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Does Islam have a sense of humour?

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  • Zafar Khan
    Does Islam have a sense of humour? 20 November 2007 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7102519.stm Muslims are often depicted as people who can t take a joke.
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 15, 2007
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      Does Islam have a sense of humour?
      20 November 2007

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7102519.stm

      Muslims are often depicted as people who can't take a
      joke. But as a stand-up comedy tour showcasing Islamic
      talent arrives in the UK, is that fair?
      "There's nothing better than having a laugh. I love
      going to see comedy, but people seem to have this
      impression that Muslims and comedy don't go together;
      that somehow we can't reconcile humour with our
      faith."

      Keen comedy fan Tosifa Mustafa nails a widely-held
      stereotype, before dismissing it in the same breath.
      It's "just not the case," she says.

      Protests over cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad
      combined with images of Muslims criticising frivolous
      aspects of Western culture have left the impression
      for some that Islam and comedy are incompatible.

      And as with most stereotypes, there is a kernel of
      truth. In some Islamic societies entertainment -
      music, film and comedy - are forbidden.

      No one knows that better than Muslim stand-up Jeff
      Mirza.

      An old hand on the British comedy scene, having done
      live stand-up and television for the last decade,
      Mirza encountered hostility when he started out.

      "Some would come up to me and say what I was doing was
      haraam (forbidden). But it didn't put me off because I
      know people consider things as 'bad' when it's
      something new and unfamiliar," he says.

      "We have to stop having knee-jerk reactions to
      everything."

      Mirza believes there is a big appetite for comedy
      among Muslims. "They want to be entertained, just like
      everyone else - women in hijaabs do laugh you know."

      Ice breaker

      He is by no means alone in that belief.

      Ibrahim Mogra, chairman of the interfaith Muslim
      Public Affairs Committee and an imam in Leicester,
      says Islam and comedy "have a long history" and
      "religiously there is no reason why Muslims can't
      enjoy a laugh".

      And it's not something that needs to be reserved for
      the stand-up circuit, he says.

      "I use comedy when I make speeches; a few
      mother-in-law or football jokes always go down well,
      they help break the ice and put people at ease."

      Azhar Usman is one of three Muslim comedians who are
      helping to challenge the stereotype as part of a
      touring stand-up show. Called Allah Made Me Funny the
      travelling show returns to the UK this week.

      But he recognises that the image of Islam and comedy
      remains an odd one and blames both protesters and the
      media.

      "Muslims are not a monolithic people, they're every
      class, colour and creed and it's not surprising that
      some believe that comedy is 'wrong'," he says.

      "The cartoons are the single flashpoint that has
      defined the Islam and comedy debate and I think that
      it's a result of the fact that Islam has become
      politicised. Some people think that being Muslim is
      about going out on to the streets and waving placards
      about rather than connecting with God and their faith
      on a personal level.

      Prophet's jester

      "I don't go shouting in the street, I get up on stage
      and make jokes about it."

      But Usman also blames the media for misrepresenting
      Islam. "The fact is that within Muslim culture there
      is a strong tradition of storytelling, joking and
      laughing."

      He says the relationship between Islam and comedy goes
      to the roots of the religion.

      "Muslim communities have a comedic tradition, in fact
      the Prophet Mohammed actually had his own jester and
      the Prophet himself was known to enjoy jokes and
      wordplay."

      But those who believe comedy is funniest when it's at
      its most searing may be disappointed by the
      restrictions that Muslim comics work within.

      "We don't do anything that would offend our families,"
      says Usman. "We don't want to be blasphemous."

      Ibrahim Mogra agrees there are "parameters... As long
      as that comedy doesn't create hatred, blaspheme
      against any religion or is unnecessarily cruel, it has
      a place in Islam."

      Dry venues

      The general rule of thumb observed by Usman is that
      Islamic culture can be satirised, but not the
      religion. Politics is another rich source of jokes,
      and there's many a laugh to be had out of the more
      universal themes of marriage, mothers-in-law and even
      toilet humour.

      When it comes to alcohol, however, which for many
      comedy club regulars is a key ingredient in a night
      out, it remains a no-no. That doesn't stop Muslim
      comics from appearing at mainstream venues, but for
      those Muslims that want to see comedy in a "halal"
      environment, there is a lively scene in community
      centres and at Muslim gatherings.

      While Muslim comedians seem confident about poking fun
      at their culture, non-Muslims often skirt the issue of
      Islam itself for fear of the reaction.

      "With comedy, if you 'own' a space, in other words if
      you're from a particular faith or background, it
      grants you a licence to poke fun at it," says Marc
      Blake, a stand-up comic and comedy tutor at London's
      City University.

      "But comics at the moment are more fearful of poking
      fun at Islam because of the culture of political
      correctness than they are of any backlash from Muslim
      people."

      So might we see Islam mocked in the way that
      Christianity has been? Jeff Mirza says an adamant no.

      "Muslim audiences love satire and poking fun at the
      establishment as much as the next person. I can't see
      there being a Muslim version of something like Life of
      Brian anytime soon."

      For reader comments see:
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7102519.stm
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