Whether it was in the Kuraby Mosque delivering a serious lecture or on stage at the Brisbane City Hall, both Preacher Moss and Azhar Usman, members of the Allah Made Me Funny Comedy Tour, were equally at home at keeping their audiences enthralled and entertained.
In between a gruelling schedule of radio and phone interviews the pair found the time during their stay in Brisbane to talk to Mosque goers on some serious issues as well.
Not many would have been aware that literally minutes prior to appearing on stage on Thursday night Preacher Moss was almost overcome by the dreaded lurgy and had to be treated by our resident team doctor backstage for an acute gastric infection. However, in true showbiz style Preacher Moss completed his segment without so much as a hint of the pain and discomfiture he was going through.
The word Desi was used on a number of occasions during the show. For those unfamiliar with the term it refers to people of South Asian origin, including British Asians, South Asian Americans or people of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi origins.
Alison Cotes is a Brisbane writer. She attended the Allah Made Me Funny show on Thursday night and this is her review of the performance she has just completed for a non-Muslim audience:
To people who know nothing about it, the term Muslim humour may seem like an oxymoron, but not all followers of the Islamic faith are sour, dour religious fanatics. There were plenty of women in headscarves at the performance of Allah made me Funny in City Hall on Thursday night, and plenty of men in beards wearing kufi, the traditional head dress in many countries, but even those in the long loose garment known either as galabia or dishdash were enjoying the jokes as much as the non-Muslims were. Of course I missed some of the in-jokes , but the stylish young woman sitting next to me explained them to me in between giggles.
We hear plenty of anti-Muslim humour, much of which is very offensive, but perhaps only a Muslim comic call tell a joke like the following and get away with it. For those of you who haven’t heard it, it goes like this:
A Muslim man walks into a club and asks to see the manager. “What do you want?” the manager asks him. “To tell jokes about terrorism,” says the Muslim. That night he leaves the stage to tumultuous applause.
I took a deep breath, not knowing how to react, but the big crowd loved it, and soon I relaxed and was laughing away with everyone else at jokes against George Dubya and Little Johnny Howard, who was described as “George W Bush with a black man’s lips”.
What was surprising was the number of terrorist jokes – “A veiled Muslim women was sitting in front of two young white Australian lads on a bus. One of them reached out his hand to tweak off her veil, but was restrained by his friend. “Don’t do that,” he said. “She’ll kill us all!”
The sophisticated Muslim audience loved this, for they have learned, just as Jews, Aborigines and other minority groups have, to laugh at the prejudices against them, but for me it was a sobering experience, and I wondered how a mainstream Australian audience would have reacted – probably with guffaws of recognition at what they regarded as truth. You need to be in a minority (as the non-Muslims were in this audience) to know how it feels to be the minority.
What this show did prove was that humour is cultural rather than strictly religious. Both the comics, Preacher Moss and Azhar Usman, are American, Moss from an Afro-American background, and Usman an American of Indian background (i.e. the Asian sub-continent as opposed to native Americans). Both are coloured, and much of the humour revolved around appearance, and perhaps for an Australian audience the humour was more about being black in a mainly white USA. “At least in Australia I’m hated for being American, not for being Muslim,” said Usman, while Preacher Moss made the quip that Americans were afraid of only two kinds of people, blacks and Muslims, and he qualified on both counts.
So it was a show about prejudice, rather than being specifically Muslim, for you could substitute any racial or religious minority in many of the jokes and they would still make uncomfortable sense in any context.
There were no religious or sexual jokes, as you find in Western comedy, and no swearing, but that just shows that these are not essential elements of comedy, for most of the show was excruciatingly funny. It was very much a family show, but as Preacher Moss remarked, it couldn’t possibly be a Muslim gig, for there were no hordes of children running around unsupervised.
Each comic approached his subject in a different way, Preacher Moss much more light-hearted than Usman, who made no attempt to hide his strong anti-American and anti-Western bias. His jokes had a more cutting edge, and that made them, for me, less funny, because his appearance was more stereotypical, and made me uncomfortably aware of how our perceptions are shaped by the media.
His question “Do you know that the country of Niger is named after a racist slur” had an edge of paranoia on the humour, as did his word-play about the India-Pakistani conflict over Kashmir really being about Mere Cash. You can appreciate the sentiment, as you can appreciate his suggestion that Operation Iraqi Freedom should be renamed Operation Iraqi Liberation, with its acronym OIL, but it was rather a case of overkill.
This stand-up comedy show is, in the words of its producers, “an attempt by a group of American Muslim comics to counter the negative stereotypes and attitudes about Muslims and Arabs by poking fun at themselves, their communities and the prejudices they face.” My problem with it was that it didn’t really come to grips with specifically Arab humour, and when I asked one of the organisers afterwards why not, he replied with a grin that perhaps it’s Middle Eastern humour that’s the oxymoron. I have to disagree, for I’ve just returned from the Syria and Jordan, and found that once the locals felt relaxed with Westerners, they had as many jokes against themselves and their government as we do.
I didn’t know quite to make of this, for certainly there were very few Arabs in the audience – only one man put his hand up and declared himself an Iranian. The rest were Turks, Malaysians, Pakistanis, Lebanese and Indians.
But that’s a cultural question for another time and place. My only disappointment with this show that it was too American in its focus, and I’m eager to see more home-grown Muslin comics.
But as a barrier-breaking experience it could have done with a wider audience, because it’s a show about prejudice rather than religion, and these issues are better tackled through comedy than by confrontation.
Alison Cotes studied at the Universities of Queensland and Melbourne, and has an MA in English Literature as well as qualifications in teaching and librarianship.
She taught in the English Department of The University of Queensland for 13 years, and has been a guest lecturer at the University of Heidleberg in Germany, and at St George's Theological College in Jerusalem.
After a varied career in academia, publishing, and radio and television broadcasting, she is now a freelance writer and public speaker, perhaps best-known for her articles in The Courier-Mail, where for five years she wrote a controversial but popular column on theological issues, for which she received a number of international awards. She was a leading figure in the Movement for the Ordination of Women, and has an international reputation as a radical feminist theologian.
BOOKS That Shook The World. Good title by Allen & Unwin for its series of "biographies" of history's most telling and troublesome texts. The series began with Plato's The Republic and Darwin's Origin Of Species, and I've been talking to the authors as each new volume arrives - to Francis Wheen on Das Kapital and Christopher Hitchens on the Rights Of Man. Christopher and I might disagree on Iraq, but we sing the same song on Thomas Paine.
While knowing something of Plato’s writing and a little more of Darwin’s, Marx’s and Paine’s, I was abysmally ignorant of the subject of a new book in the series, the Koran – by far the most influential text on the planet in the early 21st century, and by far the most misunderstood. For example, I didn’t realise that it’s deeply offensive to Muslims to describe the Koran as the work of the Prophet Mohammed. Muslims don’t think for a moment that he wrote it. Tradition holds that he couldn’t have, because he was illiterate. Rather he received it – channelled it, if you like.
So the words of the Koran are God’s, not man’s, descending to us via the Angel Gabriel with Mohammed taking dictation. This took a few years, between 610 and 622 AD, beginning during Ramadan, which turns out to be rooted in an ancient Arab tradition when blood feuds were called off.
Protests by Christian and Jewish fundamentalists notwithstanding, we endlessly debate the authorship of the Bible. Thus Harold Bloom told me that some of the best bits in the Old Testament were written by women, and more scholars argue about the authenticity of the gospels than angels dance on the heads of pins. (The next in this series of world-shaking books is Karen Armstrong’s biography of the Bible.)
But for the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims, such questions or suggestions would be heretical. While the Koran is forever open to debate, while its meanings are constantly analysed, you’re dealing with God’s official handbook. Given that Australia has a great many Muslim neighbours, and that we’re at war with Muslims in a few countries, it’s probably as well to understand this.
The biography of the Koran was written by Bruce Lawrence, Professor of Religion at Duke University, who told my radio listeners that Koran means “recitation”. And recite it Muslims do. Another guest on my program, Abdullah Saeed, Sultan of Oman and Professor of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne, told how he’d memorised the entire text by the time he was six – and would recite it in Arabic all the time, even though he didn’t understand the language. It’s the same for 80 per cent of the world’s Muslims, who are not Arabs; from Africa to Southeast Asia, they still recite the Koran in Arabic, a bit like Roman Catholics with the mass in Latin.
That degree of devotion, rarely surviving in the other monotheistic faiths, goes some way to explaining the intensity of reaction to Salman Rushdie in 1989 and the outrage over alleged abuses of the Koran in Guantanamo. Lawrence was in Indonesia during the Danish cartoon row, however, and is anxious to stress that 99.9 per cent of people there – like their co-religionists around the world – did not riot or burn buildings.
“ ‘Where are the moderate Muslims?’ ” people ask him. “They’re everywhere!” he says. “Two of them just won Nobel prizes – one for peace, the other for literature.”
Lawrence describes the Koran as sublimely poetic, any translation being a poor “echo”. “It moves, it glides, it soars, it sings. It is in this world but not part of it.”
As an atheist who observes all religion with at least an attempt at the detachment of a Martian anthropologist, I pass Lawrence’s views on to you. And his belief that the divine text is still open to argument and modernising. He calls the Koran “a book of signs” that requires endless discussion. It is not, it seems, a book of unequivocal rules. Nor is there an Islamic head office, a Vatican equivalent that defines dogma. The Koran is up for grabs – by Sunni, Shia or bin Laden. The text even states that some of its passages are firm while others are ambiguous – but doesn’t say which is which.
Now, in the 21st century, the debate rages on the internet between hard-line Islamists and majority moderates. “Militant moderates,” Lawrence says, “remain a fractious minority who stress the confrontational. The majority of Muslims demur.” And he insists that Islam is a religion of peace. So closely is the concept of peace (“salam”) related to surrender (“islam”) that the two are interchangeable.
Islam is a fact of life. As is the Koran. Neither is going away, and it would help if a few people in the White House (and our own Government) began to understand this. They could start with Lawrence’s book.
Condolences to Hassan Quorane and family
Ugas Mahmoud Quorane
We offer our condolences to Hassan Quorane on the loss of his father Ugas Mahmoud Quorane in Somalia.
As King and Ugas of his area Mr. Quorane Snr. will be given a funeral in accordance with his high stature and profile within his community.
Hassan is an Executive Member of Muslim Business Network (MBN).
SA will host 2010 World Cup, says Blatter
The 2010 World Cup will be staged in South Africa - that's final - and you can take it from Fifa chief Sepp Blatter.
Blatter sent an unequivocal message that banishes persistent speculation that the event could be moved if South Africa fell behind schedule.
Blatter said: "Plan A is the 2010 World Cup will be staged in South Africa. 'Plan C is the 2010 World Cup will be staged in South Africa'. "Plan B is the 2010 World Cup will be staged in South Africa.
Blatter's words were quoted in Cape Town on Wednesday by Fifa communications director Markus Siegler.
Siegler said Blatter had been due to address Parliament ahead of this week's 2010 Kick-off Workshop at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, but had been unable to do so for health reasons.
On Blatter's behalf, Siegler said: "You are absolutely on schedule, you're absolutely on track. You're even more advanced than the Germans were four years ago.
'I was very encouraged by the response'. "Any doubts are completely unfair. This country - and I know this country - is absolutely capable."
Germany, the previous hosts, had also faced "a lot of problems", he said.
"At least South Africa's economy is growing - Germany's is not."
Siegler said South Africa stood to benefit enormously from the "vast publicity" the tournament would bring.
"All the cities will be put on the world map," he said.
Hundreds of hours of programming on television channels around the world would provide an extraordinary opportunity to showcase South Africa's culture, people and beautiful landscapes.
"I know you had the Cricket World Cup and the Rugby World Cup, but this in on a different level."
Among the concerns around the tournament plans are South Africa's high crime rate.
But Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula told Fifa delegates on Wednesday that he was confident spectators would be safe.
Nqakula said government was gaining the upper hand in the war against crime.
More than 500 suspects had been arrested in the past two months for more than 800 crimes, including murder, rape and robbery.
Much of the discussion at the workshop was held behind closed doors.
President Thabo Mbeki on Wednesday led a delegation of government ministers to meet Fifa officials, other 2010 partners and commercial sponsors at the workshop.
Cape Town mayor Helen Zille said afterwards: "I was very encouraged by the response to Cape Town's preparations."
But on Thursday the City of Cape Town was expected to be told even more money may be needed to finance the building of the proposed Green Point Stadium, which so far has a budget of about R3-billion.
This was because engineers have discovered that in order to dig the foundations as deep as required, they would have to deal with a layer of bedrock.
But Zille promised that the implications would not be "dramatic".
Elsewhere on the money front, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel was expected to reveal the government's financial contribution for stadiums and transport infrastructure in his medium-term budget statement today.
Deputy Finance Minister Jabu Moleketi said Manuel's budget adjustments would "indicate resource allocations to allow construction to begin in January".
The budget allocated would enable South Africa to deliver a world-class tournament.
The tournament organizing committee has told the Treasury it needs R8.3-billion to build or upgrade the 10 stadiums required for Africa's first World Cup.
I would like to commend the Crescents of Brisbane team in arranging for the "Allah made me funny" at the Brisbane City Hall.
I found the humor to be of high quality and my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the show.
However, I have two issues which I believe need to be raised.
1. We were at the City Hall at 7pm exactly. This was the start time indicated on the ticket. However, the show only started after 7:30pm. This is not acceptable, especially as there were many non muslim in the audience.
Even if only one person was there, the show should have start on time.
2. There were areas in the hall were the speakers were not working. A well functioning audio system was probably the most important component of the show. Quite clearly this is also not acceptable.
The sound system should have been tested prior to the show and a backup plan should also have been in place in the event of problems developing with the system.
Salaams Yunus Solwa
[Crescents of Brisbane response] We thank you for your email and your comments and we are pleased that you and your wife enjoyed the show.
In response to your comments:
1. Preacher Moss took severely ill minutes before the show and a doctor had to attend to him. It was a minor miracle he was able to get on stage at all. Also, it was totally in the hands of the performers as to when they were ready to appear on stage and we had no control over this on the night.
2. The sound and lighting systems were managed by a professional company who have been working the City Hall for several years now. It had been checked thoroughly two hours before the show. When we brought the problem to the attention of the technicians it turned out to be a single speaker which was faulty and one which could not be fixed at short notice. We have lodged a report with the BCC regarding the problem.
We regret that it was beyond our capacity to pre-empt both eventualities.
I am requesting if you know of any family who would like to have a Muslim student from Tehran. He is 17 years old and will be here for 2 years. The rent paid to the family will be $200 per week.
Sina will be attending Whites Hill College and then commencing at Yeronga in July 2007.
We need a homestay family who live in the Southside of Brisbane and have knowledge of his culture.
If you have any one in mind please ask them to phone me with further questions and info. Many thanks for your assistance in this matter.
ISP Yeronga State High School Homestay/Coordinator
159 Villa Street,
Yeronga Qld 4104
Mulla Nasruddin enters a store that sells curtains. He tells the salesman, "I would like to buy a pair of pink curtains." The salesman assures him that they have a large selection of pink curtains.
He shows Nasruddin several patterns, but he seems to have a hard time choosing. Finally he selects a lovely pink floral print. The salesman then asks what size curtains he needs. The good Mulla promptly replies, "Fifteen inches." "Fifteen inches?" asked the salesman. "That sounds very small - what room are they for?"
He tells him that they aren't for a room, but they are for his computer monitor. The surprised salesman replies, "But Brother, computers do not need curtains!"
He says, "Fool! What you mean? I've got Windoooooows!"
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Australian Muslim Achievement Awards
Mission of Hope, Sydney
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