It all started with a joke.
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Taz Ahmed and Zahra Noorbakhsh met on a book tour for “Love, InshAllah,” a collection of stories by American Muslim women to which they contributed, and launched a running joke afterward on Twitter.
“We started going back and forth, and we’d make fun of, you know, burka-bikinis, ‘Next time, on the Good Muslim, Bad Muslim podcast,’” said Ahmed. “And our followers were like, ‘Where do we hear this podcast?’”
Ahmed, an activist and writer, and Noorbakhsh, a comedian and writer, decided to give their fans what they wanted. The monthly “#GoodMuslimBadMuslim” podcast launched in 2015. The two have since been featured on NPR, Buzzfeed, Fusion, The New York Times and have gained thousands of fans with their honest and unfiltered take on the highly complicated yet incredibly average issues faced by American Muslim women.
“We’re not talking about hate crimes every episode, even though we do talk about hate crimes. And we’re not talking about sex in every episode, even though we do talk about sex,” said Ahmed. “The fact that we’re just two women having a normal conversation, the way women have conversations, is the political act. And that’s really powerful. And I think it’s, for some reason, it’s unexpected, even though it shouldn’t be unexpected.”
Episode topics range from ringtones and secret phobias to singer-songwriter Zayn Malik and Islamophobia. They talk about terrorist attacks and body waxing. Feminism and “Sesame Street.” Barbie dolls and politics. They talk about their families. Their love lives. Their fears and hopes and concerns. Their podcasts can feel like a conversation between two friends — who talk about both the small and big things affecting their days and their lives — offering an informative and thorough discussion for listeners’ benefit.
The podcast title, Ahmed and Noorbakhsh say, is a nod to common but misguided labeling of American Muslims, both by fellow Muslims and non-Muslims. The variety of topics covered in the conversations and the fact that the two hosts often disagree is, they say, proof enough that there is no one community with which all followers of the faith in the U.S. need to identify.
“I have ‘fatwa’d’ the use of the word ‘community.’ I’m sick of it,” said Noorbakhsh. “I have talked to so many bigoted, conservative Muslims, Republican Muslims, Muslims who don’t believe in reproductive rights, who don’t believe in queer rights. That’s not my community. I don’t connect with them.”
“I think a big part of being the person that creates the media and gets attacked all the time, is to not read the hateful comments,” said Ahmed. “I don’t think they’re listening. They’re definitely not listening to our podcast … So I don’t hear it.”
Check out the full conversation on this week’s episode of “Uncomfortable.”
Ahmed and Noorbakhsh were interviewed as part of a series called “Uncomfortable,” hosted by Amna Nawaz, that offers in-depth honest conversations with influential figures about issues dividing America.