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  • Omar Waheed

Column: The intent behind the "Satire: Ramadan Q&A" article

Joke man making said jokes

Recently I wrote another thing for the Daily Diatribes that upset people. While I do not typically address this except the one time I did for a joke, this one was encouraged for me to do something. To be clear, this is not an apology. There are no plans to pull the article or make any changes. I am taking a very hardline stance on this. This is talking about the piece and the outrage following it and my intent behind writing it.

I had upset a good deal of the Muslim community at Iowa State. There was a pretty fair reason behind why they are mad, and I totally get why. Due to it, I had met with the Muslim Student Association at Iowa State.

The article written was “Satire: Ramadan Q&A.”

The joke here was to poke fun at questions frequently asked by non-Muslims about Ramadan in a sarcastic manner. Ramadan is a holy month in Islam where practicing Muslims fast from sunup to sundown. It had actually just passed if you were unaware and ended with the normal celebration of Eid. Eid is essentially Muslim Christmas if that helps you comprehend it.

Outrage came in the form of threats, angry messages and concern about the message being spread. I am here to address and refute all of that.

Threats came from a handy three of Iowa State’s students who were blocked. Nut cases the lot of them. If I was giving Islam a bad name, then what were they doing?

Angry messages came from a one random student who claims to speak for all Muslims and demand I take it down before complaints are lodged against it. Complaints have been lodged and it’s still up. Would you look at that? You can’t just be angry and make things happen. Messaging someone on Instagram at 1:25 a.m. is not a way to get things done. The student is a graduate student here at Iowa State. He gave some thinly veiled threats, but if I have learned anything growing up Muslim, all bark no bite.

Messages of concern were sent from president of the Pakistani student Association Haris Ali and from the Muslim Student Association’s president and adviser. Both had come forward after others had expressed their concerns and went through proper channels to discuss it, unlike others.

As such, I had met with and contacted these two student organizations— because that is how you express concerns from a random student who I will not name.

That’s the background on complaints, concerns, threats, etc. Let’s hear me now. Why I did it.

Growing up in the US post 9/11 has taught me many things, but one in particular is that ignorance around Islam is a never-ending chasm that cannot be crossed. It’s an uphill battle with no end.

I had grown up Muslim in Wisconsin, New York and Iowa. I do not share the same experiences as student organizations on campus centered on Arabs and Muslims that are primarily comprised of students who primarily grew up in countries where Islam is the default.

There seems to be a cultural disconnect surrounding the experience between a United States born and raised Muslim and those who were born in Muslim majority and Arab countries. The former is me and so many others. The latter are the aforementioned student organizations.

Let’s compare to give a better picture.

Someone is born Muslim in let’s say Afghanistan. What is the primary culture and religion of the country? All Islam and centered on it. From day one you would be surrounded by people who are well aware of traditions and religious norms. From the jump there is no adversity in cultural and religious identity.

Fast forward to later in that same person’s life. They move to the United States, maybe as a whole family or maybe just for college. That person is experiencing a drastic change in culture. What was normal for them is seen as bizarre now by those who inhabit a primarily White, Christian country. You try to educate those around you, but they don’t really care.

They are at a point in your life where you see that you are different and do not care so you try to find people like you. Since you are in college, there are bound to be others fresh from a foreign land like you who want to keep that same Arab-Muslim centric cultural lifestyle. There’s nothing wrong with that— it’s what you are comfortable with.

What you got to experience was drastically different than someone who was born different and had to do things to fit it.

Now let’s focus on the other side: the United States born Muslim. Let’s say this person is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin (because they are and it’s me. I am this person.)

This person is born prior to 9/11. The country is still largely unaware of Islam but in a different manner where it is just unfamiliarity rather than angry ignorance.

Bing bang boom. The thing happens. Every knows what Islam is now and what a Muslim looks like. The name, the hair, the skin color, the mannerism, etc. The new consensus is “Those are a bunch of dirty terrorists that are here to kill us, even the mixed race one that didn’t come from a particularly religious family,” (again talking about me).

Super cool thing is that you are living with your father in New York during 9/11. Your Pakistani immigrant father has been here since the 80s. Your mother and brothers are back in Milwaukee. The city shuts down and flow in and out of the city is basically shut down. Sadly your father has a store that opened up a mere couple months before in New Jersey right near a direct route in and out of New Jersey to New York. The store dies and you are seemingly trapped and possibly have to go back to a life of extreme poverty in the most segregated city in the US— Milwaukee baby. Home of the best dairy, Bucks and Packers, large rates of alcoholism and clear racial division. Back to the north side you go.

A decision is made where you go to Pakistan with him. You would think this would give you a deeper appreciation of where your family comes from, but you are sheltered from an entire country because your father does not want you to embrace this culture— or even worse develop an accent.

Almost a year passes by and you make it back to the States. You spend a bit longer in a post 9/11 United States until the family makes a move to West Des Moines, Iowa.

No more indirect talk. I had reached an age where my peers and I started saying things. In a severely white city where the school kids are routinely hearing this and that about Muslims being evil invaders and what not from their parents and from the news their parents are watching, what do you think school kids would start saying to the one non-white kid in the entire school?

If you guessed it was the most downright cruel shit you’ve ever heard, then you are absolutely correct.

I had spent the first few years not fitting in and occasionally bullied. Not bullied to the point that it would make me go cry in some abandoned area in the school and eat lunch with the janitor. I was bullied to the point where I hated myself. I would get into trouble all the time as I would opt to fight any kid that would call me a terrorist or camel jockey or any number of any other things that are too graphic and racy for here.

Eventually people were aware of who I was and that was not someone to pick on. Eventually I started making friends and people started seeing me for who I was, someone who likes to joke around and have fun.

I was fed up with fighting everyone or trying to navigate being hate crimed daily, so I turned to humor. Maybe if I make light of it too then everything would stay better? It did. Making light of being Arab and being Muslim became a way to diffuse racists who didn’t like me because I was that thing that did the most heinous thing in American history— slavery. Oh wait no, I meant internment camps for Asians after Peral Harbor.

Wrong again, sorry this is so embarrassing. What I meant was the Jim Crow era? The Trail of Tears? Hiroshima? The Crack Epidemic? The Iran Contra? The Tuskegee experiments? Eugenics? Drone strikes killing an immeasurable amount of civilians? I think I’m getting warmer, but you know what I am trying to get at.

Humor had become a defense mechanism for me and a lot of other Arab-Americans. The Arab-American friends I had made had done the exact same thing as me to hopefully live in some semblance of peace.

Enough background and comparisons. The intent behind it.

This idea was not my own. I knew I wanted to make something that captured something about the religion I grew up with for the Diatribes eventually and what better time than Ramadan.

I workshopped the idea with a few other people. All were also Arab-Americans. All had also grown-up Muslim in the United States post 9/11. These jokes did not solely come from the mind of Omar. I will not name them because they do not deserve the backlash that I have been getting.

I was asked to do a lot of things with this by the people that were angered with the piece.

I was told to refute everything I wrote. The issue is that every single joke is surrounded by something factual about Ramadan.

I was told to take down the prophet Muhammad joke. I have no intention to do that. If the tone that it isn’t actually permitted is clear, that’s on the reader. That joke stemmed from the frustration over everyone somehow always knowing that this is one of the few things that aren’t allowed and yet does not know anything else for some reason.

I was told to remove the bit about how the joke about historical Muslim figures are celebrated during Ramadan is false. While it is not directly true to Ramadan, the month does serve as some level of religious and cultural recognition for observers so it is not patently false. There is no Muslim History Month so often times Ramadan serves as this. To be clear, there is an Arab History Month. These are not the same thing.

I was told as a Muslim that I should be someone that spreads the word of Islam and use my position to do so. I am not a spiritual leader and I am not that passionate about Islam. I am not very religious and I’m mostly Muslim just around holidays the same way Christians are around theirs. Yes I have read the Quran. I even went to Islamic school every weekend as my father had pushed another attempt to conquer his guilt for not being religious by trying to make his children devout Muslims. I knew exactly what I wrote.

I am not an advocate for Islam, and neither is the Daily, so we will not be doing this. I should not have to use my position to propagate others. I do not do what I do for the sake of Islam. I do not do what I do to inspire others.

If anything I do does help a cause then that’s cool. Not what I’m doing it for, but if someone sees that there is an Arab guy doing something that they want to do but are unsure about it or their place or ability to do it and seeing me doing it gives them the push, all the power to them.

I was asked to take it down or edit certain things. I will not be doing either.

What I had agreed to do is explain my intent behind writing this and because I thought it was funny and honest to my and the experiences of Arab-Americans that grew up Muslim in the United States was a good enough reason. Apparently not good enough.

I did not want to write this at all, but I thought that maybe it would silence the critics. I do not feel as if I should have to publicly give my rationale, which multiple parties did agree with, but I was still asked to do it anyway.

I spent a whole week having to talk to every Muslim at Iowa State that thinks they are the Muslim Al Sharpton. They all had the general same complaints that what I did is wrong and I should take it down and use my position to help spread the word of Islam instead.

I did not do any of that as you can see. I don’t know all who will read this, but I am pretty sure I know what group will. To them I say if you want more people to know about Islam and Ramadan, then do it yourself.

We do and have always encouraged letters to be sent to the Daily for publishing. If my answer on why I had written the satire piece is not good enough, I implore you to write something yourself.

This has been Omar Waheed. This is the last Voices article for the semester and my last for the Daily (I think at least). I may float around in the summer since I’m taking another class. I may not.

Goodbye. Read the Diatribes for fun and support the fine arts. Donate to local causes and don’t buy Nestle brand products. Use a cold wash when doing laundry. Do not use products that are tested on animals. Support small businesses. Support your local library.

I think that’s everything.

Voices will be back next semester under new management.

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