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Saturday, October 13, 2007

U.S. State Department: Humor Helps Break Stereotypes About Muslims

Muslim comedy subject of Ramadan panel

There isn’t anything funny about Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting and reflection, or about the threat of violent al-Qaida terrorists around the world, but that doesn’t mean the average person can’t appreciate a good Muslim joke.

Sometimes the best way to deal with a sensitive subject is to make fun of it, says Muslim comedian Azhar Usman.

Muslims, like everybody else, are capable of laughing and being funny, Usman said at American University in Washington at the virtual town hall meeting “Laughing While Muslim.” The October 3 meeting held during Ramadan used digital video conference technology to link Muslim panelists at American University (AU) and the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles to talk seriously about comedy.

During the month of Ramadan, which this year ended on October 11 or 12, depending on the sighting of the moon in the various Muslim countries, Muslims refrain from eating or drinking during daylight hours and break their fast at iftars after sunset.

In the United States today, Muslims use the month of Ramadan to reach out to their fellow citizens and to build bridges with the community at large.

Since 2004, Usman, born and raised in Chicago by Indian parents, has performed his “Allah Made Me Funny -- Official Muslim Comedy Tour” in more than 12 countries over five continents. Although Usman is a lawyer by training, he has taken his comedy show on the road to counter misconceptions about Muslims.

Comedy is a funny way of being serious, Usman said, quoting the late actor Peter Ustinov. “People always come up to me after my show and say, ‘thank you so much for making me think,’” said Usman, whose jokes about racial profiling lighten up the seriousness of what he calls the “unnecessary evil of life after 9/11.” [Link]

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