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‘Salaah helped me in Hollywood’

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“I believe that when we laugh together we can break those stereotypes, barriers and those different ideas we may think we have about one another, and really open up to learn from each other.” So says Muslim American comedian, Omar Regan who is leading the pack of stand-up comics in the ‘halal comedy’ arena.

The Detroit born performer, who started out as a musician and has also made forays into the film sector, was in the city last week as the headline act of a fundraising show hosted by Islamic Relief South Africa. He also used the opportunity to promote his latest film, Islamic Sharia. His film career includes staring as Chris Tucker’s double in Rush Hour 2, as well as an appearance in the 2009 film, Life is Hot in Cracktown.

Regan is renowned for his unique take on stand-up comedy, which focuses on shattering the negative perceptions of the Islamic community through clean humour. Speaking to VOC’s Drivetime Regan said the concept of halal comedy sought to tell relatable and true stories, in a more humorous manner.

“The halal comedy is always clean, there is no profanity, and even the jokes are focused on not being offensive to anyone,” he explained.

Despite Islamic comedy being on the rise in recent years, many Muslim comedians, particularly those in Western countries, were faced with notable challenges post 9/11. Despite being a longstanding figure in the field, Regan admitted that his dedication to comedy only peaked from 2008 onwards, meaning he was not so much the subject of the sort of backlash many Muslim performers faced. Despite this, he acknowledged that the years succeeding the tragic attack on the World Trade Centre, was the time when most people needed to hear from Muslims.

As the film industry continues its focus on the ‘war on terror’ concept, more often than not featuring Muslims in a less than glowing light, the need has arisen for more positive Islamic feature films. To address this need, Regan has launched a project entitled ‘Halalywood’, with the goal of increasing Muslim participation in the entertainment sector.

Having initially tried his hand at film, he conceded that he had faced numerous challenges and struggles in trying to make it in the field.

“You are outnumbered. It’s a force that you think that you can win, but it’s really bigger than you. You start understanding that you need something like that spiritual strength or that strength that you can’t see, like you can’t see your blessings and protection from your salaah, but it’s there. I’m grateful that the salaah helped me in Hollywood with all of the different experiences that I had,” he said.

Not one to give on the dream, Regan has recently collaborated with fellow American comedian, Babi Ali to write, direct, and star in a new halal comedy film entitled American Sharia. The movie, focusing on the concept of Islamophobia, seeks to give the broader population an insight as to how Muslims are affected by racism on a daily basis.

“They really like to associate Islam with terrorism which is so not, and they know it. They want to use it to promote fear and control people. We really wanted to highlight that, and I think we have really been able to pull it off,” he said, further suggesting that they had five follow up scripts in the works.

“We need to promote this around the world and eradicate (the idea) that Islam is associated with terrorism. We need to eradicate the fear they are promoting with this Islamophobia propaganda.”

The trailer for the film can be watched via the following link: VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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