BEIRUT: A local Tripoli restaurant was animated Tuesday, as Salafist Sheikh Maher Mawas blew audiences away with not sermons, but laughter.
“When people hear Salafi they think of someone who comes from Mars, but if you ask Mariam Nour she will assure you that we are not present on other planets,” said Mawas, in reference to the Lebanese media personality who claims she communicates with aliens.
A Facebook favorite for many residents of the northern city, Mawas was asked to take the stage after his humorous posts gained popularity on social media.
“I love to browse for jokes,” said Mawas humorously, adding that he liked renowned Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef and Lebanese talk show host Nadim Koteich.
Mawas, 36, told The Daily Star that he had consulted other sheikhs before he made the decision to go through with the performance.
“They all told me that I have a battle ahead of me. It was now my job to change the Salafist stereotype that so many have willingly adopted,” he said.
Mawas recalled the anxiety he felt before going on stage, saying that because of his religious affiliation the audience initially rejected him.
However after the show, audiences burst into applause for his stand-up performance, with one woman telling Mawas that he had tempered the hate and anger she had previously harbored against Salafists.
He said “it was enough for me to know I changed one person’s perspective.”
The young sheikh said he will continue with performaning during iftars he presides over in his hometown of Tripoli during the month of Ramadan.
Mawas, who is also an audio engineer at Irtiqaa Way Radio, a local Salafist station in Tripoli, blasted fellow Lebanese Salafists for remaining passive in the face of the common stereotype.
Salafism is a branch of Sunni Islam that takes its name from the term "salaf," Arabic for ancestors, used to identify the earliest Muslims. Its adherents believe these first community of Muslims provide the most accurate example of Islamic practice.
While Salafi supporters are generally known to be nonviolent, the militant component of the movement, referred to as “salafist jihadism,” is the ideological basis for many terrorist organizations across the globe.
“It is as much our fault as it is the extremists, because we didn’t give the people a good image, we just let others give a bad one," he said.
Mawas’ stand-up comedy performance revolve around themes like Facebook, marriage and people’s common conception of Salafists.
“You came here because of an invitation to have dinner at Nustra Caza, but if the restaurant was called Jabhat al-Nusra Caza none of you would have made it today,” he joked. He was referring to the Arabic name of the Islamist Nusra Front group currently battling government forces in Syria.