Thursday, April 3, 2008

Allah Made Me Funny...And Female*

Ammar from Little Mosque on the Prairie said "Muslims around the world are known for their sense of humour." Unfortunately the sarcasm of this comment escapes no one because, in fact, Muslims are not known for their sense of humour. Quite the opposite.

However, recent years have seen efforts to change this image. Muslim comedians have been springing up in the Western world and making quite the name for themselves. After all, what better time to joke about stereotypes and prejudices than when the going gets tough. And it's no secret that the going is tough for Muslims right now.

The best part is that Muslim women have also been a part of the comic revolution. One such comedian is Sabrina Jalees, (also a writer and actor) the daughter of a Swiss mother and Pakistani father. Sabrina has performed all over the continent including with the Allah Made Me Funny tour in Toronto, Vancouver and Chicago. Sabrina's humour touches on cultural as well as religious issues, among many others. Using the time tested method of inserting the Pakistani/Indian accent she often makes fun of quirky cultural as well as religious elements.

Sabrina does identify as Muslim, though "not your traditional Muslim chick." With jokes such as "I actually never wear my burka...except on poker night" or explaining how no would want to play with her and her burka Barbie as a child, Sabrina jokes about being Muslim and being Pakistani. For the most part Sabrina does not make fun of the stereotypes non-Muslims have of Muslims but rather incorporates those stereotypes into her jokes.

Her jokes are not political commentaries. In fact, at times some of her jokes may further strengthen certain stereotypes. For instance, in joking about the Muslim arranged marriage process Sabrina wonders why the processes is appealing to men because they only see the picture of the potential mate - just the eyes. Additionally, when contrasting herself with the traditional Muslim woman she jokes about how she would never be asking to rub her husband's feet. Although jokes, these comments will further enhance the myth that most Muslim women wear the niqab and that Muslim women are subservient. As I first heard these jokes I couldn't help but cringe. To an educated audience these may be simply funny, but to an uneducated one they may be 'educational.' Although racial and ethnic comedy is often about generalizations, I am unsure how many people realize this and will understand the exaggeration of her jokes.

Overall, Sabrina's presence and success in the comedy world is in itself breaking down stereotypes. Her willingness to speak about her religion and declare herself Muslim, in and of itself presents the audience with an alternate image of the Muslim woman. Joking about everything from religion and culture to vaginas and sex, Sabrina leaves nothing untouched. By touring with the men of the Allah Made Me Funny Tour she, and the tour itself, are demonstrating that Muslim women are not quiet and meek. We can be loud and bold. Although some of her jokes may offend, and others may enhance stereotypes, just bringing them up, from a woman's perspective, creates a necessary space in the public discourse for Muslim women. Agree or disagree.

You can check out her material at YouTube. Here is one to get a taste of her work.

* Thanks to Jehanzeb for the cool title. My brain wasn't working and his was.