Who’s Afraid of Aymann Ismail?

Did You Hear the One About Muslims Who Tell Profane Jokes About Islam?

I went to see R-rated Muslim comics perform, and they taught me something about free speech.

This video is part of “Who’s Afraid of Aymann Ismail?,” a series featuring Slate’s Aymann Ismail confronting fears about Muslims. Follow along on the series Facebook page.

When you think of what happens to people who mock Islam, your mind probably goes to Charlie Hebdo, or Theo van Gogh, or the violent attack outside the “Draw Muhammad” contest in Texas. Violence by Muslim extremists who believe they’re defending Islam from “blasphemy” is very real. And it’s created a climate where many people believe, often stridently, that you can’t offend Muslims without consequences.


In my experience, many Muslims in America hold beliefs closer to Dean Obeidallah’s. He’s a SiriusXM host who frequently moonlights as a TV commentator defending people’s right to say whatever the hell they want. With comedian Maysoon Zayid, he created Muslim Funny Fest, a three-year-old standup comedy festival that’s partly designed to counter the grim narrative about Muslim intolerance. I went on “haram night,” the R-rated evening show where Muslim comedians went uncensored. And it got graphic pretty quick.

In this episode, I interview some of the comedians who told the most explicit jokes. Many are the children of Muslim immigrants, who should know better than anyone about what happens when you “offend Islam.” Some had performed their comedy all around the world, and what they’ve discovered surprised even me.

—Aymann Ismail

This series is written and produced by Aymann Ismail and Jeffrey Bloomer, and edited by Aymann Ismail.

You can also watch episodes on why it’s so hard to stop wearing the hijab, homophobia in Islam, and Ramadan.