‘The Okra’ website offers satire with a Muslim twist
BY FRANCINE KNOWLES Religion Reporter April 6, 2014 9:08PM
Sayeed Kahn and Imran Husain are the co-creators of the satyrical online news website The Okra. | James Foster/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 8, 2014 9:25AM
Imran Husain and Sayeed Khan want to help Muslims lighten up and non-Muslims wise up with their Chicago-based website, “The Okra,” where generating laughter is the primary goal.
The satirical website, launched by the Muslim-American duo, features headlines including: “Report: Arab Summit After-Party Gets ‘Totally Awkward’ when Muslim Brotherhood Show Up,” “43-Year-Old Bachelor Thinks He ‘Still Has Shot’ Marrying 20-Something Girls” and “Media Outlets Furious Ethiopian Hijacker Was Not Muslim.”
The fake news website has attracted more than 15,000 visitors since it was launched in September, said Husain, a freelance writer with a master’s degree in journalism, who hosts Radio Islam on WCEV (1450 AM) and plays drums for an indie rock band. The site has attracted more than 7,000 likes on Facebook.
“Many Muslims react to negative stereotypes by projecting an image as perfect citizens with no flaws,” said Khan, a 46-year-old real estate developer and former cable company executive who has written and produced film shorts, some focused on Muslim-themed comedy. “The Okra shows that we’re human, we have interesting stories and issues and a sense of humor. That resonates with people of all backgrounds.”
“The one thing that everybody can relate to is comedy,” added Husain, 41. “We just thought what a great way to bring some self-deprecating laughter and take the images and visuals that people perceive of us and create stories based off of it which make people think, which educate and of course make people laugh.”
The website’s debut article generated an unexpected result, said Husain. The article was about a South Asian Chicago bride who demanded her bragging husband come up with the $100,000 dowry he’d promised on her wedding night, but he didn’t have it. Many people in the Muslim community thought the article was a true story because they were unfamiliar with satire, said Husain. Comments poured in from across the country and as far away as Lebanon, Pakistan and India, he said.
One article on the site is about a flash mob of teen Muslim girls breaking into a choreographed dance to the 2012 hit “Call Me Maybe” following a Muslim holiday prayer. The story set off a generational debate about the growing liberation of young Muslim women, Khan said.
The fictitious article told how the teens, dressed in traditional Muslim scarves, called hijabs, were arrested for disturbing the peace. One of the “Hijabi Girls” lamented, “Eid is so boring — what is wrong with bringing a little joy to it.” The article reported the girls broke into their back-flipping routine outside a mosque when the pop song unexpectedly began blaring on the public address speakers. The dance generated applause and cheers from some, but “incensed” some elderly Muslims, prompting one to shout, “I definitely don’t need your number — but MAYBE I’ll call the police,” the story said.
Another article under the headline, “Three Coca-Cola Executives Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize after Making Muslims Smile,” discusses Coca Cola’s “America the Beautiful” commercial. The real ad debuted during the Super Bowl and featured several people, including a Muslim woman, singing the song in different languages.
“To make Muslims smile has been a concerted effort by multiple international organizations, including the United Nations,” notes the story. It cited a poll that “showed close to 77 percent of Muslims are disgruntled by their image in the media, specifically being blamed for terrorist threats, violently objecting to derogatory Islamic cartoons and ruining birthday parties.”
The article noted Coke was taking “the right steps” to address the “epidemic of frowning Muslims” by including the “one-second cameo” of the Muslim woman in its ad.
The takeaway is the ad is no “momentous step toward Western media offering three-dimensional representation of Muslims,” Khan said, adding that the social commentary offered on the site is meant to enlighten without being preachy.
“I personally welcome the lighthearted humorous take on Muslim-related news as I am a fan of Jon Stewart and the Onion,” said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Chicago, who has visited the site. “I think satire, if done right, can be quite effective in exposing the absurdity of things like bigotry, extremism or double-standards while making you smile.”
Khan and Husain supply all of the copy for their site and steer clear of certain topics.
“We would never say anything about our prophet or the Quran,” said Husain. “We’re not there to create outrageous controversy, but we are there to say, ‘Look, you can laugh at yourself and allow other people to laugh with you.”
The Okra isn’t a lone new trailblazer. In December, another satirical Muslim website, The Hummus, was launched by three California-area Muslims. They haven’t revealed their identities.