This opinion piece is by Hussein Rashid, PhD, founder of islamicate, a consultancy focusing on religious literacy.
In his viral act on “Saturday Night Live,” comedian Aziz Ansari spoke to an ugly truth about how Americans think of Muslims. Ansari pointed out that when people watch movies or a TV show like “Homeland,” they often see a character who is Arabic and prays with “terrifying” music underneath.
“People are like, ‘Aah! What are they saying?’” Ansari said. “Just ‘God is good!’ Normal religion stuff! It’s okay! You want to end Islamophobia? Honestly, just change that music. Like, if the music was different — if it was just, like, [singing theme to ‘The Benny Hill Show’], people would be like, ‘Man, Islam is one whimsical religion, isn’t it?’”
Perhaps one of the most egregious abuses of Hollywood portrayal of Islam is its use of the azan, the call to prayer, as a soundtrack for violent acts. The call to prayer is a beautiful sound when it is performed well. Unfortunately, this part of Muslim beauty is used as the ambient sound for violence on TV, in movies and even on the radio.
Muslims find it painful to hear the sound they love tied to the violence they abhor. Non-Muslims find it basically impossible to approach what Muslims find beautiful if they hear it connected to what we all find ugly.