After catching up with They Call Us Bruce last month, I found out that They Call Us Bruce is actually part of the Potluck Podcast Collective, a network of Asian-American-hosted podcasts that discuss both serious and more comedic Asian-American issues. Starved as I was for Asian-American content, I decided to check out the other podcasts and eventually settled on #GoodMuslimBadMuslim, a podcast about American Muslim issues hosted by Bengali-American Tanzila Ahmed and Iranian-American Zahra Noorbakhsh. I found it to be a funny and informative look into both current events and American Muslim concerns about said events.
Unlike the fairly new They Call Us Bruce, #GoodMuslimBadMuslim has been around since 2015 and has racked up bucketloads of good press since then. They even went to the White House (under former president Obama, obviously) to do an episode of their show live. Taz and Zahra are particularly suited to host a Muslim issues podcast—Taz is a political activist and writer and Zahra is a writer, comedian, and satirist whose work focuses on her second generation immigrant experience and her white husband. Together the two of them tackle the prevalent cultural narrative that Muslims are either “good” Muslims or “bad” Muslims.
There are several points of view from which to consider this question. For example, Zahra is a Muslim who eats pork, drinks alcohol, doesn’t wear the hijab, and is okay with premarital sex, all things that are Not Cool in traditional Muslim culture. Taz, on the other hand, doesn’t drink alcohol or eat pork—but does love punk bands. To their Muslim parents, they were seen as “bad” Muslims. But to the American community, they were seen as “good” Muslims—Zahra married into a white, conservative, Tea Party family, and to her in-laws, she’s a “good” one because of how assimilated she is. And on a national rather than personal level, there’s a whole other dimension to this discussion—politicians of both parties have bought into the idea that you can either be a Muslim doctor or army vet, or you could be a terrorist, and there’s absolutely no in between. So if you’re not performing the role of a “good” Muslim in every way, you’ve somehow laid yourself open to criticism and Islamophobia.
Because of the content matter, #GoodMuslimBadMuslim is at times difficult to listen to. Zahra shares a very personal pre-9/11 story about her brother almost dying because a doctor was Islamophobic, and in almost every episode, the hosts discuss both ISIS-related attacks and Islamophobic attacks on Muslims. Catching up with their previous coverage of the election was particularly painful—I literally cringed in prognosticated shame when one host said hopefully that maybe Islamophobia would get better after the 2016 election. And unfortunately, like many other commentators before them, they get a tad ableist when discussing sensitive political topics such as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s tangerine-skinned, fluffy-haired cousin in the Oval Office. But the show never comes close to being a downer—at its heart, it’s a show about the lives of two Muslim-American women, and Taz and Zahra share hilarious problems about dating while Muslim, Zayn Malik’s potential manscaping issues, and Taz’s eternal crush on the dreamy Riz Ahmed. (As she points out, they could get married and neither of them would have to change their names!) They also make a point of including some jokingly-named “Homework Links” with each episode; with just a few more clicks, you can read about the issues they discuss in more depth. It’s an educational podcast with which to spend a few hours, and it’s particularly useful (and important) to learn more about the Muslim-American experience as anti-Muslim hate crimes continue to rise in the U.S.