How Hulu’s ‘Ramy’ is Reclaiming the Narrative on Religion

“You’re like the kids in Egypt. They throw down the government, big revolution eh? Then what? No plan!” quips Uncle Naseem in episode 2 of Hulu’s original web series Ramy.

Ramy is co-created by comedian Ramy Youssef, Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch, and stars Youssef as Ramy Hasan – a first generation Egyptian-American millennial from New Jersey.

Following the strain of a recent crop of television series attempting to depict the mundane realities or the undramatic particularity of millennial life (Master of None, Fleabag, Atlanta – these are the usual suspects for comparison), Ramy succeeds in bringing to the fore a character hardly ever seen. Ramy, the character, is a religious millennial trying to reconcile his ‘modern’ lifestyle with the ideas of religion and god. The fact that he is a practising Muslim is only incidental.

All that Ramy wants is to be “good”, but he routinely engages in premarital sex and other lesser sacrileges. He routinely misses his prayers and visits the mosque only when his personal life is in crisis. In the eyes of the conservative Muslim, Ramy does not qualify as a ‘true’ Muslim. But in the eyes of others, he is “too Muslim”. A woman he is dating is taken aback when she realises that he is, “Muslim-Muslim”, and not just culturally Muslim. For 12-year-old Ramy’s classmates in a post 9/11 America, he is a terrorist, point blank.

His struggle is palpable when he says, “I look at my parents and everything is fine because they have god”, and he does believe in god (‘There are just too many signs!’), but he cannot deny the profound spiritual disconnect that he feels. This is the heart of the show – an honest attempt to de-stigmatise religion for those who view it as a regressive concept, while simultaneously questioning religious rigidity.

Ramy’s friendship with Steve (portrayed by Steve Way, Ramy Youssef’s real-life friend), who suffers from muscular dystrophy (in real life too), makes for some of the most deeply honest portrayals of human behaviour. Steve is not afraid to question Ramy’s double standards and dubious ‘principles’: “So there’s someone in the sky that’s cool with your fucking but draws the line at ecstasy! I think your principles is that you’re a pussy.”

His friends Mo and Ahmed are, according to this interview, an attempt at a different kind of portrayal of male friendships.

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His friends are out there to support him emotionally, provide him with good advice to ‘settle down’ in life while espousing classic patriarchal prejudices. Their contorted logic for sending ‘dick pics’ to women as a sign of respect (in earnest!) will leave you in splits.

Ramy’s family – his Palestinian refugee mother Maysa (who has a penchant for conspiracy theories), his Egyptian father Farouk (who believes that, “Passion is a made up idea. It is for white people”) and his feisty sister Dena (who deserves her own spin-off series to be honest) – make for delightful characters.

His anti-Semitic and misogynistic uncle Naseem, as vile as he is, provides some of the best comedic relief in the show. In his musings on the Jewish, I am sure we can see hints of that quintessential bigoted relative in our lives.

While I personally loved the depiction of women in the series – two dedicated episodes give us a glimpse into the secret lives of Dina and Maysa, and will hit home hard for any woman watching (both episodes were written by Bridget Bedard) – it has also drawn some flak.

As with anything to do with religion, the series has drawn sharp responses from across the spectrum. Hardline religious conservatives are not happy, to put it subtly.

But the series has won accolades for its honest and matter-of-fact portrayal of a practising Muslim, a rarity in mainstream media.

As for atheists and agnostics and others who despise organised religion in general – and this is coming from an atheist herself – I think Ramy seeks to challenge this de facto categorisation of religious individuals as retrograde.

It comes as good news that the series has been renewed for its second season on Hulu. Speculations are rife that second season might star Mahershala Ali (of Moonlight fame).

With its incisive storytelling, absurd and uncomfortable topical humour, diverse cast,  refreshing soundtrack, Ramy is the kind of show we need, especially in the prevailing noxious political climate.

We need this show to inspire a better future and hopefully bury a few stereotypes.

Ujani Bhattacharya is pursuing her Masters in Economics from Jadavpur University, Kolkata and works as a photographer for the rest of her time.