By Mahvish Irfan
Abdallah Jasim. The name may not sound as familiar as popular Muslim entertainers like Mohamed Zeyara or Karim Metwaly, but since 2013 this 24-year-old Iraqi-American has been catching increasing international attention and for excellent reasons: He can make you laugh your head off in a matter of seconds and still be able to convey a serious religious message.
Abdallah tackles tough topics like alcohol, theft and prayer, all from the comfort of his car, making short videos with his cellphone while he’s on the run. His videos, where he often showcases his skills in speaking different accents, garner an average of 18-19,000 views.
Best of all, instead of coming across as rigid when subtly talking about Islam, his vibe is relatable and humorous. That just might explain why he currently has an audience of almost 50,000 in his various social media pages in a matter of only two years.
The Muslim Observer sat down with Abdallah to talk about his work as a chemical engineer by day and entertainer by night, challenges in balancing his dual roles and ultimate goals as an entertainer serving the Muslim-American community.
TMO: Why did you want to become an entertainer?
AJ: I always wanted to become an entertainer but it wasn’t something that was realistic. I was always kind of the class clown in school and I’d make my friends laugh and stuff.
Then I was introduced to Vines, these 6-second [comedic] videos. [After that] I got introduced to Arabic Vines and I was like, ‘Wow, these things are pretty easy to make and I have a whole bunch of ideas that I can use.’
Then, I made my first Vine and it was basically about the difference between Americans and Arabs when it comes to hunting mice. It went viral and I was like, ‘You know, I got to make more of these.’
I started making more and then it just transitioned from Arab Vines to Snapchat[ing] about different things that happened in my life or interesting things that I could think of.
TMO: Looking back, did you ever think you would be as popular as you are today?
AJ: No, not at all actually. It’s very surprising. I still don’t believe it. Everyday, I’m still saying Alhamdulillah that Allah (SWT) gave me this opportunity. That’s why I think it’s important to take advantage of the opportunity. Yeah, it’s good to make people laugh but at the end of the day, why not introduce a little Islam just to make it beneficial?
TMO: Tell me about your outreach.
AJ: A lot of big shayokh in the Muslim community came up to me and told me, ‘You reached the people that we can’t reach.’ So basically people that aren’t interested in watching a lecture, will watch my video and get some of message out of it and that brings them a little closer [to Islam].
TMO: What keeps you going?
AJ: That’s what keeps me going, even though the message is so small. I’m not saying I’m a sheikh. I’m not saying I’m an imam. I’m just a regular guy that’s trying to give people a little message of Islam.
I didn’t realize I was making a difference when I first started. People would just saying, ‘Oh my God, you’re hilarious, so funny, [etc].” Honestly those comments, yeah they make you feel good, but at the end of the day when I get a message from someone [that means a lot more].
For example, on Eid I was in Detroit. I was in the mosque walking around and some guy grabbed my shoulders … He’s like, I want to thank you so much. My son watched your video about fasting on the day of Arafah and it’s the first time he fasted on the day of Arafah.
I hugged the dad. That’s what makes everything worth it.
TMO: Do you preplan your videos? Is there a script written out beforehand?
AJ: Nothing that I do is preplanned or anything. I just have an idea and I run with it. It’s natural … But it’s not like I just randomly start talking about things. I have a concept and the filming isn’t scripted. It’s literally me saying whatever comes in mind.
TMO: How do you manage your two roles as an engineer and entertainer?
AJ: Honestly, it’s difficult. You have to have a professional demeanor when you’re at work. And not only professional, but it’s very technical. I need to tone down the energy and do serious things. It’s a different vibe.
The company that I work for is a great company, I can be myself so it really does help me transition to being the different character that I have on social media.
TMO: How much time do you spend making your videos?
AJ: Honestly, it’s really not that long. They’re not high quality videos … it’s really like 2-3 minutes, maybe 5 minutes.
But I’m working on bigger projects though. I have a short film coming out in a week that I’ve worked on where I wanted to show a serious side. I’m not only just a comedian. I like acting. I like singing. I wanted to show that side of me in this short film.
It’s around 7-8 minutes. It’s basically built off a Hollywood horror film. I change around some of the details of the film to convey an Islamic message.
I worked on the project a while ago. I’ve been busy with work and busy with this whole Snapchat thing and just finally got around to finishing this project. It’s not professionally done, it’s an amateur film but I think its pretty good quality.
TMO: What else do you have planned in the future?
AJ: I’m working on some music. Some Islamic covers … I really enjoy singing. I’ve been doing standup now. I did my fourth or fifth event. Alhamdulillah, every event that I go to, it’s just getting better and better. I’m learning more and it’s slowly building up. I’m getting a lot of phone calls … This is something that I always wanted.
TMO: How did you learn all your accents and singing?
AJ: It was basically based off my life; the characters that I met in my life, the people that I met. I lived in Detroit and I learned a lot of my different accents there.
For me, if I spend a couple of weeks with a person, I can mimic their exact accent … For example, my math teacher in high school was Scottish and that’s how I learned my Scottish accent.
I’m trying to learn more accents right now, but it’s hard [to learn from] watch[ing] videos or movies. It’s really nice to just know someone with that accent and actually mimic the facial traits that they have and what they do when they talk.
TMO: If you ever came to a point where your entertainment work exploded and you had to chose between that or engineering, what would you pick?
AJ: That’s a dangerous question. The more realistic answer is that I need engineering … It’s something I can always go back to. But if I do explode [as an entertainer] and I would have to do it full-time, I would have to consult people and make a decision. If it were worth it in the end, then my answer would be yes. Why not? That’s where my heart is.
TMO: What’s been the greatest challenge?
AJ: Honestly, the greatest challenge has been to keep going. In college, I was doing engineering and trying to make videos, all this stuff. Now I graduated, I have a job, and I do it at the side. But, it’s like, when is it enough? Am I ever gonna be something is it just gonna be a hobby? It’s really hard coping with that.
But also, being able to handle being famous and people knowing everything about you. A lot of people become famous really fast and they don’t know how to handle it. I feel like my mom has played a really big role in my life and keeps me grounded. She tells me, ‘Don’t let this go to your head.’ She’s definitely what keeps me going.
TMO: What’s your ultimate goal as an entertainer?
Basically, no matter how big I become, I don’t want to fall into the Hollywood life with the whole drugs and girls. I feel like entertainment is growing in the Muslim community and I want to be part of building that and making it something powerful and moving.
The Message, for example. Do you know how many people converted from watching The Message? It’s very interesting and it has really, really high ratings. We need to make more Muslim-based movies and shows. Now [even] Salahadin is coming out.
As an entertainer, I [also] want to help people, especially Americans understand that [Muslims] have jokes, we can be funny … we go through the same exact things that all other Americans go though … we’re just normal people.
To brighten up your day with some laughs and lessons, become a fan of Abdallah Jasim! “Like” him on facebook.com/3abidjay and follow him @3abidjay on Instagram and Snapchat.