Podcast Review: Good Muslim, Bad Muslim

I’m going to start trying to write more reviews of the things that I consume. My first one, albeit a strange medium to review (Ira Glass just tweeted about this), is going to be a podcast review. I listen to over 25 podcasts on the regular and rarely have the time to consume any more, but find myself consistently browsing the iTunes podcast section. Last week as I was browsing, I came across one titled Good Muslim, Bad Muslim and decided to give it a listen. Here are my thoughts on it:

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim is hosted by two comedians: Tanzila ‘Taz’ Ahmed and Zahra Noorbakhsh, both women who grew up in the United States as Muslims, but feel varying degrees of connection to the religious practice today. However, they remain strongly connected to their families and culture from which their religion is inextricably tied, even if their personal practice has dwindled over time.

The title refers to this idea that, as Ahmed and Noorbaksh explain, there are varying expectations thrown around as a Muslim from both inside and outside the Muslim community. To be a good Muslim according to Muslims has to do with following the guidelines set by the religion, but to those outside the religion a good Muslim may be someone who doesn’t hold onto what they see to be strict guidelines and rigid belief. This is the world that many third culture kids have to inhabit, that of their parents who bring in expectations from their own worlds and of their new friends who are from a different culture, experiencing their own youthful rebellion and world exploration.

Not only is this tension a fascinating one, but the hosts explore it with great humor and wit. The show is more of a comedy podcast than a cultural or religious one–each revelatory point is met with funny anecdotes that allow it to flow from topic to topic. This ability to make fun of people on both sides allows any outsider (like me) to enter in, understand, and perhaps relate to their lives.

I found myself–raised an Evangelical Christian and still a practicing one–relating a lot to their world. Though I wasn’t raised in an outside culture, Evangelicalism is known to create its own separate way of viewing the world, one that can be quite at odds with what popular culture is doing, even with American culture’s ties to Christianity. There lies a tension–easier than being a Muslim in America I’m sure–to either be a ‘cool’ Christian, one who constantly says “I’m a Christian, but I’m not like those other Christians”, or to lean the other direction toward a more fundamentalist rigidity.

There’s an incredible cognitive dissonance required to walk through the world like this. Respecting the authority of your parents and their religion (who tell you to reject those who tell you your beliefs are wrong) and your peers on the outside (who may not tell you to reject it, but have no understanding as to why you should live that way). Good Muslim, Bad Muslim reaches right at the center of this, doing so with humor and empathy, shedding a light on globalized America.

(Oh I didn’t mention that they talk about Serial a bunch, giving the perspective from someone raised by immigrant Muslim parents–like Adnan–presenting, perhaps, an entirely different way of thinking about the show.)

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