March 12, 2006
"People are in shock," Usman says of his experiences on airplanes. "They’re in the middle of conversation: ‘So where are you from? Oh. I’m gonna die! Honey, I love you.’"
Usman and fellow comedian Preacher Moss are part of what they call the "Allah Made Me Funny" Official Muslim Comedy Tour.
If comedy comes from tragedy and a little time — four years after September 11th — they’re hoping their time has come. There are at least six million Muslims in America, and if you didn’t know that, these two joke that it’s because many of them are hiding, reports CBS News correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi.
"People give me dirty looks. Imagine what it feels like? C’mon. Walking down the street looking at me like I was responsible for 9/11. 7-11 maybe, but not 9/11," Usman quips.
Moss jokes that his religion and ethnicity double the dirty looks he receives.
"I’m not only African American. I’m West Indian. I’m also Muslim. African American and Muslim. Do you know what that means? That means when police pull me over, I get two tickets," Moss cracks during a recent performance at Rochelle Township High School in rural Illinois.
Usman points out that Moss’s comedy is quite educational.
"Preacher likes to say something in his act which is that you know, Muslims, you got to get over this ‘9/11-itis.’ You know, if you didn’t do anything, act like you didn’t do anything," Usman says.
"I think part of the problem has been that Muslims feel psychologically burdened by, you know, the sins of another, you know? We don’t believe in that. Those guys are whackos. They’re crazy. They’re — they’re murderers. They’re barbarians. They have nothing to do with me. And I have nothing to do with them," Usman says emphatically.
That’s what Sumer Al-Jabari, a junior at Rochelle High, has been telling her classmates for years.
Imagine what it must be like: wearing a head scarf, when everyone else is in Abercrombie and Fitch. At first, Al-Jabari says, she was taunted.
"In middle school, in my lunch hour, they threw food at me — tomatoes and their spoons — and told me to go back to my country," Al-Jabari recalls.
But over time, the taunting has turned to curiosity. Classmates want to know about her life, what she believes in and what she can and can’t do. Stuff that at 16 years old she’s just trying to figure out herself.
Asked what restrictions she must adhere to, Al-Jabari says she cannot wear shorts so volleyball in gym class is out.
"A lot of times I get very tired of explaining. But at the same time, I really like it because I’m telling people something about me that they would understand me more and respect me for what I’m doing," Al-Jabari says.
Her struggle is not unique.
Like millions of others Al-Jabari’s trying to figure out what being Muslim-American means, and trying not to be defined by September 11th or stereotypes.
But every day, they’re up against a constant stream of images as well as public opinion. A CBS News poll last month found that 36 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of Muslims. About the same number of people, 39 percent, think Islam encourages violence more than other religions.
Which helps explain what happened to Mostafa Khalifa last fall.
He and a group of Muslim friends were in New Jersey at a New York Giants game. The crowd was fired up and in the third quarter a group of State Troopers started inching toward their section.
"So I kinda looked at them and thought, ‘Hmm, OK maybe they’re just making sure nobody else gets outta hand.’ And then a few minutes later," Khalifa says, "Meadowlands security comes up and says ‘OK, you five come with us"