If there is one thing highlighted by Ramy, a Hulu show about an Arab American Muslim millennial, it is that there are generational differences between the more traditional Arab Muslims who immigrated to America and those who were born and grew up here.
“I was the first generation trying to marry the two worlds and see how people from my culture, who see this comedy, react to my interpretation of being an American Muslim and my dilemmas as a millennial,” said comedian Ramy Youssef, who wrote and stars in the new comedy that is roughly based on his life.
The comedian describes his show as funny, darkly satirical and down to earth, aiming to dispel stereotypes about Muslims in America.
Ramy is a 10-episode series that follows a young Arab American Muslim as he tries to define his moral compass while juggling family relationships, romance and job security — or the lack thereof.
In the show, Ramy’s parents are dedicated Muslim immigrants from Egypt. Set in their traditional ways, they often chide Ramy and his sister for their liberated ideas and secular way of life. But, Ramy shows that his parents’ immigrant sensibilities run deep in him.
The show starts with the main character questioning his parents’ old ways and evolves with him embracing Arab Muslim traditions that define him as an Arab American.
Youssef said he wanted to make his Arab Muslim immigrant characters relevant to American viewers regardless of culture, age or religion. “It’s been kind of overwhelming, the amount of people who have said, ‘Oh, man, this is so much like me’ or ‘This is so similar to what I went through,’ ” he said.
In an America where immigration right now is a hot-button issue, Youssef said he wanted to focus on an Arab Muslim family and show the real problems they have and show their humanity. His goal, he said, is to defy stereotypes about Arab Muslims in a funny but poignant way.
The holy month of Ramadan is featured in the series, where the main character, like his family, fasts from sunrise to sunset. As he is trying to find inner purification, he grapples with the reality that the rules of Ramadan run deeper than fasting.
At the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center, a mosque in northern Virginia, many Muslims who come to pray echo the TV character’s thoughts and experiences.
“We live in a very materialistic, capitalistic society,” said Saif Rahman, of the center. “And trying to mesh your faith understanding of helping one another, of being at your neighbor’s aid, and just trying to live a spiritual life, it’s become somewhat difficult in a life that’s motivated by social media and material and the rat race of jobs and work and everything like that.”
For 16-year-old Maroa, a first-generation American of Arab descent, fasting is a way of purification.
“I think fasting has more to do with your mindset. If you are fasting because you have to, it’s way harder. But if you are fasting because you know why, you have a more optimistic perspective of it and it’s really, better and way easier. And the more you fast, the easier it gets,” Maroa said.
For young Arab American Muslim women, like Fatima, a high school sophomore, practicing the faith is part of their identity.
“It is difficult sometimes,” she said. “I have to dress modest and people might look at me and tell me that it’s kind of hot outside. I don’t take that personally because I’m used to it. So, I would say, that’s really challenging, growing up and not looking like the other normal girls.”
Youssef said his comedy aims to bring up uncomfortable topics, such as the increasing mistrust of immigrants in America and particularly Arab Muslim immigrants, who may be viewed as potential terrorists. The comedian said practicing Islam is a personal choice and part of his American identity.
Rahman, of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center, echoed that sentiment.
“I’m actually getting tired of having to apologize for being Muslim, because there is no reason to,” he said. “I’m an American, I’m a Muslim and there are no challenges, I feel, or the intersectionality of my religion as well as my Americanism don’t contradict one another.”
Voice of America