An Agnostic Comedian Talks About His Muslim Upbringing

Photo Credits: The Monti

The 33-year-old stand-up comedian, Andrew Aghapour, who has a Ph.D. in religious studies from The University of North Carolina and now is an agnostic, tells a story about growing up as the son of a Muslim father from Iran and a Protestant Christian mother from England and later evolving into a world without religion. His opening line: "I am a scholar of religion." That’s the simple truth about him, but the rest of his stand-up show, named "Zara", tackles his Muslim upbringing and talks about him finding his way to agnosticism. There are also other stand-up comedians who have disengaged from the orthodox traditions of their Muslim faith, celebrities like Aziz Ansari, Kumail Nanjiani and Hasan Minhaj.

Aghapour's Muslim upbringing is still a marker of his identity but it is not a marker of his belief. He evolved from a Muslim who prays five times a day and fasts on Ramadan into a bacon-eating, marijuana-smoking nihilist and finally agnostic. When he admits to being agnostic, Andrew Aghapour is up-front that it’s no fun at all. “On the dinner menu of religious beliefs, agnosticism is the baked tilapia,” he says according to “No one’s excited to order it; it’s just there in case you’re allergic to everything else.” Noting that his sister was fine being raised in a house with two religions — Islam from his father, who was forced to flee Iran after the fall of the Shah in the 1970s, and Christianity from his mom. — Aghapour describes his difficulties growing up with that mix: “Game of Thrones is too complicated for me, and the Bible has even more characters,” he says.

As Religion News Service reports, Aghapour is still fascinated by his own evolution and religion more broadly. His show features crowd-pleasing bits about his crisis of faith after first tasting bacon (“Why would a just and loving God not want me to eat that?”), his first love (“So I met marijuana the first weekend of college, at a bonfire. I later learned that marijuana loves to hang out at bonfires.”) But he also introduces audiences to the ancient Persian prophet Zarathustra, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and theories about the rise of secularism and the notion of the sacred and profane. “This generation that’s coming up is actively negotiating their religious identity, and I really hope the show is a resource for doing that,” he said, adding that comedy may be the perfect way to help them along.

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