths and don’t drive,” Negin Farsad, also a New York-based comedian and co-producer alongside Obeidallah, said.
Farsad denied claims that Muslim women are oppressed by their faith.
“There’s a lot of misinformation about women coming from Muslim countries.”
The Muslim comedy show has won plaudits from non-Muslims.
“If they can come into this country legally and swear an oath to serve this country, I’m all for them,” Ron Leonard, leader of ACT chapter in Hermitage, said.
Though there are no official estimates, the US is home to an estimated Muslim minority of six to eight million.
Since the 9/11 attacks on the United States, many Muslims have complained of facing discrimination and stereotypes in the society because of their Islamic attires or identities.
A US survey has revealed that the majority of Americans know very little about Muslims and their faith.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll has also found that more than half Americans already hold negative views about the faith.