“Nobody wants to talk about it, so I have to talk about it.” This is Nadirah Pierre’s catchphrase she says just before boldly diving into an issue that has gone unexamined — or only vaguely explored — within the Muslim community.
With over 28K followers on Instagram, Pierre, a junior Montclair State University (MSU) student majoring in psychology and minoring in African-American studies, gained popularity as she started using the social media networking site to discuss sociopolitical issues in the Muslim community.
Becoming a social media sensation has led Pierre to perform stand-up comedy at a couple of shows so far. On March 11, Pierre spoke about the importance of sisterhood before an audience of about 500 women at the Muslim Women’s Gala, an event organized by the Muslim Women’s Alliance.
Then again during Comedy Night 2018 hosted at the Al-Madinah Cultural Centre on March 25, Pierre addressed issues ranging from racism to marriage in the Muslim community. Lauded by the audience for her comedic authenticity, the MSU junior remains undecided on whether or not stand-up comedy is in her future.
Elizabeth Lucy Ivanecky: How did you come up with the idea for using your social media to discuss issues in the Muslim community?
Nadirah Pierre: It’s been a little over a year now since I posted the first video that really popped. It was one of those things I was doing just to be funny. At the time, I had under 100 followers that I knew. However, it was literally an overnight thing.
I woke up the next day and had all these follower requests. People had not only seen the video but were sharing and posting it on their own pages. Every night after, I continued getting a better response.
ELI: I noticed you post a lot of videos on choosing a life partner and marriage within the Muslim community. Why do you think it’s important to post these kinds of videos, especially considering today’s hook-up culture in college?
NP: As you were alluding to with hook-up culture, this is something that Muslims are not allowed to participate in. The stem of our acceptable romantic relationships is that you are allowed to court.
You are not allowed to date — no intimate touching, no premarital sex or no living together until after you are married. I think as I get older I am definitely starting to feel the pressure to get married. And I know for a fact that I am not the only person.
Marriage, from the communities that I am a part of, is not taken for all its components. Everyone is like “get married, get married, get married,” but no one really wants to explore the difficulty of actually finding someone who is mentally stable enough that you’d be interested in marrying.
I think it’s always important to talk about because many people get married, but sadly a lot get divorced also. If people took more time to explore the many components, it would produce healthier marriages.
ELI: Why do you think it’s still taboo, within the Muslim community, to explore the many “components,” as you say, in marriage?
NP: Nobody really wants to talk about it. Even in the courting process, you mention all these great things about yourself. Maybe we should do it backwards where the first thing you tell me is all the bad things.
Let’s talk about all the deal-breakers and show each other all the red flags now. And then, if I decide that it’s something I can handle and you decide that you can handle my stuff, let’s do it. Let’s get married. Other than that, you just have to be careful.
ELI: No kidding. Just thinking about your content, why do you use humor to relay your message? And why do you think it’s so effective in getting your audience’s attention?
NP: I think the message stays with you longer when somebody presents it in a humorous way. I could walk up to you and say, “Your outfit is horrible.” But then I could make a joke and be like, “You kind of look like a clown in that.”
Then you look in the mirror and say, “Hmm, I did mix these colors a bit oddly.” Humor makes it easier for you to think about a message and evaluate yourself based on the decisions you make.
I can come at you aggressive: I can be rude, I can be mean, I can be blunt, but then you’re less likely to even listen to what I’m saying and you’re less likely to receive the message. People are willing to listen if you are relaying it in a much nicer way.
Now, there are certain things that I’m more serious about such as abuse, trauma or sexual assault where I don’t even want to make a joke because there’s nothing funny about it. But for the things I think it’s appropriate to joke about, humor is a great tool. Who doesn’t like to laugh and be in a good mood?
ELI: You’ve performed stand-up comedy at a couple of shows so far. How was performing live at the Muslim Women’s Gala and Comedy Night at the Al-Madinah Cultural Centre different from producing your videos on Instagram?
NP: A lot more goes into performing live. With the videos, you really only see me from the neck up, so I really only need to perform for you from the neck up. While live, I need to use more facial expressions. The feedback process affects your performance while live too.
When I post a video, I can just wait for feedback in the comment section. With stand-up, you need the feedback right away in order to keep your motivation high. While performing, I found myself often thinking “I need you guys to laugh right now for this joke to work.”
ELI: What do you think is the most important issue that the Muslim community is facing now in the United States?
NP: At the top of the list, it would be Islamophobia, which is a term that I don’t really like to use because to have a phobia means to be afraid of something. For example, if someone has arachnophobia, they will not be looking for spiders. They will, instead, stay very far away from spiders. If you’re claiming to be Islamophobic, when you disrespect and abuse Muslims, you are being hateful instead, and hate is not the same as fear.
ELI: How do you think the Muslim community can work together with the non-Muslim community to solve some of these issues?
NP: At the end of the day, I think all problems can be solved through learning. It’s all about us finding a crossroads to learn about each other more and respect each other more. More institutions should offer sensitivity training.
As non-Muslims have a lot of misinterpretations about Islam, a lot of Muslims have been misinformed about Christianity and the things you say or do that are disrespectful to Christians.
If you woke up one day and all the Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists or whoever were gone, it would be an issue. If we all just came together and learned about each other despite our differences of faith, this would be the most lucrative solution to our problems.
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Despite being born into a Muslim family, for the most part, I’ve had to learn about, explore and navigate my journey to getting closer to Allah by myself. At the age of 16 I made the conscious and independent decision to be and live as a Muslim. Since then, I’ve failed at being the best Muslim I could be, I lost my way (Allah guided me back), I’ve sinned, made mistakes, and I’ve had to catch myself when I naively searched in this world and in the people of this world for things only Allah could give me. It hasn’t been easy, but Allah has taught me so much and has been so merciful with me; it’s all been worth it. I’m still learning, still progressing, and still trying to get as close to Allah as I can. I get distracted, get lazy, and even get discouraged. But Allah does me a favor and brings me to my knees so that He may teach me things that will elevate me. A Hadith (my favorite) that keeps me pushing states Allah says “And whoever comes to Me walking, I will go to him running.”(Muslim). May Allah forgive us all for our shortcomings and may He bless our journeys to always lead us back to Him. Ameen ✨
ELI: Great point! How can Muslim women and men address the issue of Islamophobia and racism in the community?
NP: Racism against Black Muslims is something I’ve been personally affected by. I just want to highlight that it is not up to us as Black Muslims, the victims of racism, but the perpetrators, the people proclaiming to be allies, who should have the responsibility of starting that conversation.
The perpetrators don’t even want to acknowledge that this is a problem that they are responsible for. It’s up to the people in a higher position to speak out against this hatefulness.
ELI: Why do you think it’s important to be your true, authentic self?
NP: It’s especially important for my biggest audience who are Muslims, specifically Black Muslims. We live in a Western society where we are asked, whether implicitly or explicitly, to put certain aspects of our selves away in order to be liked and appeal to the better emotions of people.
Though, you shouldn’t be ashamed to be who you are, as long as you are not being disrespectful or hurting anyone. As a Muslim woman who covers herself and wears a hijab, I wondered if maybe I was different or just conformed to society’s standards that maybe I would be more liked or more welcomed. But as I got older, I realized, no matter who you are or what you are, people will always have something to say.
ELI: How do you respond to people who don’t agree with what you’re saying?
NP: I don’t. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Only when viewers get too disrespectful or really crude will I remove their comments. If I am going to present my truest self on social media, I expect you to present your truest self also.
You’re allowed to say you don’t agree with me and I’ll leave that air open for you. For those being downright hateful, I have nothing to say to them. When you, as the viewer, go through my comments, I want you to read them and also have a train of thought.
ELI: What message do you have for single, Muslim women?
NP: Nobody really knows what God’s plan is, but we walk by faith, not by sight. The truest test of faith is to trust in God even when you have no idea how you’re going to get out of a situation or how anything is going to come into fruition. Belief is so important for a Muslim that the first pillar of the Islamic faith is “Iman” or belief. First put your faith and trust in God, then have faith and trust in yourself.