The Golden Globe-winning dramedy Ramy has returned to Hulu with a second season, starring creator Ramy Youssef as the fictional Ramy Hassan, an endearing Muslim millennial from New Jersey. Season 2 continues to follow its title character on his spiritual journey, which is more of a crisis than anything else.
Ramy has just returned from his quest to find purpose in Egypt, his motherland, and is wallowing in the ruins of his love life. After a frank intervention from his concerned friends and almost being shot while on the toilet, Ramy seeks out spiritual guidance for his problems. This leads him to meet Sheikh Ali, played by the Oscar-winning Mahershala Ali.
Mahershala Ali radiates grace in his role as the endlessly patient and wise Sufi Sheikh. Kind but uncompromising, Sheikh Ali brings Ramy the structure he so desperately needs in his life as well as divine purpose. Ali listens to Ramy’s woes without judgment, demanding openness and honesty if he is serious about changing his ways. Ramy leaves his stuffy, conservative mosque for the Sheikh’s Sufi Center, a place where men and women pray side by side. Eager to conquer his demons, Ramy begins following Sheikh Ali’s instructions to the letter, starting by switching his diet to halal-only.
“Our ummah often doesn’t understand what is haram and what isn’t. Nothing in and of itself is haram,” explains Ali. “It’s a matter of how we choose to engage with it. Alcohol, for example, isn’t haram. Drinking it is. The rules are very important in our faith. Not for the reasons you might think. I was confused about this once too.”
Ali goes on to use an orange and its tough skin as a metaphor for the rules in Islam. The tough skin is necessary for preserving the sweet inside of the fruit. “The outer Sharia protects the inner spirituality. And the inner spirituality gives the outer Sharia its purpose and meaning.”
If Ali is the composed spiritual leader of a beautiful faith, Ramy is the extremely messy believer struggling to hold himself accountable for his destructive actions. He wrestles with being more than just a good Muslim, he struggles to be a good person. The pair test each other, the Sheikh challenging Ramy to destroy his ego as Ramy pushes the limits of Ali’s patience.
Also in the mix are a string of temptations, ranging from Ramy’s porn addiction to alienating his friends with his renewed sense of morality as well as the Sheikh’s beautiful daughter Zainab. As Ramy undergoes his spiritual makeover, his family members are confronted with their own challenges. His immigrant mother struggles to understand the issue when she misgenders one of her Lyft passengers and is anxious to earn U.S. citizenship so she can vote in the upcoming election. Ramy’s father is cracking under the pressure of hiding his lay-off from everyone and becomes increasingly depressed as he realizes the American Dream doesn’t exist. Deena, Ramy’s sister, is forced to combat misogyny and Islamophobia in a way Muslim men never experience.
As a first-generation New Jersey Muslim myself, I was excited to see how creator Ramy Youssef would portray us. Our representation in Hollywood is severely lacking, usually limited to villainous terrorists or oppressive parental figures. With Ramy, Youssef wanted to honestly depict how first-generation Muslim Americans engage with their faith, instead of distancing themselves from everything that makes them different. Personally, I was expecting a diverse group of characters pursuing their respective versions of the ever-elusive American Dream and building each other up over waffles at Tops Diner in Newark, but Ramy is absolutely nothing like that. Although characters are diverse and they do hang out at a diner, it is usually to check in with Ramy’s truly awful decision-making.
The series isn’t meant to be a catch-all work of representation for every Muslim but instead stems from the experiences of a highly flawed individual. That is not to say Ramy isn’t relatable, the range of characters and their respective worries speaks to more than just Muslim audiences. Islam is an important part of Ramy’s identity yes, but it does not make him who he is. By centering themes of forgiveness, redemption as well as discrimination and the dangers of ego, Ramy masterfully opens the door to audiences from all walks of life.