It’s been very hard to write this week. Feeling blah and everything I write seems to go nowhere and the post I’ve been working on for Out of the White Nest for months is just hard and sad. Not your concern; but I’ve committed to averaging a post a week in 2022, so this is why you’re getting…
a TV show review!
Sort of. There’s a vague spoiler or two in this, but nothing you couldn’t see coming once you jump into it. Ramy is such a good show, and so groundbreaking for Muslim-centered media, that I strongly recommend you give it a try. If you hate vague spoilers, go ahead & skip this in lieu of the show itself.
Is Ramy the first TV comedy centered on spiritual development? I think it’s the first I’ve seen. Of course there are sitcoms that deal with spirituality in an indirect manner – there are spiritual elements to some of my faves, like The Good Place and BoJack Horseman, but any centered on spirituality? Enlightened! Yes. Excellent show, but it wasn’t a sitcom. I’d heard good things about Ramy (awards, etc.) but it wasn’t until a friend told me that the spiritual quest was the plot of the show that I started watching. The Muslim focus was also intriguing for me, because I know so little about the religion, because I do have some Muslim acquaintancefriends, and because I lovelovelove irreverent approaches to any religion that outsiders perceive as arbitrarily rigid.
Ramy is a 20-something second generation (American born) Egyptian-American Muslim. Neither his mother nor sister wear hijab, no one in his family prays regularly, his parents drink wine and bother him about marrying a Muslim girl in the same way a high-holy-days-only Jewish family would harass their kid about marrying a Jew. Ramy dates lots of Jews. And others. But not Muslim women. Except his cousin. He’s admittedly fucked up, but not exceptionally so, and not in any exceptional way. He’s very American: hungry in the midst of plenty, unable to be satisfied with what he has, and looking for answers. What’s exceptional about him is his persistent attempt to not be fucked up, to do the right thing, to be a better Muslim.
This fixation doesn’t stop him from sleeping with married women, lying to his Imam, offending his parents, neglecting his friends, and compulsively masturbating. In fact, almost everything he does wrong is the result of a messed up attempt to do the right thing. Some of these mistakes are laughable, some have serious consequences. Almost all of them are understandable, even if you are shaking your head in frustration as he falls into yet another ironic predicament.
The show is very funny, very educational for the non-Muslim, and just a quality piece of work all the way around, but what has me so excited about it (enough to share it with my Socially Engaged Buddhist group, appropriate or not) is how the show demonstrates, again and again, that there is no Answer. The Ramy on the screen is ignorant of the lesson he is teaching (at least so far – I’m only partway into season 2).
His attempt to remake himself during Ramadan reminded me of my desires around meditation retreats. I feel for him when he tries to “do good” and ends up in a morally questionable situation. I, too, have tried to get the people around me to dwell on spiritual matters when they had no interest in doing so. I have thought myself both better and worse than my peers in focusing on spirituality more than other elements of life. I have thought that a change of environment would get me up the next rung of enlightenment, that a different kind of practice would move me forward, that deprivation would help, that the right teacher is all I need, etcetera. That’s all fine. In fact, it’s all good, but it’s not a solution. As the Sheik says, “Nothing in and of itself is haram [forbidden]. It’s a matter of how we choose to engage with it.”
Those of us with a spiritual drive so often hope for that One thing that will solve it all or us, or enlighten us, or make us less irritable, more focused, less egocentric, “better” people. But we know, and we are forced to see again and again, that it’s a continual process. It’s day in and day out practice, returning to the cushion again and again, returning to the present moment, returning to love and empathy again and again, the pausing and listening and letting go of our ego and recognizing our interbeing moment after moment after moment. It’s not easy. And I love how the relatable mess of young Ramy demonstrates that again and again.