(RNS) — You probably wouldn’t expect the words “TSA” or “airstrike” to be on your Valentine’s Day cards.
But that’s what you get when you order Los Angeles activist and artist Taz Ahmed’s subversive “Muslim VDay” cards.
Ahmed doesn’t decorate her cards with paper flowers or lace decals. Instead, her cards are laced with snarky, political puns that aim to evoke discomfort or wry humor.
“I’d Never Muslim Ban You From My Heart,” one card reads. “Cupid Dropped an Airstrike on My Heart,” another says, pointing the arrow at Islamophobic rhetoric and policy. They may seem dark, Ahmed explains, but she sees them as a tool to create humor in a “tense and traumatic time” for U.S. Muslims.
The cards originally came about as a bit of an online joke, Ahmed told RNS. But there was an element of frustration behind them. Six years ago, when she began posting the puns on Twitter, she had just finished her essay for the now-iconic book “Love, Inshallah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women.” As she was publicizing the book, she kept seeing people asking questions like “Can Muslim women fall in love?” and “Is love allowed in Islam?”
That’s what spurred her joking Valentines. “It was so absurd to me that we were still asking these questions, as though Muslim women aren’t human,” she said. “So I kind of wanted to push back on the narrative that Muslim women don’t fall in love.”
When friends began asking to buy her homemade cards, she started selling sets of six on a small Etsy shop every February. But the discussion of Muslims and romance eventually began to wear her out, and she took a break for a year.
“I thought I was done,” she said. “Then when (now-President) Trump and (Hillary) Clinton were running for office, there was too much there for me to not make the cards.”
Last year’s set included cards that read “Let’s engage in some heavy vetting” and “First Muslim registry … then wedding registry.” And in years before that, puns included “You’ve hijacked my heart,” “You sp-ISIS up my life” and “I’d let you creep sharia all over my body.”
Following hot-button discussions for her popular #GoodMuslimBadMuslim podcast, which looks at news in the American Muslim stratosphere through a satirical lens, gives her plenty of time to think up puns.
The humor does go over some people’s heads, she said.
Many Muslims are uncomfortable with her cards, she said, because they want to present a “sterile” vision of the community to the public. And others believe Muslims shouldn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day at all.
“But what they’re missing is that these cards aren’t about Valentine’s Day,” she said. They’re a satirical vehicle to disrupt the narrative around American Muslims today.
And people who can understand the politics of existing in America as Muslims also grasp that. Even non-Muslim allies laugh when she talks about the cards at comedy shows. Of course, she says, that’s once they get over their initial discomfort. (“Am I allowed to laugh?” some ask. “Because I kind of just feel bad for you.”)
But there are also dramatic culture shifts that are making her work easier to understand. As discussions around surveillance, suppression and scapegoating of Muslims become mainstream, her Valentines – and her podcast and essays – become easier for the public to swallow.
“When ‘Love, Inshallah’ came out, it was highly controversial,” Ahmed said. “But I think, were that same book to come out today, it wouldn’t seem so groundbreaking. And the same thing is happening over time with the cards.”