Fear of a Muslim Planet: A Conversation on Islamophobia

Yesterday, I participated in a “conversation” on Islamophobia held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

The panel included myself, Linda Sarsour, Bassem Youssef, Douglas Murray, Asra Nomani, Faisal Saeed al Mutar


The full audio can be heard here: http://www.wnyc.org/story/bam-islamophobia/

My Yoda impression is at 1:39:40

Here is a transcript of my 3 minute opening remarks.

Hope it fell on some impressionable ears and can push things forward.



“Good evening BAM and Assalam Alikum to all.

I am Wajahat Ali – a multihyphenated, left handed, consistently brown skinned son of Pakistani immigrants born and raised in California whose first language was Urdu and who knew only 3 words of English in preschool: Shutup, Idiot, and uh oh Spaghettio.

I am an American Muslim of Pakistani descent.

And Nothing – NOTHING – says popularity like those three words: American, Muslim, and Pakistani.

In America, they ask me why does Islam hate the West?

Abroad I’m asked, Why does the West hate Islam.

And as a Muslim, I’m asked to apologize for criminal actions that I’ve never committed, done by violent extremists that I’ve never met.

And all this time I’m asking myself, “Who is Islam and the West? How come I’ve never met either of them.”

See Islam doesn’t speak, Muslims do, and the overwhelming majority of them – according to the facts- reject violent extremism, love our freedoms, and are “moderate.”

Oh, you heard of moderate muslims, right? – you know these rare, mythical creatures that you can find after you bypass a “no go zone” enclave dominated by “non assimilationist muslims who carry out as much of sharia law as they can” in america and europe — that’s a direct quote by the way from Governer Bobby Jindal.

See, there are some who want you to fear me simply because I’m an American who happens to be a practicing Muslim.

Their rhetoric seeks to turn us – Muslims – your neighbors, friends, doctors, taxi cab drivers, tech support, relatives, into perpetual suspects instead of what we are – partners, neighbors and fellow Americans.

Their extremist narrative only seeks to divide Americans among religious and ethnic lines.

But apparently to some ISLAMOPHOBIA is just fiction: a manufactured ruse used to silence free speech and dissent. It apparently doesn’t exist – like Climate Change.

Awesome. This was the easiest honorarium ever. I guess we can go home now.

But –

Islamophobia exists. It’s real. It’s pervasive. It’s toxic and now it’s mainstream. Islamophobia is anti-Muslim bigotry – don’t let any verbal, semantic or pedantic gymnastics fool you otherwise. We know homophobia means anti-LGBT bigotry, we know antisemitism refers to anti-jewish hate. Islamophobia makes all of us – not just Muslims – all of us, including our troops and law enforcement, less safe and secure.

And it’s fundamentally anti-American. It’s against our American heritage, our values of pluralism and our freedoms. And it’s really nothing new – it takes its DNA and its playbook directly from hateful fear mongering campaigns that were once used against Jews, Catholics and Japanese Americans.

It’s divides the world into “Us vs them” and paints an apocalyptic, civilizational conflict – “Islam is at war with the West” and “The West is at war with Islam”

But – there’s a significant cost to such inflammatory hate.

Islamophobia overwhelmingly affects those who are innocent civilians.

It doesn’t just affect muslims, but also those who look “Muslimy.”

The first post 9/11 hate murder was of Balbir Singh Sohdi, a Sikh American, whom the murderer chose because he was “dark-skinned, bearded and wore a turban.”

Ask yourself this: WHERE WILL THIS LEAD US? How do we benefit from hysteria, fear and scapegoating? What do these Islamophobes inspire except division & hate?

This isn’t about free speech. This isn’t about Cartoons or satire. This is about extremism and hate – and it’ll take all of us to overcome it. Thank you.”


by Azhar Usman



No joke. There are many comedians of Arab background working now in the United States, Canada, Europe, and of course, the Middle East. Indeed, Dean Obeidallah and Maysoon Zayid’s “Arab-American Comedy Festival” in NYC has been operating every year for a decade. And yet, there is still not a single Arab-American comic who has released his or her very own solo, one-hour standup special. Mo Amer––universally regarded by his peers to be a truly original voice in comedy, and a total beast on stage––is doing just that. The event is undoubtedly historic in nature. Don’t miss it!


We all know how crazy our world is today. We see it on the news every day. And from the ISIS hysteria, to the recurring cartoon-inspired madness, the name “Mohammed” is rarely––if ever––associated with something fun, let alone funny. The very name that all Muslims revere and love, which means “the most praised,” is mostly just derided and used to fuel controversy in the news media. Instead, here we have a guy named “Mohammed” who is regarded as not just funny, but downright hilarious. Come see for yourself! Let Mo explain to you how “Mohammed is the most popular name in the world,” and yet, he adds: “I went to Disneyland three weeks ago––not one keychain with my name on it.” (Nailed it!)


Sorry, you knew that horrible pun would be in this “Top 9” list somewhere. (You can blame Buzzfeed for inspiring this lame, hacky format, by the way. But hey, you’re reading this right now, so…yeah…blame yourself…). The other acts on the show on Sunday, May 3rd include the following:

Hasan Minhaj from The Daily Show. Check him out: https://vimeo.com/124463185
Brother Ali, the underground, indie, Albino rapper from Minneapolis, who has appeared on Conan, and has collaborated with rap legends, including Mr. Chuck D from Public Enemy, Mos Def, and Questlove. Check him out:

Ramy Youssef, who is a young but uber-talented comedian from LA. Younger fans may recognize him from “See Dad Run” on Nick at Night. Check him out:

Azhar Usman. Well, that would be awkward for there to be hype about this guy in this article, written by him. (Lots of third person, self-referential prose right there.) Check out http://www.azhar.com.


Jay has been making standup specials for many years. He has worked with some of the biggest names in standup comedy, including Jim Gaffigan, Aziz Ansari, Kevin Hart, and many others. Just check out his IMDb credits, but be careful, your head might hurt afterwards: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0152401/

The point is: with Jay at the helm, you know it’s going to be a top-flight, well-produced, super professional production. Again, come see for yourself!


Activism about immigrant rights, refugee rights, and the plight of the Palestinian people is all great and important work. This, however, is art that highlights many of the same, heavy, pressing, and profound political questions about social justice and the dynamics of oppression (artivism?)––but from the standpoint of a standup comic, told through funny stories and jokes. And not just any comic, the top Palestinian-American comedian in the world! Find out how Mo toured over 20 countries, WITHOUT A PASSPORT!! How he performed for US troops in Iraq and Kuwait, and had Bradley Cooper (unintentionally) rescue him from a sticky situation. How he eventually obtained his US citizenship, after nearly 20 years of getting the immigration runaround. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll experience every emotion in between. (Okay, maybe there’s some hyperbole right there, but honestly, not that much…)


Bassem has traveled to many countries and met dozens of Arab comedians all over the world. His favorite Arab-American standup? MO AMER. In fact, during his run on Middle Eastern television, as host of the instantly legendary satirical news show “El-Bernameg with Bassem Youssef,” he only invited two American comedians on the show. The first was Mo Amer. The second? Jon Stewart. Bassem will be performing comedy at the show on Sunday, May 3rd, and he will also be introducing Mo that night. It promises to be a very special and historic moment. (And in case you don’t know what a big deal Bassem Youssef is, check this out: http://time100.time.com/2013/04/18/time-100/slide/bassem-youssef/


Everyone knows that Hollywood wants to make more entertainment content starring Arab and Muslim characters. Heck, Variety even published a piece about this recently:


This obvious opportunity has invited all sorts of creatives into the foray, from actors and screenwriters, to directors and producers. However––as everyone who actually works in the industry knows (and really everyone in general, if you think about it)––comedy is best done by real comedians. And Muslim-themed comedy is best done by actual Muslim comedians. Everyone on the bill on this show has paid their dues, toured for years, and has a legit standup act. This is not amateur hour, nor does it star the politely-worded “up-and-comers”; these are real standups who command the respect of their peers, are professional comedians, and have polished material to share, on a legendary stage. Please come out and show your love and support!


So here’s the story behind how this event came about. Mo Amer was touring with Dave Chappelle back in December 2014, as his feature act. Backstage in Dallas one night, Dave approached Mo and suggested that he consider taping one of his standup bits as a sketch. Mo replied: “Here’s the thing, Dave, I have been thinking about doing that, but not just that one bit, maybe a larger piece, like a movie or a short film…” Dave’s imagination sparked an idea, which he shared, in that magical way that only he can: “Short film! Here’s what you do: Put together a one-hour special. It opens with a short film, maybe 5-7 minutes, based on your standup bits, and that basically gives the audience your backstory and tells people who you are. Then you have roughly 50 minutes of live standup, a few minutes of closing credits, and there ya go––that’s your first solo one-hour special!” Mo was captivated. Chappelle added, as a deliberated afterthought: “Man, if you do this right, this special could win an Emmy.” Mo Amer (with yours truly) has basically been working on making this vision a reality everyday since. On Sunday, May 3rd, we will be filming the standup portion. So, there ya go. Now you know…“and knowing is half the battle…G.I. Joe…” (Sorry if you didn’t get that reference. It’s really not worth Googling. Ok, if you’re THAT curious, go for it…


The point has already been made above, but this standup special has effectively been years in the making. Every Arab-American, American Muslim, and decent, fair-minded, American liberal in general (of all backgrounds!) has been secretly (and subconsciously?) waiting for a break-out comedy star to appear on the scene. Someone who is likable, and funny, and refreshingly honest…to offer a fresh perspective and contribute an insightful voice into the public discourse. Global pop culture is missing this voice. This incredibly important perspective. And finally, at long last, the lightning is about to strike. Once this standup special drops, everyone will be wondering: “Who is this guy? How come I never heard of him before?” Decades from now, after the copycats, and the second and third and fourth generations of Arab-American comics have carried the torch forward, all of those people who attended the actual live show where “LEGALLY HOMELESS” was taped, inside the Warner Theater, on Sunday, May 3rd, will be telling their friends and family: “I was there.” Be there. Buy your tickets and please join us for what promises to be a super fun night, and an inspiring act of courage and artistry. We hope and pray that we can count on you for your continued support.




WHEN: SUNDAY MAY 3RD, 2015 (Doors 6pm)


513 13th STREET NW



TICKETS: http://concerts.livenation.com/event/15004E6406645CB4

WEBSITE: http://www.legallyhomeless.com


First, I begin by quoting the greatest Sufi Shaikh of all time, Yoda, who said: “Do or Do Not. There Is No Try.”


1. Do Diversify your portfolio of token Muslims. Different Muslim superheroes have different superpowers.

2. Do not assume Arabs = Muslims and Muslims = Arabs. Do not use them interchangeably.

3. Do seek out Muslims who are black and/or white and or other colors. They exist, not all are brown.

4. Do not assume bearded men or covered women are religious Muslims.

5. Do not assume clean shaven men or uncovered women are not religious Muslims.

6. Do talk to more women, who are the majority of Muslim populations.

7. Do more stories about Muslim women not involving hijab or the burqa or honor killing or FGM.

8. Do not use the words “unveil” in your title.


9. Do not assume just because a person claims to represent Muslim communities, he/she does.

10. Do not use fringe Muslims as representatives for diverse Muslim communities. For example, Graeme Wood relied on Anjem Choudary for his infamous “What is ISIS” Atlantic article. Anjem is like the Pastor Jones of Muslim communities.

Terry Jones submit

11. Do not assume all Muslims can talk about Islam.

12. Do have some Muslims talking about Islam. Just like you should have African Americans talking about racism and women talking about feminism and South Asians talking about Bollywood.

(NOTE: If your panel on Islam has no Muslims, that is a problem.)

13. Do not assume practicing Muslims support ISIS or Al Qaeda. Unlike Don Lemon, do not ask “Do you support ISIS ..or AQAP or… Taliban?”


14. Do not ask or frame a conversation around the question: “Where are Moderate Muslims? Do they exist? Are they bearded unicorns?”

15. Do use “Moderate Muslim” in your title if you’re intentionally disrupting that simplistic narrative and showing the nuances.


16. Do appreciate Muslims are the most diverse religious communities in America – based on ethnicity, education, ideology and so forth.

17. Do not say “The Moslems.”

18. Do not say “The Muslim world” – there is no Muslim world.

19. Do not say “The Muslim community” – there are many Muslim communities.

20. Do not ask “What does Islam say?” – Islam doesn’t say anything, Muslims do.

21. Do appreciate the unique differences between Shiism and Sunnism and the many different communities within them.

22. Do not lump Islamist with Jihadist with Salafist with Traditionalist.


23. Do not use religiously laden terms to describe groups like ISIS or Al Qaeda as “Islamic extremist” or “Islamic terrorist” – just use terrorist, criminals or violent extremists.

24. Do reach out to local, national and international Muslims using social media or whatever means at your disposal: be proactive and establish a relationship. Reach across the aisle in good faith, and you will generally see reciprocity. Muslims are still young and evolving in certain arenas – including media, philanthropy, and institution building.

25. Do attend a local or national community event: an iftar, a jumaa, college event, a local presentation, etc.

26. Do focus on interesting stories done by Americans who just happen to be Muslims.

27. Do write on American Muslim stories that are not framed around national security or terrorism or extremism.

Muslim Ms Marvel

28. Do find utility and value in American Muslim experiences and contributions other than helping national security or fighting terrorism and countering violent extremism.

29. Do not compare Zayn Malik to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

30. Do more stories on Zayn Malik. Teenage girls love Zayn Malik.


***BONUS: Do projects, stories, events with American Muslims around shared values, rather than just “Muslim” issues. Lets create a superhero Justice League comprised of the coalition of the willing

***BONUS BONUS: Don’t have double standards



Things I learned About ‘Merica By Watching The Super Bowl


– In ‘Merica, “North America” means “World Champions”

– New Jersey is where Broncos go to die.

– A hijabi is drinking a Coke somewhere in America, most likely with biryani or kebobs. #AmericaIsBeautiful

– God bless Amreeka, where all ethnicities succumb to the sugary, carbonated, fatty goodness of the marketing Unicron known as Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

– That #AmericaIsBeautiful @CocaCola commercial is probably the worst nightmare for some pockets of America.

– Silly online backlash to Coca-Cola’s America the Beautiful ad also reveals some of the nation’s lingering ugliness.

– English is the only language that’s American, tu comprendes, Coke?! Naam? Acha, theek? Bueno. America the Beautiful.

– Foreign Languages. Hijab. Black President. Immigrants. Geography. Now officially adding Coke to this august list of things “un-American”

– Bruno Mars can sing, dance, jump and play drums for 15 minutes without moving a single strand of his luscious, finely combed hair. Meanwhile, all Desi men above the age of 30 send evil eye to Bruno Mars. 

– A Flea + A Legion of “Thugs” + a man named Bruno can make a Crappy Bowl intermittently Super.

– The dude who brings out the Lombardi Trophy must look like an extra from The Sopranos or The Godfather. He just left the gun, but brought the canoli…and the trophy. 

– Roger Goodell should never be allowed to say “shout out” ever again.

– Horse + Dog + Passenger song is enough for a teetotaling Muslim to temporarily root for Budweiser. 

– Electro in AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2 look like Mr. Freeze from BATMAN AND ROBIN: proof that humanity is doomed and never learns from its tragic mistakes.

– Scientology commercial during Super Bowl = Xenu is pleased.

– It takes Matrix + Opera + Laurence Fishburne + Agents eating a fancy dinner to finally make KIA’s cool.

– Apparently, if you give China, North Korea, Iran AXE deodorant, then they’ll embrace peace. Question the rest of the world is asking: “What deodorant will it take for America to change?”

– Super Bowl Commercials reveal all about ‘Merica’s obsessions: “Cars. Beer. Chips. Hollywood Movies. Armed Forces. Trucks. Animals selling beer. Blondes. Celebs selling soda, movies, cars, beer. Animals + Celebs selling beer.”

– The NFL is part of the American trinity that includes the Armed Forces and God. The Declaration of Independence makes an appearance once in a while. However, the Founding Fathers would probably be appalled black men are allowed to play a sport alongside white men. Just saying.

HAKIM: A Short Story by Sajid Ahmed


A countdown went on above Hakim as he lied on the ground looking off to the side. He made out blurry faces that whirled around like a wave. He looked up and saw what appeared like a man pointing his hand out with every count upwards.

“5…6…7…,” the shapes started to come together, the crowd became clearer, and his senses centered. His brain gave the signal to his joints, but they were slow to respond. One glove made it to the ropes as he tried pulling himself up. Through the ropes’ three openings, fans pumped their fists in the air and hollered out inaudible words. He threw his other arm up and over the rope, and like a pull-up tried raising his body upwards. 

“8…9…,” He gave everything he had, from his core down to his ankles. He felt his body give way until all the energy, determination, and hope evaporated. As if dropped, his body slammed back down to the floor. 

“Ten! He’s out!”

The referee looked one last time at him, and waved his hands over his head sideways, and the crowd erupted. Hakim looked over at his opponent who climbed the turnbuckle and started pounding his chest towards the crowd. The opposite corner men hugged each other, and threw their arms around their fighter as he jumped down to greet them. Hakim slid himself back to the turnbuckle, with his hands at his torso, and just breathed, and breathed.


He sat alone in the fighters’ locker room on a bench in front of his locker. His damp body air dried with only his neck receiving the touch of a white towel. The floor became his mirror and there he went into utter silence for a minute. As he looked up, his bruised, battered, and bloodied body glanced back at him through a mirror placed on the wall in front of him.  He began touching his wounds, starting from a purple and brownish spot on his rib that pulsed with pain as he pressed into it, all the way up to his reddened cheek bone. Before he turned away from the mirror, a silver ring on his finger caught his attention. He averted his eyes from the mirror and looked at the ring for a few seconds, going over it with his other finger. 


On a bus, Hakim sat in the back looking out the window. He wore a green v neck t-shirt and black soccer pants with his duffel bag sitting on his lap. Having passed the suburban posh homes, the GH 35 entered the rough area of Chicago’s neighborhood. Broken down fences, graffiti sprayed walls, and rims stripped of nets basketball courts. 

Three men, two white and black, entered the bus at a stop wearing hoodies and beanies. 

“Man you crazy, shit was getting heavy out there with that one dude,” one of the men said. Hakim glanced over at them for a second then looked back out the window.

“Ey yo look at her,” one of the white males said, pointing at a brunette woman sitting in two rows ahead of Hakim. She pulled her purse to her lap from her shoulder, and put her head down as the men made their way towards her.

Two of the men sat down a row ahead of the girl, while the remaining one leaned on the edge of the seat in front of the woman. She looked up at him, then back down.

“Wassup girl,” he said. She kept her head down and looked to the side, “You goin’ ignore me? Why don’t you scoot over a bit? Let’s chop it up real quick.” He slid his hand down her shoulder, and she punched it away with an open palm. He grabbed her wrist and pushed her into the corner, while the other men watched. Hakim slid his duffel bag to the side, stood up, and cracked his knuckles.

At the next stop, two of the men carried off their third member, whose gray sweatshirt now bathed in almost dried up blood. Hakim sat in the same position as before, in the backseat with his duffel bag on his lap. Both his knuckles had blood on them, some of his from punching so hard, and mostly from the man he had punched twice, once on the chin and once in the nose.


Hakim got off on Samper Road, and walked a block down the street to his apartment complex. He unlocked the door to find the place dark. After clicking on the lights, the room looked tidy and cleaner than before. He narrowed his eyes and looked up at the clock that read 9:30. The floor had been vacuumed. He could tell through the soft impact made whenever he took a step on the carpet. The counter, the table, everything had been swept, wiped, washed, and mopped, but Hakim only looked worried. An envelope sitting on the counter next to the sink, caught his eyes, and he dropped his duffel bag to the floor.

He lifted the seal, and took out from it a neat handwritten one page letter. It read:

Dear Hakim,

I’m leaving.

I told you that I didn’t want to see you fighting anymore, and despite my plea, you went out and did just so. What’s worse is you left without telling me and lied about where you were when I had called you the other day.


We’ve been married for just over a year now, and I don’t feel happy anymore. You promised you’d make things work before we got into this relationship, you said if things got out of hand you’d leave boxing. I don’t care if you deny it or not, but look at where and how we’re living. Whenever I want to talk or spend time with you, there’s either a cut over your eye or a tear on your pride that I have to mend.

Hakim, I have no problem with being your support, but how long can you or I keep this up? We’re living here because you want it to be like this, because you don’t want any favors or anyone else offering any kind of help, not even me. Call me whatever you like, but this is beyond financial security, your career, or our marriage, you lied to me and couldn’t heed my one request. For that, I can’t go any farther with this relationship.

I’ve left you with a bit of money, please don’t let it sit and just accept it. It’s three months of rent, including groceries and other things.

I’m going to spend some time in New York with my family. You should also know I’m filing for a divorce, and the papers will arrive in a few days to a week.

I love you Hakim, and I always will. Please forgive me and I’m sorry. I wish you the best with whatever it is you do. Take care.

With Love,


He stared into the last words of the letter, and the letter began to dampen as a tear from his eye fell onto “take care.” 

At around 11pm, rain sprinkled the concrete floors outside and trickled against the windows, making enough noise to keep Hakim from his already in-and-out slumber. He hadn’t changed, nor had his eyes shut all the way in the past half-hour. He felt strange without the warmth and comfort of Faizah, who usually soothed him of the pain with her sweet words. He had twisted turned, laid on his back and his side to no avail. The sheets came off, and he walked out of the room.

In the kitchen, he opened the fridge that revealed milk, peanut butter, cheese, a few loafs of bread, and several yogurt containers. He looked at them with distaste, and pulled out the bread and cheese. As he put his bread into the toaster, he fetched himself a glass of milk and leaned against the sink. Thunder began to roar outside as the rain slipped off the windows. The mixture of lonely thoughts, pain from his wounds, and the cold air made him almost paranoid. Before it all overtook him, the ring of the toaster brought him back to the moment.

But he stared at the toaster, the sound bringing back painful memories, almost amplifying his current cuts and bruises to another level of pain. He snatched the two pieces of bread from the toaster, and smacked a piece of cheese between them. Without a plate, Hakim dropped on to the couch and turned the TV on. He flipped through about 20 channels until stopping at a highlight of professional boxing.

“Johnny “Quicks” Benson with lighting fast combinations put on a clinic as you can see here with an array of precisely timed power punches he..,” the highlight of Benson continued as the commentator narrated, “Roberts Jr. finally came toppling to an end when Benson connected on a two-punch combination in the 8th round, holding on to this welterweight title.”

All the while, Hakim hadn’t touched his sandwich, his eyes stuck to the screen and Benson’s ensuing post-fight interview.

“Man I just want to thank God, the city of Chicago for letting me do what I do. I grew up in tough times and I did what I had to do to come away with this victory and I just hope I can keep proving to the world why they call me one of the best in boxing,” Benson into a microphone looking into the camera.

Hakim turned the television off, and remained still, deep in thought. His milk stood on the table, and sandwich in hand, yet to have been bit. His eyes gazed into the sandwich for a few seconds. He threw the sandwich sideways and let out a yell.

“Ahh,” he slapped the glass of milk to the side that shattered into tiny shards covered in milk.

“Fuck,” he lifted the table with both hands and flipped it on its head, “Fuck!” He crumpled onto the floor, with his arms wrapped over his knees and chin tucked, “Fuck,” he murmured. He sniffled again and again as another, yet more aggressive, round of tears fell from his eyes. The blinds, halfway open, gave way to the only light in the room, with occasional thunder flashing up the inside like a disco ball. 

He lifted his head, and faced the windows. From his pocket, he dug out Faizah’s slightly crumbled letter he had folded. The letter crushed and shrunk under the vice grip he applied to it from inside of his fists. His palm swiped away at the tears, and he propped up. He flung open the door and took a few steps out to the small lawn next to the driveway. 

Hundreds of droplets of rain dabbed his face as he closed his eyes and lifted his chin to the sky. He let his hands dangle at his hips. After a few seconds, his band aids dampened and began to come apart, but he stayed still. Cool tingles went down his spine, and with every crack of thunder he held his ground. 

His hands pushed his now silky wet hair back, while his eyes reemerged open. His tears and rain mixing, he looked down at the letter. The ink began to drip from the paper that had become soft as tissue paper. After bringing the letter eye-level, he ripped it apart, and let it fall to the ground. He stomped on the letter once, then pressed his forefoot into it and pivoted back and forth.

He looked back up to the sky, “I was doing this for you! This was all for you!” He punched at the rain falling on him, “I took the fight for you! Got hit for you! How much more do you and her want from me? Answer me damn it! Answer me!” 

He fell onto his knees, and continued to bathe in the rain and thunder.