Takbir! Ramy Youssef just won the first Golden Globe of the night, for best actor in a comedy series for Ramy, and then got on stage and said this: “I would like to thank my God. Allahu akbar. Thank you, God.”
That’s major. I’ll admit I’ve got a dumb smile on my face at least partly because both Youssef and I are Egyptian Americans from New Jersey, and it felt like our whole block was up there with him. For the longest time, the only channel that had images of folks who looked like us was the news. But now? We’re walking past Bill Hader and Paul Rudd to collect our Golden Globes.
But this is special for another reason. Wearing his fancy maroon suit and ivory white kicks, Youssef strutted up the stage, hugged Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, and then said what I’d already been chanting for him at home: “Allahu akbar. Thank you, God.” He said it gently and redundantly—praising God in first English, then Arabic, so as not to cause alarm at the Beverly Hilton Ballroom—but that made a world of difference for us Muslim fans watching from home.
The phrase “Allahu akbar” is a normal one for Muslims all over the world. We say it when we do our daily prayers, when Mohamed Salah scores a goal, and at weddings and funerals. It’s as common as “Thank God” and as complex as “Aloha.” But for me, Youssef sneaking in that phrase is political, easy to read as a deliberate protest against the ways non-Muslims have been programmed to believe “Allahu akbar” is a threatening war cry. Hearing him say it, in his fancy suit alongside beaming actresses like Witherspoon and Aniston, was his way of thrusting his uncompromised identity into the Hollywood elite diaspora.
We hear a lot of talk about assimilating. The right demands that we Muslims “fit in” and weave ourselves into the fabric of America. I’ve always thought of that as a threat—as if the only way to assimilate is to strip myself of what made me different. Ramy is a show about negotiating Youssef’s specific slice of American Muslim identity, and in his brief and elegant speech, he showed that real assimilation happens when ideas that on the surface seem to clash begin to appear together, and become normal. I usually avoid praising God in Arabic when I’m in places too public. If it’s a regular sight at the Golden Globes, maybe that could change. That’s what assimilation truly looks like for Muslims in America.
Youssef isn’t the first Muslim or even the first Ramy to win a Golden Globe, but this award is unique, not least for how he celebrated. He’s currently working on Season 2 of Ramy for Hulu, with help from another Muslim who won a Golden Globe, Mahershala Ali. I believe they’re working on something much bigger than TV.