The Muslim “Cosby Show”

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Back in 2011, noting the backlash to the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” Katie Couric suggested what many American were perhaps already thinking: We need a Muslim Cosby Show.

A year earlier, ABC had their shot at producing such a show. But the network canned Funny in Farsi, their planned sitcom about Iranian-Americans based on the memoir of the same title by Firoozeh Dumas.

Five years later, Couric’s wish still hasn’t come true. Despite high, steady numbers of hate crimes facing Muslims since 2010, no American network has invested in a Muslim version of the Huxtables.

That didn’t deter Aasif Mandvi, the Chief Muslim Correspondent at the Daily Show. Along with the folks at Funny or Die, and funded with the support of a number of American organizations, Mandvi created Halal in the Family, a sitcom with a home on the Internet. Its four five-minute episodes, which you can find here, follow the aptly named Qu’osby family, as they hilariously navigate the rites of passage of American life, like their neighborhood’s Halloween decoration contest and their son’s student government campaign.

But it also tackles challenges specific to the Muslim community, like stereotyping and spying by law enforcement. Couched in humor, Halal deals with bullying from a girl at school, protests over the construction of mosques, and the paranoia that results from increased surveillance of Muslim citizens.

In one episode, the geometric sweater-clad Aasif Qu’osby is concerned that his new friend is an informant for the FBI. After realizing his mistake, he and the friend, played by another Daily Show star, laugh and realize simultaneously that:

“Muslims live under constant surveillance that few other groups are subjected to, while the FBI is busy recruiting people in our own community to spy on us!”

Mandvi’s goal for Halal wasn’t just to humanize Muslims, but to draw attention to real issues of prejudice and discrimination.

In an interview with the New York Times, Mandvi explains this two part mission:

“First of all, I want [Americans] to be entertained. And I want them to laugh. And then maybe [the show] will make people think about the absurdity of fear and prejudice, and say, ‘Oh that’s interesting, I never thought about it that way.’”

He hopes the show will inform viewers, and prompt them to help educate their friends. The Halal website provides brief summaries of the issues referenced in the show, along with embeddable infographics that viewers can share on social media. Mandvi realizes that most Americans don’t know that “the F.B.I. [is] going into mosques and spying on Americans,” and hopes that, armed with knowledge, they ask themselves: “As an American, how do I feel about that? Is this the America that I want to live in?”

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You can watch the episodes of Halal in the Family here, and read more about the show at the New York Times and at The Nation.

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