How TV Shows Can Reduce Prejudice

Screenshot from Little Mosque on the Prairie. Image from NYT.

Last year, the Hulu series “Ramy” made history when it became the first Muslim-American sitcom to ever win an Emmy nomination—two, actually, as both co-creator Ramy Youssef and supporting actor Mahershala Ali were nominated for their performances.

Yousseff welcomed the news with an Arabic phrase Muslims use to thank God: “Alhamdulillah.” Although he did not ultimately win the Emmy that year, the recognition the show received just by being nominated was a sign of growing acceptance of Muslim-Americans.

We know through surveys that people are more likely to like Muslims if they know one personally. But because only about 1% of Americans practice the Islamic faith, many people just don’t come into contact with any Muslims.

That’s where entertainment comes in. One study of news coverage of Muslims in the 21st century found that it tends to be overwhelmingly negative, focusing on topics like terrorism and extremism. But a 2017 study that was recently successfully replicated by researchers in Germany shows us that entertainment featuring Muslims may be particularly effective in promoting tolerance.

Sohad Murrar, a psychologist who teaches at Governors State University, wanted to know if the positive representation of Muslims could help change these perceptions. So, she worked with another researcher to perform an experiment where they showed some participants episodes from the popular Muslim-Canadian sitcom “Little Mosque on the Prairie” while showing other participants a sitcom featuring an all-white, non-Muslim cast. They then measured participants’ biases toward Muslims.

“It was pretty phenomenal,” she says. “We did see that the people who had watched ‘Little Mosque’ were a lot more positive towards Muslims both on explicit and implicit measures of prejudice and we did find that those effects held five weeks later.” She adds that unlike many other studies of anti-prejudice measures, her team made sure to measure the longer-term effects.

They also performed a second experiment where they found that a simple, four-minute music video served as an effective treatment to reduce prejudice.

 

Murrar’s research suggests that the entertainment industry can play a powerful role in exposing people to cultures they otherwise will have no positive contact with.

Through storytelling like that in “Little Mosque on the Prairie” and “Ramy”—shows that feature ordinary Muslims trying to find their way through life in North America—it’s very possible to persuade people that differences in religious and cultural practices don’t have to result in unbridgeable divides.

Sitcoms and other television programming can play a real role in exposing Americans to groups of people they may never encounter in their daily lives. Intergroup contact theory shows us that positive exposure to out-groups can reduce tensions and increase tolerance and that entertainers like Ellen DeGeneres played a pivotal role in winning acceptance of gay and lesbian Americans.

For Youssef’s part, he hopes that the success of his show, which was renewed for a third season over the summer, will open the doors to telling even more Muslim stories. As he told the Hollywood Reporter:

I think that you watch our show, you realize in a good way that we’re not even close to covering the entirety of the Muslim experience. For a show that only portrays a sliver of it to get recognized, I think that that should mean that we’re going to get many more Muslim stories greenlit because the umbrella of the Muslim experience is so vast—it’s so many different groups, so many types of people.

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar commemorating Muhammad’s reception of the Qur’an, begins on Monday.
"Ramadan can be an opportunity for Muslims in interfaith relationships to introduce their partners to the core beliefs and teachings of Islam, as well as to the ways different Muslim cultures share what is a deeply communal experience."
This year, Ramadan will begin on Monday or Tuesday (April 12 or 13), depending on when Muslims around the world sight the new moon that signals the beginning of the lunar month.
"In the Qur’an, God – Exalted Be He – proclaims that we should ask the people endowed with knowledge…All the experts are saying the same thing: please get vaccinated and do it now."
"Among the topics educators must address to reduce bullying and to ensure representation in the classroom are religion and religious identity."
Whether I am based in Los Angeles, Washington DC, or Kansas City, I remain committed to building bridges of mutual respect and understanding among people of different backgrounds.
Biden said the partnership between the seminary and a community health center is one of many that are happening between religious and medical organizations across the nation.
"All the more so, we need more translators to help us understand what exists before our eyes, yet remains elusive to our understanding."
'Montero' is the anthem of a Black gay man roaring back from years of self-hate caused by anti-LGBTQ+ theologies. As a queer child of the Black church, it’s an anthem that resonates with me.
The rise of the "nones" — people who say they have no religion — is to some extent the result of a shift in how Americans understand religious identity.
Faith-based agencies like LIRS, which often contract with the federal government to settle migrants, were decimated by the Trump administration's border policies and then by COVID-19 restrictions.
About 550,000 chairs sit empty around the tables of American homes today — each one a reminder of the unbearable loss we have incurred.
But this year, as in 2020, crowds are banned from gathering in Italy and at the Vatican. Francis delivered his noon Easter address on world affairs from inside the basilica, using the occasion to appeal anew that vaccines reach the poorest countries.
This story is available to readers in both English and Spanish. Spanish title: Nuestro Chat Familiar Cubano: Un Microcosmos de Nuestra República Democrática
Some evangelicals have even linked coronavirus vaccinations to the “mark of the beast” – a symbol of submission to the Antichrist found in biblical prophecies, Revelation 13:18.
"I started Holy Week, lamenting that I didn’t have a story of Jesus that I felt comfortable sharing with my six-year-old son and his six-year-old mind, heart and spirit. So I wrote one."
For centuries, this prayer was worded in a way to imply an anti-Semitic meaning, referring to the Jews as “perfidis,” meaning “treacherous” or “unfaithful.”
Higher Ed Leader Raja G. Bhattar writes and performs a beautiful poem that was inspired recently, after attending my first all Desi/South Asian meditation retreat.
Yet while Gen-Y and Gen-Z evangelicals are exhibiting greater concern for various pressing issues, there are threads within our social fabric that require more of their attention: and religious diversity is among them.
"In my mind, COVID represents Mitzrayim, the narrow place, our place of enslavement, the place of trauma and pain. As more of us are vaccinated and we move toward freedom, we find ourselves at the edge of the sea thinking about our past, our pain..."
"A lot of people are really excited," said Sheikh Adam Jamal, assistant imam. "There's people, seniors, who probably have been doing taraweeh (at a mosque) every year since they were young... They've missed it for a year—that was just devastating."

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.