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'The Muslims Are Coming!' To Middle America


A group of Muslim comics went on tour through parts of Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, as well as Arizona. Their mission was to help Americans equate Islam with funny, rather than fundamentalist. And that is the topic of a new documentary called, "The Muslims Are Coming."

NPR's Shereen Marisol Meraji met up with the directors.

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: Here's a quick taste of what happens when Muslim comics invade Middle America.


MERAJI: That's Dean Obeidallah and Negin Farsad co-directors of "The Muslims Are Coming."

: When have you ever heard Islam and fun times in the same sentence? That's what we're trying to do, we want you to create that association.

MERAJI: I interviewed Farsad and Obeidallah on the steps of a long shuttered Burlington Coat factory, blocks away from Ground Zero in New York. You might know it as the site of a proposed mosque and community center that critics called the Ground Zero Mosque in 2010.

: And there was actually protests right here in this area where we're standing, denouncing the mosque and denouncing Muslims at the same time, and linking 9/11 and terrorism as if its part of the faith. And that was really a wake up call. It's one of the reasons we made this film.

: And we're comedians, so the only thing we really can do is going to be comedy.


MERAJI: So Farsad, Obeidallah and a crew of Muslim-American comedians from diverse backgrounds: Palestinian, Italian, Egyptian, Latino, African-American hit the road and did free stand up. Stand up in places they considered Muslim-unfriendly to win locals' hearts and minds.

: Something that we could learn from the gay community's leaps and bounds, in civil rights in the last 20 years, is that one of their goals was just don't hide it.

MERAJI: They outed themselves as Muslims in places like Gainesville, Florida, home of Quran-burning Pastor, Terry Jones.

: Murfreesboro, Tennessee, specifically we went there because there was a huge mosque controversy going on there, thousands of miles from Ground Zero - it had nothing to do with Ground Zero.

MERAJI: And Arizona, a state with controversial immigration laws.

: Come ask a Muslim a question. Today is the day: A live Muslim is here to answer your questions.

MERAJI: Along with stand up, they answered queries in the town square and organized events like community bowling.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We are here at the Peach Bowl lanes to meet with all the comedians for Come Bowl with a Muslim.

MERAJI: The comics painted a diverse picture of what it means to be Muslim in the USA. Some were fasting for Ramadan. Others didn't fast but didn't curse on stage. And co-director Negin Farsad - well, she let it all hang out.

: I had to take an STD test not too long ago, because I was a raging slut for a period of my life that ended last week.


: And...

MERAJI: Farsad wore short skirts, showed cleavage, cussed and talked about sex. Her act offended certain Muslims who came to see the shows. And her faith was questioned by another comic in the film. But Farsad says she's still Muslim - culturally Muslim.

: We're really used to, in the United States, being like: Oh, that guy is, like, he's a Jew, but he's a Woody Allen Jew; he probably has a BLT every once and awhile and it's no big deal. And its fine and everyone gets that, right, that there's these culturally Jewish people or these culturally Christian people who celebrate Christmas, have never set foot into a church.

But we don't have that same understanding of Islam. And so, for me, it was really important to say no, no, I'm like that. I'm as Muslim as you are Christian - which is to say, not that much.'

MERAJI: "The Muslims Are Coming" leaves its audience with a pretty simple take-away: Muslim Americans are not that different from other Americans, except maybe funnier.

: You're going to laugh. Even if you hate Muslims, you're probably going to laugh.

MERAJI: Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR News.

: ...because it is funny.

: Like, oh, they want to impose Islamic law but they're funny. I can't help it - I got to laugh at that part.


GREENE: Swaying in the studio. That reporting from Shereen Marisol Meraji. She covers race, ethnicity and culture for NPR's Code Switch Team. "The Muslims Are Coming" is playing now in select cities. And you'll also be able to watch it and listen to it on iTunes, Amazon and Video on Demand beginning September 24th.

It is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shereen Marisol Meraji is the co-host and senior producer of NPR's Code Switch podcast. She didn't grow up listening to public radio in the back seat of her parent's car. She grew up in a Puerto Rican and Iranian home where no one spoke in hushed tones, and where the rhythms and cadences of life inspired her story pitches and storytelling style. She's an award-winning journalist and founding member of the pre-eminent podcast about race and identity in America, NPR's Code Switch. When she's not telling stories that help us better understand the people we share this planet with, she's dancing salsa, baking brownies or kicking around a soccer ball.