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Are You A 'Good' or 'Bad' Muslim? These Two Will Help Figure Out

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Tanzila "Taz" Ahmed and Zahra Noorbaksh explore the predicament of their dichotomous faith-based identities in their new podcast, #GoodMuslimBadMuslim.#GoodMuslimBadMuslim

In the debut episode of the new #GoodMuslimBadMuslim podcast, “How Muslim Are You?” the discussion begins at immigrant moms and Hammer pants, segues into Christmas and the 'Serial' phenomenon, then delves into race and medicine.

The brainchild of Los Angeles-based activist, storyteller, and politico Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed, and San Francisco-based writer, actor and comedian Zahra Noorbakhsh, #GoodMuslimBadMuslim started as a joke between the two on Twitter, and developed into an on-going, side-splitting examination of what it means to be a "good," Muslim-American woman today (or not).

To many in the traditional Muslim community, Ahmed and Noorbaksh say they are considered “bad" adherents of the faith -- they listen to music, don't pray regularly, and date/marry white men. At the same time, they say, to people outside the Muslim community, they're seen as "good" Muslims, because they do not drink, nor do they do drugs, they work in social justice activism, and are both successful, published, community leaders.

Ahmed and Noorbakhsh spoke to NBC News about exploring the contradictions and predicaments inherent in their identities on their new podcast.

 Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed and Zahra Noorbakhsh discussing their new #GoodMuslimBadMuslim podcast at PRI. Courtesy GoodMuslimBadMuslim
What are you hoping to do with #GoodMuslimBadMuslim?

Ahmed: We really just started off the hashtag as a joke between the two of us and we realized that people wanted to hear more. So our podcast is a window into our lives as Muslim-American women and the struggles we have to deal with. What I particularly am enjoying is how we are lacing humor, smarts, and personal narratives into these podcasts. We already both do so much as creatives - we feel like this will give insight to a part of that process and thinking. We also are hoping people will laugh. And I’m also hoping to find a boyfriend.

Noorbakhsh: I hope #GoodMuslimBadMuslim inspires peeps like me who live in the margins to take up space. Ever since Taz and I met on a “Love Inshallah” book tour road trip, I felt like I’d found a special buddy that I could be a “good/bad Muslim” with. Now, with the podcast, we are finding ways that – even with all our similarities – we are so different. I’m less interested in where our podcast is headed and am totally down for the ride. And I am also hoping Taz will find a boyfriend.

What are some of the topics you are discussing?

Ahmed: I think my favorite conversations are those that go deep into memoirs and stories, while also highlighting political contemporary hot topics. We will be discussing some personal stories about growing up Muslim and brown in this country. But we also hope to address whatever is in the Islamophobic news - like #JeSuisCharlie, Palestine, or Women’s Mosque. We’ll also probably talk a lot about Obama, given that he’s a secret Muslim. Kidding. Or am I?

Noorbakhsh: Many of our conversations stem from how surprised everyone is that we exist: radical, funny, feminist self-identifying Muslim women. I love that we add complexity to “neat and tidy” definitions, despite pressure from Muslims and non-Muslims to engage in those “Will the real Muslim please stand up?” type conversations. For the record, Obama is not Muslim. If he was, we’d be winning.

 Zahra Noorbaksh Courtesy GoodMuslimBadMuslim
How are people reacting?

Ahmed: A lot of people are responding well - we are very well hyped right now. I hope the next podcasts will do them justice. But there is a small segment of super orthodox Muslims who really hate this podcast, because they hate Muslim women with voices, I guess. But that’s the whole point of the podcast - to draw on the gray zone of existing in the flux of being between a “good Muslim” and “bad Muslim,” and how one person can equally embody both. So basically, the haters played into our master plan.

Noorbakhsh: I’ve been getting a lot of tweets from women, saying they’re “good/bad Muslims” and that is awesome! A LOT of people are weirded out by the fact that I eat pork. Even pork-eating non-Muslims! It’s funny, because my atheist, infidel husband doesn’t eat pork for political reasons. And, he loves that I’m getting push back on the bacon front. I’m surprised to hear how many non-Muslims out there are connecting with the podcast. Fans I’ve come across who are non-Muslim know how Islamophobic news media are and they are hungry for actual conversation. It’s refreshing to hear that we aren’t alone in that search.

 Tanzila "Taz" Ahmed Courtesy GoodMuslimBadMuslim
Are you worried about what the Aunties might say?

Ahmed: I’m pretty confident that Aunties don’t know how to download podcasts so no, I’m not worried. If this podcast makes it into South Asian ethnic print media though, I am screwed.

Noorbakhsh: All my aunts have listened to the podcast. But, they don’t speak English.

The second episode of the #GoodMuslimBadMuslim podcast will be available February 10, and a new episode of will be available online every month.

 Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed and Zahra Noorbakhsh, of the #GoodMuslimBadMuslim podcast. Courtesy GoodMuslimBadMuslim

Interview was edited for clarity and length.

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