SA’s Indian Muslims need to check themselves before going after Joey Rasdien

Comedian Joey Rasdien was dragged by Muslims on social media this weekend after making a controversial comment during a comedy set at the Ilm Arts Festival, which took place at the Sandton Convention Centre on Saturday.

In his set Rasdien questioned how Abu Hurairah, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad, wrote more than 40 000 narrations attributed to the prophet in just two years. Narrations of incidents from the prophet’s life, or hadith, are a central part of Islamic belief.

“There’s 365 days in a year which makes it 740 days in two years which gives you 1 440 minutes per day, plus you must sleep. How can you write forty thousand hadiths in two years?” he asked the scholars in the audience.

After he’d moved on and began addressing a woman in the audience about how his penis only looked bigger from below because of the error of parallax, a man started shouting expletives at Rasdien, telling him to stop talking about Abu Hurairah. Rasdien apologised, and then his set was cut short and he left the stage.

Internet “muftis were quick to condemn Rasdien. One Facebook user said Rasdien should be banned from all Muslim events. “It was not a joke, it was backbiting and insulting. Something you’d expect from the enemy of Islam.” Another user said Rasdien “should be stoned”. And the backlash only grew from there, and got uglier.

On Sunday, following the backlash, Rasdien apologised​ unreservedly​ for comments he’d made during the set. “As a Muslim comedian I hold myself to the same set of standards expected of a Muslim in any other walk of life. It is our character and behavior that must be unimpeachable.”

But let’s rewind to Rasdien’s set before it was disrupted and look at what this incident really illustrates.

First, just before his hadith comment, Rasdien made a comment to an older woman in the audience about the size of his penis by making a biryani analogy and referring to the error of parallax. FYI Joey, women don’t need cooking metaphors to understand scientific concepts. So why were the audience members who were angered about Rasdien’s question not also angered about his gross, sexist comment to an elder? Could it be that sexism has been so normalised in the Muslim community that it barely registers when we hear it?

Second, people seem to have forgotten that, as part of his joke, Rasdien asked a simple question of the scholars present. He warned the audience it would be controversial. He wanted to know how it was possible to write down so many hadith in such a short time. Don’t pretend you haven’t done the math yourself since this incident went viral. He had a question and wanted an answer – is that not okay? His fellow Muslims should have called him in rather than calling him out. If they had an answer to his question, they should have simply answered in a rational way instead of resorting to personal attacks.

Third, the racism. There are still those among us who think the only real Muslims in South Africa are Indians. Rasdien is coloured. That is his race. His faith is Islam. But several internet commenters used racist terms to refer to Rasdien, said he made jokes about the prophet’s companion because he was coloured, and accused him of being on tik. People may have been offended by Rasdien’s question but did they have to immediately respond with racism?

And fourth, the sectarianism. Rasdien was accused of being influenced by Shiasm because, “they are masters of disrespecting the sahabah [prophet’s companions] and our nabi [prophet]”. So much for religious tolerance.

Joey Rasdien may have ruffled some feathers at the weekend, but right now South African Muslims need to take a good look inward before they resort to name-calling, and denouncing a comedian for asking a question.

Featured image via Joey Rasdien on Facebook