When I first discovered Ramy in April of 2019, I was in a transitionary period. My grandmother had passed away just two months earlier, and after attending her funeral and meeting up with family I hadn’t seen in decades, I began to regret removing myself so far from my Palestinian culture and identity as a Muslim. I was in shambles, trying to figure out what to do, when all of a sudden, the universe was speaking to me and telling me I needed to watch this show.
For someone who ran away from their culture because the only time they saw themselves on screen was as a villain, Ramy was more than just a television series. Hearing the Arabic that came out of my TVs speakers transported me back to my own childhood, when I heard Arabic every day. Seeing Ramy performing wudu (the ritual of cleaning before prayer) and praying at the mosque in the pilot reminded me of when I used to go to the mosque every week with my dad, no matter how much I fought to stay behind. Discovering and watching this show that year made me feel a pride in my culture and faith that I’d lost over two decades prior, and four months later I would stop using my fake, American name and ask my friends to call me Tariq again.
That is the impact of television. Year after year, Ramy has proven itself to be a beacon of hope for myself and countless other Muslims. It broke records as the first Muslim-centered show to win a Golden Globe and get nominated for an Emmy. It shattered American expectations of what life is like as a Muslim, reminding audiences that we are not a monolith, that we often break the molds that society expects us to fit in purely because we speak Arabic, or say “Allah” instead of “God.” And it did all of this while making you laugh.
In every season of this show, including its third, which dropped September 30, prurient jokes and storylines are deliciously sandwiched between profound and relevant remarks on society. Youssef isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade, with episodes that go all in on racism, misogyny and homophobia. He has a platform, and he knows how to use it. And season three goes all in on a story that I never thought I’d see explored with such honesty on a streaming service. This season, he takes us to Palestine.
After cheating on his wife on their wedding day with his cousin (which is just as hard to type as it was to watch), Ramy begins the season at a new low. He owes a large sum of a dowry to his now-ex wife and her family, and he’s faithless. When he once sought to figure out how to be a good Muslim, he’s now stopped praying and can’t answer someone when they ask him if he believes in God. Then his Jewish co-worker, Yuval (Julian Sergi), informs him of a business opportunity selling diamonds for an Israeli diamond dealer that requires him to travel to Jerusalem. And though this new business opportunity proves to be lucrative, it pits him against Ramy’s Palestinian uncle and lands him in business with some shady folks. It isn’t long before Ramy’s self-destructive tendencies take over and he finds himself in a mess that’s somehow even bigger than the one he got himself into last year.
As for the other characters this time around? They may not have to deal with something as heavy as working for Israeli diamond dealers who cut fingers off if you act out of line, but they each find themselves in struggles far greater than they’ve dealt with before. Deena’s (May Calamawy) search for healing causes her to not only upend her own life but also someone else’s; Uncle Naseem (Laith Nakli) is forced to face his relationship with his sexuality when he becomes a laughing stock; Farouk (Amr Waked)’s desperation for income and a steady job cause him to make questionable decisions; and Maysa (Hiam Abbass) confronts her own unhappiness.
This is Ramy at its best, where powerful performances from an excellent ensemble come together to give us an epic story about family. Everyone in the show has to come to terms with what life has given them and what they’ve done with it. Even Ahmed (Dave Merheje) and Mo (Mohammed Amer) end up in shitty situations that cause them to reevaluate things. And though these stories are told beautifully in an often episodic nature, together they weave a season that’s a remarkable commentary on what happens when your past catches up with you and forces you to rethink the future you thought was already laid bare.
But let’s take it back to Palestine, because the inclusion of an installment shot on location in Haifa and Jerusalem (“egyptian cigarettes,” episode two), which was produced by Abbass (who’s Palestinian herself), is something worth going deeper into. In August, Youssef’s series, Mo, which he co-created with Ramy alum Mohamed Amer, became the first streaming show to take on the story of a Palestinian family seeking asylum in America. Now, Youssef has taken the platform and given Palestinian-Americans representation we could have never dreamed of before.
For some viewers, watching Ramy will be the first time they see the way Israel split Jerusalem in half between the Jewish-populated West, where his business deal is, and the Arab-populated East, where he tries to meet with a Palestinian woman for a date. It’ll be the first time they’re shown the massive cement wall splitting the populations, or the barbed-wire fences that line the checkpoints, where commuters could be forced to wait hours to be let through. Ramy doesn’t need to make a statement about what’s going on in Jerusalem to make it clear how much Arab/Muslim citizens suffer under military rule.
And then Ramy goes where no other show has been bold enough to go, when the title character inadvertently gets a Palestinian kid arrested by the Israeli military for stealing his jacket, a plot point that starts in that second episode and lasts through the end of the season. This deliberate inclusion of the way the Israeli government detains children for minor offenses is, to me, an indication of how much Youssef cares about using his platform for something bigger than himself. This year alone, more than 450 children have been detained by the Israeli military for similarly offenses, and just last month a Palestinian activist, Ahed Tamimi, released a memoir of her experience getting detained by Israel for eight months when she was just 16 years old for slapping a soldier in her front yard. Youssef could have chosen to not include this story, to simply show the barricades and be done with it, but the thoughtfulness of this arc shook me to my core, and I can’t believe we got to see it.
I fell in love with Ramy in 2019 because it taught me that it was possible to embrace both my Muslim/Arab identity and my American/queer one. When there were no other Muslim shows on television, it gave me a window into the community I wanted so desperately to be welcomed back to. And in its third season, that love has been renewed because of the earnest, honest portrayal of the Palestinian experience.