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I Didn’t Expect ‘Master of None’ to Reflect My Experience With Religion
06.29.17
Photo via Netflix

When I tell people I’m Iranian, the next question is almost always the same. “So, are you Muslim?” I tell them I’m not and, like clockwork, I see a look of relief sweep across their faces.

I had a pretty unique religious upbringing, in that I was loosely raised both Muslim and Catholic. My parents weren’t really religious themselves, but they wanted me to have some sort of spiritual connection.

They told me I was Muslim. This was really for no reason other than that’s what their own parents were. They didn’t really give me any additional information about what the whole “being Muslim” thing meant, so when a teacher asked me in the first grade if I was Muslim, I answered, “Yeah, my parents grew up there.” I knew so little about Islam that I thought it was a region of Iran my family was from.

As I got older, I learned more about the religion from my grandma, who is actually a practicing Muslim. The overarching message was pretty simple: Be a nice person, help the poor whenever you can and always believe that there is one God and He loves you.

Then, in seventh grade, my parents sent me to Catholic school. The overarching message of Catholicism was literally the same exact thing: Be a nice person, help the poor whenever you can and always believe that there is one God and He loves you.


When I turned on the TV as a kid, I’d see the nice, “normal” families in all my favorite sitcoms heading to church on Sunday or celebrating Christmas together. They reminded me of my friends from school and the familiarity gave me a sense of comfort.

But I could never find that same sense of comfort when watching the Muslim characters on TV. Every time I saw a Muslim person on TV, it was in the form of either a silent woman in a hijab or a terrifying dude blowing something up. The Muslim people on TV were scary! They were nothing like my grandma.

My grandma, who watches Days of Our Lives as religiously as she prays five times daily. My grandma, who fasts during Ramadan but is also down to throw back some tequila shots at family dinners. My grandma who, like most of us, is just a normal human being doing her best to be a good person in the eyes of a God her parents taught her to worship.

When I started watching Master of None’s second season, it was the first time that my TV screen displayed Muslim characters who felt familiar to me. If you haven’t watched it yet (SPOILER ALERT), the third episode of season two focuses on religion. It opens with a montage of kids from different religious backgrounds being forced by their parents to go to their place of worship. We then encounter Dev (Aziz Ansari) as a young kid on a playdate at his friend’s house, faced with his first real temptation for sin: a slice of bacon.

Dev’s parents are Muslim in the same way my grandma is Muslim. They “break the rules” in their own ways here and there but, for the most part, they do their best to be good Muslims. Dev, on the other hand, is more like me and my parents. He doesn’t identify with any religion. He just believes in being a good person. And he doesn’t really understand why eating pork gets in the way of that.

His parents are fine with the fact that he’s not super religious but, when his more pious aunt and uncle come to the city for a Knicks game (yes! Muslims can like basketball too!), they ask Dev to pretend a little bit.

Dev eventually has enough of the pretending and, at a family dinner at a Thai restaurant, goes ahead and orders the “delicious” crispy pork special. When he and his parents get back to his parents’ place, they have the following confrontation about religion:

Dev: “It’s just not for me!”

Dev’s Dad: “What’s not for you?”

Dev: “Um, well, there are definitely issues. What about all the stuff with women?”

Dev’s Dad: “What is this? Fox News? Why am I under attack?”

Dev’s Mom: “You know we don’t believe that! Some people have bad interpretations.”

Dev: “Yeah and, you know, you guys have your interpretations, right? [To his dad] You eat non-halal. You used to smoke cigarettes. [To his mom] You don’t wear the hijab. Why can’t I have my interpretation where I’m just nice and I eat pork?”

Dev’s Mom: “It’s not funny.”

Dev: “Look, I get it. For you guys, religion has this cultural value. It’s not like that for me. It’s people calling me a terrorist and getting pulled out of airport security lines.”

Finally!! It happened!! A Muslim storyline that wasn’t evil! One that I could relate to! One that was so refreshingly honest.

I got where Dev’s parents were coming from. It’s the same place my grandma comes from when she notices me tuning her out when she talks about religion. It’s hurtful. It’s something that matters to her and she hopes it matters to me, too. It’s the natural human response to a deeply personal rejection.

I also understood Dev’s position — a millennial trying to come to terms with the two starkly different images of Islam he’s consistently been shown. On the one hand, he has his parents’ version of Islam. The one he doesn’t necessarily agree with, but that he respects. And then there’s the version that exists in pop culture right now: the trope of the sad, silent woman in the hijab and the scary man blowing things up. The one people are relieved to find he doesn’t agree with or respect.

I know how it feels when part of you doesn’t want to turn your back on the people you love by rejecting something they believe in so strongly, but the other part of you wants to distance yourself as far as possible from that evil thing you’re seeing on TV.

Yes, the whole confrontation was over a silly order of crispy pork, but the dialogue that took place between him and his parents was important. It gave people who haven’t had the luxury of growing up around nice, “normal” Muslims like my grandma or Dev’s parents the opportunity to see a side of Islam they probably haven’t seen before — one that involves parents not that different from theirs. Parents who love their kids and just want them to uphold the values they raised them with.

In Dev, they can see someone like them. Someone who maybe doesn’t totally buy the whole religion thing but wants to be a good person and respect his parents. In his character they can also begin to understand something that they may not have had any personal experience with: the unique insecurity that comes along with possibly being stereotyped for aligning with a religion you don’t even believe in.

I don’t like talking about religion mostly because I’m not very religious myself, but also because it’s just kind of awkward for me. I’m not Muslim, so I don’t really feel like it’s my place to have a strong personal opinion on how Muslim people are portrayed.

That being said, based on the 1,000+ words I just wrote here, my reluctance to talk about the topic wasn’t indicative of a lack of things to say. This episode gave me a reason to talk about it. It gave me the space to have an opinion.

At the very least, maybe this episode will make one person rethink their relief when they hear I’m not Muslim. So what if I was?

Candice is a freelance writer based in New York City. She possesses both the body and the humor of a 15-year-old boy while she enjoys the lifestyle of a 75-year-old woman. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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  • Chloe Miracle Rutledge

    I looooooove this. This was my favorite episode of the season. Thank you for writing this and sharing your heart.

  • Lilah Abrams

    Yes!!! My parents immigrated to the US as Iranian Jews. My beautiful first grade blonde bff introduced me to bacon and my non-Jewish boyfriend is from suburban Cleveland. I embrace our culture and the values my parents instilled in me but girlll there is nothing Kosher about me. There’s this cognitive dissonance at play because you grew up with these sort of loosely religious guidelines, but I think we have to pick and choose what we want to carry on for ourselves and that’s fucking OK. This episode was spot on! (Also ep about immigration in first season, a child’s guilt for not having experienced the hardships of their parents, etc.)

  • Hayley

    Beautifully written piece, thank you for sharing!

  • Alexandra Queiroz

    People should definitely make their own choices and the series seems to be great – I’ll definitely check it out. However, I can’t help but feeling it’s a shame when someone doesn’t look for the reasons why a religion says we should or shouldn’t do something before making their decisions. You know, the idea that “in order to break the rules you should know the rules”. Because then you’re able to make an informed decision.

  • Fellow (half) Iranian here and I loved this episode.

  • Shay

    I love that episode and I love this!!! like the episode from last season that focuses on their immigrant parents, this one made my eyes widen and my mouth hang open like an emoji. It’s so true for so many iranian american-raised kids i think. i had that EXACT same pork-at-a-sleepover experience, tho it involved sausage not bacon (it BLEW my mind)

  • Anna Fiore

    My favorite part of this episode is the end when it shows the parallel scenes of Dev and his dad greeting friends and generally being happy– one in a secular environment and one in a religious environment. It so thoroughly “normalizes” what to US audiences seems so foreign.

  • Kubla

    Yes it’s so stigmatized to be Muslim affiliated now and how similar the modern struggles are to any evolutionary impulse – ref The Croods. The parents forbid anything against tradition which is really based on fear. Pork was banned due to some illness caused by it.
    It’s not the illness anymore but the association – those who eat pork are not part of our crew. Really very exclusionary. The path to hell being paved with good intentions.

    • jan van eck

      The illness is Trichinosis, caused by a parasitic roundworm revalent in pigs and only killed off (at the larval stage) by cooking thoroughly. Ancient methods of meat preparatoin including salting and smoking are ineffective against this particular parasite, so the meat ended up banned. If you eat the meat of the infected animal, and it is not fuly cooked, you are i serious trouble. Incidentally, you can still get trichinosis today, the parasite is out there, so never eat undercooked meat! Cheers.

  • SOO DHOWOW

    This! This is why MR is here to stay, and goes above and beyond “fashion”. This episode (and Season 1’s episode on immigrant parents) hit home so deeply. Yes, I’m a First Generation Somali-Canadian, and raised Muslim but I find myself so much more “culturally Muslim” than “religious Muslim”. Thank you for this article, and of course, a big thank you to Aziz for this episode. Yes, maybe many others who aren’t Muslim can re-think what Muslim means.

    • rachel

      I always find it interesting how people are totally willing to accept how someone can be culturally jewish but not actually religious than they are with muslims doing the same thing. hopefully more shows with characters like that (or like dev’s parents! thats an important side too) will make it easier for people to think about islam outside of the oppressed woman/terrorist man stereotype.

  • Branza

    This was a standout episode in what I thought was kind of a blah season. Season 1 was amazing bc it showed perspectives not normally seen on TV.. what it’s like to be a woman walking home at night, what it’s like to be the child of immigrant parents, etc. I wish season 2 spent less time on Dev’s tired romcom will-they-or-wont-they w a stock character and had more fresh, important content like this episode.

  • me

    There’s so much content on MR these days and confess I dont have the time to read most of it.

    But I’m so glad I opened this post: thanks for these thoughtful & insightful words. I’m definitely going to go watch this episode now ….

    • Modupe Oloruntoba

      Same! I have fomo for articles I miss…