Saturday, April 20, 2024

Salim the Cinnamon Roll and Gay Muslim Representation

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Eid Mubarak everyone! What better way to celebrate the end of Ramadan, than by talking about one of the best Muslim characters on TV?

There will be spoilers ahead for  American Gods, so be warned.

I want to talk about the representation of Salim and Islam in the show. Episode three gave us Salim, a Omani Muslim man who sells trinkets for his brother in law in NYC. One day, after waiting for hours to meet a businessman who never shows, he gets into a taxi with a Muslim driver. On the way to his hotel, the driver, who has had a 30 hour day, falls asleep in traffic. Salim touches his shoulder to wake him up, noticing the driver’s eyes are made of fire. The driver is a Jinn, one of the three distinct creations by Allah in Islam and the only other one besides humans to have free will.

There’s an instant connection when the Jinn realizes that Salim not only knows about Jinn but believes in them. At the end of the taxi ride Salim insinuates that the Jinn should join him in his room. He does and what follows is quite possibly one of the most tender and beautiful sex scenes (nsfw) between two men and two Muslim characters, I have ever seen.  Actually, it’s the only sex scene between Muslim characters I have ever seen on American TV!

Bryan Fuller’s CGI choices are always mesmerizing. In fact, director Fuller had the entire scene reshot because the original iteration did not make physical sense or reflect the beauty and captivating nature that Fuller wanted. Afterwards, Salim wakes up with his items gone but the driver’s items behind. Though the Jinn had said earlier he does not grant wishes (a jibe at common understandings of djinn, known in English as genies), this was a gift to Salim, who did not want to be a businessman.

In a world where American media has so heavily utilized the trope that Muslims/Arabs/other brown people are terrorists and vilified to the point that Arabs created a documentary, Reel Bad Arabsto highlight this issue, Salim and the Jinn are incredibly refreshing. As a devout Muslim myself, Salim’s representation as a Muslim really resonates with me.

Episode 7 follows two other characters, Mad Sweeney and Laura Moon on their way to revive the currently dead Laura. They run into Salim in the taxi who drives them closer to their destination. Recall that Sweeney had promised to tell Salim where to find the Jinn. Here, it would have been easy for the writers to focus on only negative experiences for gay Muslims. Instead, we mostly just get bad puns from Mad Sweeney like rubbing a genie out of a lamp (*facepalm*).

American Gods chooses to focus on Salim’s love for his religion and the Jinn. Salim and the Jinn knew each other (in the Biblical, well Quranic manner) and Salim wants to get to know him more. Most incredible is the addition of Salim praying Salat-ul-Maghrib, which a Muslim prays as the sun sets. More importantly, prayer here is not a trope meant to emphasize terrorism. Instead, in a story about gods and belief, the gay Muslim man is the most devout of the characters we’ve seen.

Fuller and the writers did not have to elevate Salim and the Jinn’s stories to be so important. Especially not as a love story. After all, dead wife Laura has been chasing after Shadow ever since she made it out of the grave. But as Mousa Kraish (who plays the Jinn) stated, “This, by far, is the actual love story of the whole show.”

It helps that Salim truly is a cinnamon roll character. Too beautiful, pure, and good for this world. Not a phrase usually related to Muslim men with beards.

How spectacular that two devout Muslim men get to have the most explicit gay sex scene in American television. Thanks to the American Gods team, the LGBTQ Muslim viewer finally has some characters to call their own. Next season cannot get here quick enough.

Image Courtesy of Starz

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