On Sept. 14, the producers of Hulu hit series “Ramy” announced the return of a third season, which will hit the streaming service on Sept. 30. The debut of the show dates back to spring of 2019, and the show was later renewed for season two in May of the next year. The filming process of the second season was interrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak, and, cleverly, the producers of “Ramy” incorporated scenes of video call shots to tie the real-life crisis into the storyline.
The show follows an Egyptian American, Ramy Hassan, on his quest to find religious truth in his life. Growing up with two different cultures, Ramy struggles with the contrasting sets of cultural values, in addition to his sense of identity as an American Muslim. Season one of “Ramy” surrounds the protagonist’s religious journey as well as the individual difficulties faced by his family members attempting to fit into American society as Muslims. In particular, Dena, Ramy’s sister, faces the dilemma of being a Muslim woman while pursuing her master’s degree. In the house, her uncle judges her for wearing revealing clothes, and her parents show a strong preference for her brother over her. Living under the strict household regulations, Dena is unable to experience freedom of mobility like her American counterparts.
In the discussion of modern-day feminism, the immobility or lack of freedom of Muslim women seems to be a frequent topic of debate. In Western eyes, Muslim women are a population to be pitied, for they perceive them to be restricted to a passive, domestic life and subject to male dominance. Prof. Emilie Diouf (ENG) has accredited “the construction of this particular image of a Muslim woman to the orientalist discourse.” Under the context of colonialism, the colonizers fabricated a demoralizing distinction between themselves and their “subjects.” The legacy of colonialism fueled a twisted interpretation of the way to protect women in Islamic religion — where their religious views on domestication were interpreted to the extreme as abuse and violence. This influenced not only Europeans, but also Muslims themselves, and this image is decontextualized in contemporary Muslim society. The immobility of Muslim women, therefore, stems from Western colonialism.
In season two, Mahershala Ali joins the cast as the wise Sheikh Ali Malik. Ramy’s immaturity grows increasingly prominent — and increasingly grotesque — which juxtaposes with Sheik Malik’s calm rationality from a rich life experience. At first glance, Ramy seems to be benefiting from the guidance of a new spiritual mentor; but as season two unfolds, he makes decisions that are only increasingly close to the margins of morality. The end of season one leaves the audience bewildered by Ramy’s choice to sleep with his cousin on his visit to Egypt. He appears to be in pain and regretting the affair at the beginning of season two, but at the end, the audience experiences another shock when Ramy attempts to convince his new wife to accept the fact that he has slept with his cousin and that he wishes to make their marriage polygamous. He argues that the Muslim religion allows for a husband to have a maximum of four wives. From struggling to live up to the standards of both cultures in the previous season, the millennial takes advantage of the two cultures in the next.
“Ramy,” in a narrower scope, illustrates a series of difficulties faced by Muslim millenials growing up in the United States; in a wider scope, the series shows a variety of possible choices one makes when their religion or culture clashes with modernity. One may argue that doctrines may not be partially chosen or rejected by individuals; when believers choose the religion, they must accept everything it suggests, whether it be polygamy or female genital mutilation. Others may frown at such statements, declaring that one’s choices must abide by their own conscience, firmly rejecting aspects of the religion when it violates basic human rights. When religion, modern ethics, and values clash, there is not always a perfect solution, and for some people, this is a harsh reality to accept.
In Ramy’s moment of religious confusion, Sheikh Malik glances at him with a meaningful look and pronounces in his deep, throaty voice, “Islam is like an orange. There’s an outer part and an inner part. If someone only got the rules and rituals, they might think Islam is tough and bitter like the outside of an orange. But there’s an inside, a juicy flesh, the divine intimacy, the spiritual experience. The rind without the flesh is bitter and useless, the flesh without the rind would quickly rot. The outer sharia protects the inner spirituality. And the inner spirituality gives the outer sharia its purpose and meaning.” The vivid imagery employed in his discourse provides a visual analogy of the metaphysical existence of religion. Because “faith” is impossible to see with physical eyes, one can only perceive others’ religions through rites and rituals; nevertheless, these observations do not necessarily measure the strength of someone else’s faith. Likewise, practicing religion through performing rites and following doctrines can channel inner faith, but it does not always transfer into a strong inner faith.
In search of an answer to the question “how should we live,” Ramy faces choices one after another, yet he seldom makes the best choice, accidentally or deliberately. In the third season, he might be compelled to look at the consequences of his erroneous decisions rather than carrying on with only guilt in his heart. The season three trailer opens with Ramy’s confrontation with the two representative of his wife Zainab, who is cheated on by him with his cousin. “You owe us 100,000 dollars,” says the female representative coldly. The male representative adds, “It’s not just about the money. You’re in spiritual debt.” In this new season, Ramy is trapped by the consequences of his actions, and viewers can look forward to watching how he will pay off his spiritual debt.
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