This article contains spoilers from Season 1 and 2 of ‘Ramy.’
For Muslims around the United States, the release of the Hulu original “Ramy” was a huge breakthrough in the steps we are taking towards representation in media. In fact, “Ramy” is the first Muslim-American sitcom ever to be released. The show follows Ramy Hassan, played by the well-known comedian and creator of the show Ramy Youssef, as he attempts to balance his life as an American millennial with his desire to be closer to his faith. As Ramy Youssef himself puts it, “There’s Friday prayer, and then there’s Friday night, and I am both.” This message of constant cognitive dissonance in Muslim-American lives is resonant for many viewers.
Nonetheless, when watching the show, I found myself more interested in the narratives of the female supporting characters and their identities as Muslim women. What stereotypes were broken? Which were upheld? How do we move forward from here?
In the very first episode, Ramy goes on a date with a Muslim woman named Nour. After exclusively dating and sleeping with white women, he hopes dating a Muslim woman would stop him from sinning. It is only after their date that Ramy is shocked when he finds out Nour was interested in having sex. In his mind, sex is something only a white woman would ask of him. This is destructive in two ways. Firstly, he believes that Muslim women are incapable of sexual liberation. Secondly, he demeans the white women he has dated as only there to live out his desires. Going into the show, this scene was important in the challenging of female stereotypes.
On a not so good note, I was not a fan of the sixth episode, where Ramy’s sister Dena, a college graduate student, contemplates losing her virginity. In this episode, Dena meets Kyle, a student barista who flirts with her. Later, she finds that the only reason he was interested in her was that he has a fetish for Arab women.
Although I understand this episode intended to challenge stereotypes of Muslim women like Dena, in my opinion, it did the opposite. This is the only episode in the first season surrounding Dena, and all it did make it seem as if all Muslim women think about is how much they would rather be having sex. I am not expecting this show to speak for all Muslims, but many women feel empowered by their choice to be modest and don’t need any white boys to save them. I just wish we didn’t have to wait until Season 2 to get a more complex look at Dena as a character.
Ramy sees every woman in his life as an opportunity for self-improvement. In the same way that Dena’s episode in the first season resembled a male-savior complex, the second season of Ramy has an almost “female-savior complex.” But this is not a good thing. At the end of the first season, Ramy goes to Egypt in the hopes of exploring his roots and Arab identity. There, he meets his female cousin, Amani, who recognizes his need to find spiritual and cultural clarity. She takes him to around the city, they go to a mosque and create a deep bond.
This all sounds great, but eventually, when Amani catches feelings for him, they sleep together, and he leaves her. As soon as she fulfilled her purpose as the “female savior” that will bring him closer to his faith, she is no longer of use to him. I appreciated this storyline because Amani was a very well developed character. Unlike how Dena was portrayed in the first season, Amani has depth. She is liberated, religious, intellectual, conflicted, and romantic, all at the same time. The irony of her attempt to “save” Ramy backfiring when they do precisely what he’s been trying to get away from is genius.
The second round of female saviors happens in Season 2 when Ramy joins a new mosque. After going on a business trip together to fund-raise for the mosque, Ramy forms a relationship with the sheik’s daughter: Zainab. Eventually, she tells her father that she is interested in marrying him. Although Ramy was interested in her, his perspective of their relationship was one-sided. He thought that marrying Zainab would help him settle down and become a man of God; he wanted her to save him. Instead, he ends up reuniting with his cousin Amani, and sleeping with her the night before his wedding, and expects Zainab to understand. Just like Amani, Zainab is a fantastic character who has been taken advantage of.
I applaud the show for diving into this idea of the “female savior,” as it is incredibly common in Muslim culture. It is too often that a mother will try to set her scattered 20-something son with a girl in the hopes that she will settle him. This is equally as destructive as the “male savior” complex, where a man brings clarity in a woman’s life. Ramy is a grown man; at some point, he needs to recognize that his actions are his actions. No woman should be responsible for saving him.
Overall, “Ramy” was a fantastic show that presents many questions about the complexity of our identities as Muslim-Americans. However, I also recognize some flaws it has around female characters and ways it can improve in future seasons. There is a lot to discuss in regards to this. Some things I did not touch on was Ramy’s mother, the improvements of Dena’s character in season 2, and more. “Ramy” was the first Muslim-American sitcom, but it can not be the last. There are so many Muslim-American narratives to be told. For instance, not all Muslims are Arab like Ramy. And Muslim women, as shown by this article, have completely different experiences. We all need to play our parts in encouraging more representation in media.