Comic tackles stereotypes

Muslim comedian Azhar Usman joked about the stereotypes surrounding the Islamic faith and its connection to terrorism at Jack Morton Auditorium Friday.

The televised news broadcast put on by CNN Turk’s Mithat Bereket involved a short stand-up routine from Usman, followed by an informal town hall question-and-answer session between the Chicago native and the audience. Throughout the broadcast, Usman strived to convey the true nature of Muslim people and his own ideas about how to improve America’s perception of Islam.

“Unlike what most people believe, the reality of Islam as a theological tradition is that it is a religion of mercy,” said Usman, a member of the “Allah Made Me Funny” comedy troupe. “The Muslim concept of Allah is that he is a god of mercy.”

The laid back standup artist said the primary reason for the negative perception of Islam is from negative media attention. He said in order to overcome this perception, American-Muslim people must get involved.

“We as Muslims have to get involved in media and entertainment,” Usman said. “I wish that there were more Muslim movie directors, and screenwriters, and actors and musicians. I think that we need to get out there and take on these positions in a major way if we hope to seriously change people’s perceptions.”

Usman said that terrorism is not simply violence committed by radical Islamic fundamentalists, but it is also the wars waged by wealthy, powerful governments such as the United States.

“The killing of innocent human life – whether it’s done by a man with brown skin, and white clothing, in a dark cave, or a man with white skin, and a dark suit, in a white house – is wrong,” he said.

Usman, who is of Indian descent, worked as a lawyer after receiving his law degree from University of Minnesota. In early 2001, he left the profession to begin performing stand-up around the country.

“I don’t feel like I chose comedy,” he said “Comedy chose me.”

The comedian, who said he has been inspired by British humorist Sir Peter Ustinov and Jerry Seinfeld, said good comedians are the ones who can laugh at themselves.

“When you’re laughing at yourself it’s disarming, and it becomes easy for the audience to laugh along with you,” Usman said. “Stand-up is an art of protest.”

Through the use of humor, Usman said he strives to combat the misperception that Muslims are somehow less than human.

Usman said stereotyping is a real problem facing American-Muslims today.

“It’s one thing when a stereotype is perpetuated, but it’s an entirely different thing when that stereotype is actually dehumanizing,” he said. “And right now, as we speak, Muslims are being dehumanized.”

Students in attendance at the show said the discussion was worthwhile experience.

“I really liked what he had to say,” senior Mike Jacobs said. “He gave a lot of in-depth analysis of Islam and it’s good that it is being broadcast on an international, broad level for the rest of the world to see.”

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