Muslim people don’t laugh – at least not on most American TV shows, movies, and news programs, which focus excessively on Muslims who plot violence, talk about violence, or are somehow touched by the threat of violence. Maz Jobrani, the funny actor and comic, raises this point (humorously) in an important two-part series that begins airing tonight on LinkTV. The series is also streaming online, for free, at www.LinkTV.org/WhoSpeaksForIslam. Hosted by Ray Suarez, who’s always a good choice to moderate discussions of complicated subjects, “Who Speaks for Islam” takes its title from the acclaimed book of the same name, whose co-author, Dalia Mogahed (now an advisor to President Obama) is also interviewed.
I previewed the series, which combines interviews with film clips and (in the segment that airs tonight) questions from an online audience. The series works well by getting its guests (such as Jobrani, “24” executive producer Howard Gordon, and Hollywood writer Kamran Pasha) to talk honestly about their experiences, both good and bad. Pasha, for example, got an early Hollywood gig after critiquing a movie scene that depicted two Muslim men talking as they used parallel urinals. Pasha, who was born in Pakistan, told the producers that – for better sanitation – Muslim men prefer bathroom stalls over urinals, so the scene as shot was completely unrealistic. Surprised by the insight, the non-Muslim producers hired Pasha on the spot. Pasha’s anecdote is in the series’ second episode, titled “Muslims on Screen.” The first episode, “What a Billion Muslims Really Think,” focuses on a talk with Mogahed and scholar Reza Aslan, and the findings from Mogahed’s book, which was based on exclusive interviews by the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. Smart Muslims. Funny Muslims. Riveting topic. Free viewing. LinkTV has a history of must-see programming. “Who Speaks for Islam?” adds to its list of shows that provoke in the best way possible.