Welcoming Our New King: Review of Hasan Minhaj: “Homecoming King”

I will be honest, I wish I could have dived more into this review but I didn’t, at the risk of giving out spoilers.

When we think of the kings of comedy, we think of George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, or Bill Hicks however, Comedy has no racial boundaries. Arguably, it was Russell Peters, who broke the barrier for Brown comedians everywhere and showed that Indians could be funny. Subsequently, Aziz Ansari will do the same as not only a young, talented, house-hold name, and now anyone who doesn’t know him is considered living under a rock.

And now, we welcome a new Indian Comedian that is taking the world by storm. Though he is perhaps well known for his contributions to the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, he most recently, was the speaker for the White House Correspondent’s Dinner and did an impeccable job by speaking his mind. For those that enjoyed his 25-27 minute speech, I would encourage them to check out his hour long, Netflix special: “Homecoming King”. In this special, it’s a bit unorthodox in that it’s not like traditional stand up shows. For one, the show is more about his life and a specific story as opposed to observational humor and abstract thoughts.

Nevertheless, Minhaj dives deep into his memories and does his best to recreate those moments for the audience so they may empathize with his experiences as a descendent of Indian immigrants and struggling to maintain the culture he has been reared with and simultaneously try to fit in with others who don’t share the same culture and/or beliefs. It is evident early on in the special, how much he cares about his family, despite their disagreements. Moreover, he demonstrates that his family is almost no different than any other traditional family. Specifically, there is a generational gap of understanding between parents and their children in that they can’t seem to agree on how to handle discrimination.

For Minhaj, as a born citizen, he believes that Islamophobia should not have to apply to him because he has done nothing wrong. This is a fair and understandable perspective. On the other hand, his father (like most immigrants) believes they should take discrimination with a grain of salt; as this is something uncontrollable and inevitable when arriving to a new country. This is hard to grasp because, while we can acknowledge that there are terrorists that claim to commit horrific acts in the name of their religion, we do a disservice by associating other Muslims with them, especially since Islam has nothing to do with terrorism in the first place. Furthermore, that ordinary Muslim citizens should have to answer for their actions is ludicrous There’s an article where Aziz Ansari tackled this issue with Rupert Murdoch, perfectly, saying how unreasonable it is for Muslims to have to give press releases or publicly denounce terroristic acts when they clearly had nothing to do with it. In addition to that, Christians are never asked to publicly denounce horrendous acts that have been committed in the name of Christ.

Moving on though, Minhaj also goes on to talk about racism in two different forms: the first is when you’re put in a state of “fear for your own life” kind of racism and the racism “with a smile”. I’d like to tell the story here, but at the risk of it being a spoiler for the show, I’d rather not. Instead, go watch it for yourself to see the example he used. I would be remiss however, if I did not elaborate on what those two types of racism signify though. The former is self-explanatory: being constantly harassed due to your color, creed, or sexual orientation to the point where you are never sure if even the menial errands you need to take care of will be accomplished because your safety is at risk. For Arabs or South Asians, who are descendants from countries with a majority Muslim population,, often they will resort to changing their names in an effort to hide their identity and not cause conflict, so Mohammad will go by Moe, or Abdullah will go as Andy in order to not draw attention to themselves. I am guilty of this as well, personally, but this will be for another blog.

The latter type of racism, is a bit more complex, but when I say “with a smile”, of course I’m not talking about someone who will use a racial slur and grin. I’m referring to the type of people who will sit and laugh with someone “different” but will not announce it publicly or allow their children to associate with them out in the open because they are afraid of people judging THEM. This sort of thing happens when someone “acts” differently. For example, I would always get judged for my love for Bollywood movies and the music, speaking Urdu with my mother, or even eating indo-paki food. Therefore, people would laugh at me and think I was this foreign weirdo, despite the fact that I was born and raised in the U.S. and English was my first language. Thus, I became so ashamed of who I was, that I wouldn’t embrace it out in the open. Even being friends with other “brown” kids in school (where we were perhaps the only ones there) made me hesitant because I was afraid of people judging us or saying SOMETHING. And being Muslim, just added more things for people to judge me by. The thing is, I was not even a practicing Muslim either nor did I choose to be because I just didn’t want to give people a reason to say anything, pretty much.  So like Hasan Minhaj, I just kept it cool, tried to steer clear from danger. And just dealt with it because I figured that’s just the kind of things that happened and as a descendent of an immigrant, I had to deal with it.

However, there is a happy little epilogue to Hasan Minhaj’s story where he ends up pursuing a dream and the dream comes true. He is a successful comedian, married the love of his life, works a great job, and is becoming a house-hold name, all the while he is a Muslim. He tells these stories and is unashamed of who he is. We can all take a lesson from his story, that life is like Biryani (Chicken and Rice but with indo-paki spices. Look it up. It’s fantastic!) where you move the bad stuff out of the way and bring the good parts closer to you.

In “Homecoming King”, all the scenes (i.e., jokes) are hard to distinguish what is bad because all the parts, in my opinion, are good. As a comic, Minhaj takes a kind of Christopher Titus approach in delving deep into his memories and connecting with the audience  with his experiences. Simultaneously, Minhaj does this with a giant, contagious smile and tells the stories as vividly as one can desire. Who can ask for anything more? Now go watch it!

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 27th of May, 2017

 

 

 

Should Muslims Support LGTBQ?

This essay is dedicated to my friends: Dr. Andrew J. Pegoda, Trevor Boffone, and Josh Inocencio and to all the comrades in the LGTBQ Community. I also dedicate this essay to my Brothers and Sisters in Islam. Also it should go without saying, that this dedication extends as well as to those in the Muslim community who identify as Queer/Trans those who have come out and those who are too afraid to come out.  Assalaamu ‘Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuh.

Should Muslims support Gays/Lesbians/Transgenders? Let’s get right into it; to answer this question in a few words, of course! This may come as a shock to some people but Gay/Lesbian/Trans people, like Muslims, are normal people. I should know cause I am Muslim. I’m not Gay, but I am Pro-LGTBQ rights. Most people freak out when they meet someone gay, lesbian, or trans, but there’s not really anything foreign about them except the obvious. In fact, I met a gay couple that had been together for more than 20 years and it blew my mind; but not for the reason why you’d think that. Considering that most marriages among heterosexual couples keep falling apart, it was surprising to hear a couple that actually valued their relationship. When I asked them for advice on marriage or relationships, they gave the exact same advice you’d get from any other straight couple: communication, trust, remember why you fell in love in the first place, and don’t have kids, cause they ruin everything (just kidding!) (I’m not kidding)  But based on that, it brings me to the point that, how are you gonna say that marriage is supposed to be only for a man and woman when men and women can’t even get their shit together? But moreover, why can’t Gay people just have rights?! Like basic Human rights. I have only had one bad experience with a gay person, and that was cause he was an asshole, not cause he was gay. He doesn’t deserve rights. (okay that one, I’m kidding) 

There’s a misconception among individuals who don’t understand, nor wish to, the struggles that Muslims share with the Gays. As a matter of fact, there are even Muslims that identify within the LGTBQ community, and I had no idea. I know that’s naive to say but it’s just one of those things you don’t think about but as soon as I heard it, I was like, “Oh, well, of course. Why wouldn’t there be?”

Since the origin of Islam, Muslims were a class of people that were outcast from society and the fact that members of the LGTBQ community would identify with Islam, is not very surprising. Despite the verses in the Qur’an that state Homosexuality is wrong or an abomination, as well as Conservative Muslims have been very vocal against same-sex marriage (as have Conservative Christians; especially Conservative Christians) there are still Muslims out there that are Queer and or Muslims. And while you have all those things, luckily there are Muslims out there that are extremely tolerant of this because it doesn’t matter.

And that’s where my take comes from; a friend of mine, Josh Inocencio, is currently writing an article for OutSmart Magazine, a Houston as well as LGTBQ Based magazine, about Gays and Lesbians supporting Muslims. I’ll be sure to include the link once it’s been published and everything. He asked to interview me as a Muslim born and raised in the United States, and someone who pretty much stopped practicing for 2-3 years but has been again since 2015 (but more on that another blog). Not to mention that I’m a fellow Writer/Student-Activist/Philosopher and Historian-in-the-Making 😉  Members of the LGTBQ community in support of Muslims is in my view, heartwarming. In fact, even before the implementation of the epic Muslim Ban, the hashtag #illwalkwithyou was especially being vocalized by members of the LGTBQ community.

Now fast-forward to a few months later, the Trump administration pushes through a Muslim ban, something “no one” (sarcastic quotes) saw coming that affected members of the LGTBQ community as well that identify as Muslim.  Now, if you’re Queer, you’re already putting yourself in a vulnerable position and then to accept a religious belief; and Islam, at such an epoch of heightened Islamophobia, you’re just asking for trouble. But in my eyes, they’re a Brother and/or Sister in Islam and Asalamualaikum.

The crux here is that beliefs are personal: we don’t need to be able to fully comprehend what the other’s beliefs are. I take the cultural relativist approach here and contend that you can think something is strange, sure but that’s all. The thing is, concepts that are foreign to people tend to be believed to be wrong. It’s juvenile when you really get down to it, the idea that: “I don’t understand it, so it must be wrong!” Who are we to tell others that because they are that Gay, they are an abomination because they follow Islam, Christianity, things they just hold dear; simple beliefs, are wrong! When we humans are imperfect ourselves.

That’s why we need to quit trying to focus on these little details and focus on the big issue. We are struggling together and we need to overcome, together. Still however, many communities of faith: there is a serious question of homophobia that needs to be confronted. And of course, the Muslim community, like most communities, have a gay community and some are hidden some are not. But we hope that one day, all faith will be able to move past that.

Perhaps it’s the utilitarian in me but it’s just that those that approach religion and their beliefs usually distinguish their beliefs from the sect they follow or their upbringing, they are happy with what they regard as the truth even though all religion is based on faith and not necessarily fact. By saying that, I may get in trouble because I’m implying that all religion is capable of being wrong but there’s certain things that religion cannot prove, they’re miracles. I’m not going to say I don’t believe in miracles, it’s just that there’s no way to prove it that cannot be true. Historically and scientifically, the stories don’t make sense.

Again, I identify as a Muslim. Non-Denominational. A practicing Muslim as well. The ring I wear on my index finger is not just words in Arabic, these words are the pledge one takes when they declare themselves a Muslim. I don’t believe in tattoos, so this is the next best thing for me. My beliefs are very personal and dear to me, and as a result, I don’t see the need to impose them on others, but this does not change Islam from becoming one of the fastest growing religions in the country; the only reason for that, I imagine is because it’s the only religion that tends to make sense (or at least it does for me).

The five basic pillars in Islam are set in stone: Pledge your belief that there is only one God, perform pilgrimage, fast on the days of Ramadan, five daily prayers, and give a very small portion of your paycheck to charity. I follow all five of the pillars in Islam (but I haven’t gone on Pilgrimage yet) The rest of the teachings in Islam, I cherry-pick here and there what works for me; I do consult Imams and whatnot to make sure I’m not doing anything that is too taboo. That being said I don’t drink, eat pork, smoke cigarettes, do drugs, etc. But it is because I won’t follow EVERYTHING that certain sects will acknowledge, that I won’t say I’m a very religious person. I most definitely and unhesitatingly, will take the side of my Muslim brothers and sisters in distress over in Syria, Aleppo, Palestine, and Kashmir.

When asked why I say non-denominational, it’s because in my experience, different sects have argued about religion for centuries and even condemned one another (like the most recent sect, Ahmadiyya) by stating “they’re not real Muslims.” One of my favorite things an Imam has stated during the Friday prayer khutbas (sermons) was how he abhorred how other Muslims will disrespectfully attempt to correct the behavior in how certain Muslims pray or stand or kneel (because they’re not doing it “correctly”) and the Imam encouraged us to, when faced with such a dilemma: “Our brothers and sisters in Islam are dying in Syria and Aleppo, and you’re worried about me?!”

I digress and conclude that there have been a long tradition of Muslims and Gays working together on progressive issues (that have to do with minorities and ensuring that we don’t get any infringement on our rights) when there was a Muslim ban, the LGTBQ community got involved,  so when there is an assault against LGTBQ the Muslims should be aware and educated so they can support them. Progressive Muslims need to be more vocal and active in their participation and I am not trying to impose my progressive beliefs, but I do implore conservative Muslims or Muslims in general, to open their hearts and their minds to understanding the struggles of our Queer brothers and sisters. The saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend; please acknowledge that the LGTBQ community is far from our enemy, and it’s time we realize it. Our time seems limited with each day that passes and rather than bicker or find fault with one another based on who people love or what religion they practice, we need to find common ground. The main common feature we share, is that we are civilized human beings; so let’s act like it.

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 22nd of March, 2017 at 1:45 P.M. 

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