By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
"Even though it might seem mundane at a general level," says Baig, "for the Muslim audience, the Muslim market, to see something like that, it's just overwhelming because, 'Oh, my God, you know, what are you doing? You're putting humor and you're putting Islam?' " They printed up 50 of each, hoping, at best, to break even and maybe get a few chuckles and accolades.
"I was definitely nervous," says Afeef Abdul-Majeed, a co-founder of Islamica who met Baig and Ahmed in college and handles the operations and finance side of the company. "It's like, you don't know how people will react. You don't know if someone's going to walk up and say, 'Hey, you guys have to get out of here -- these are degrading, these are wrong.' " Were they, he feared, marching down the road to Rushdie?
Ahmed was doubly nervous, having never attended a predominantly Muslim event. "It was a lot of shattered stereotypes," he says. "Because, again, I was approaching it as like how anybody else would: thinking there's going to be a bunch of people in turbans walking around, you know, yodeling and smelling all sorts of different smells."
In two and a half hours, they sold out. Young people would stop them on the convention floor: "Where'd you get that shirt?" "Where'd you get that shirt?" They made up prices and return policies on the fly. "Do you take checks?" Sometimes Baig would say one thing and someone else would say another. They just shrugged and kept selling. By the end of the day, they realized they had stumbled into a bona fide undiscovered subculture. Our faith? Cool?
Man Enraged That Two-Year Old Sister Is In Brothers Section
Two-year-old Nida Malik had her hand in her mouth when Bazaam spotted her.
"It was like I was at a wild disco with all this free mixing of the genders!" exclaimed an irate Bazaam.
"Why don't we set up a casino in here with girls in peacock outfit?"
The Center's director was unavailable for comment.
-- Islamica News, Issue 5
One day toward the end of that year, Baig's co-worker in IT called him over. "Check this out," he said, pointing to his computer screen. Baig read a few articles from this faux newspaper that called itself The Onion.
"And I'm laughing my ass off and a lot of the stuff was brilliant and, at the same time, we realized ourselves that there are so many parodies and paradoxes within our community -- that we can write about and that we've always joked around with in our own social circle," he says. "So we were inspired by various things, which include our own communities and the humor in that and seeing the, I guess, dichotomy between East meets West, observing our parents and how they co-existed in a Western world."
The Islamica Web site went up around that time, as a means to sell the T-shirts, tap into the budding Web community and more easily disseminate Islamica News, which became the satirical magnet that lures most visitors in. According to Ahmed, the fake story about the devil providing them with their inspiration was "a polite jab at the extremely conservative viewpoint." Six years, seven issues and more than 60 articles later, they seem to have only one bias: Everyone is fair game.
The hijab is a favorite source of humor, as are the frequent trans-illiterations of broken English. "No Ill Eagle Barking In The Barking Lot," scrawls the pidgin sign maker from Issue 2. They take playful digs at themselves ("Doctors Ticked At All These 'New Computer Guys,' " Issue 1); Hollywood ("Yet Another Hollywood Film Slanders Islam," Issue 2); MSAs ("Local MSA Still Ponders Reason For Its Existence: Community, MSA Members Unsure Why They Meet Once A Week," Issue 3); law enforcement ("FBI Cracks Down On Lemonade Stand Ring, Continues To Sour Relations With Arab Community," Issue 3); anti-Semites ("Man Blames Everything On Jews," Issue 7); liberal and conservative Muslims.
Their humor teeters between the obvious and the absurd, the witty and the goofy (what's not to like about Teletubbies with beards and skullcaps?); it is both highbrow and low (farting imams show up a lot in the world of Islamica). John Ashcroft and Sadaam Hussein get roasted alike.
The discussion boards offer young Muslims a chance to sound off on serious topics like sex, Wahhabism, the virtues and flaws of America, and arranged marriages, in addition to lighter subjects like hip-hop, Final Fantasy VII, whether biryani is overrated, whether boxing is halal and whether 22 is middle-aged. The Islamica crew and volunteer moderators try to censor only swearing and praise for the killing of innocent civilians.
According to Ahmed, their site is receiving 2.4 million page-views a month, a figure that's growing 10 percent a month. There are more than 3,000 members from 107 countries in the forum community. They've kept up at the conventions, creating 25 more T-shirt designs to sell, and have used their booth to gauge reactions and test ideas. They've ventured into filmmaking, shooting Muslim spoof versions of The Blair Witch Project and MTV's The Real World. Of late, they've been dabbling in live comedy sketches and hope to assemble a full show by the end of this year.