(RNS) Viewers watching the American Football Conference championship game between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots earlier this month may have seen a Best Buy commercial for a Sharp 60-inch television that seemed ordinary, but in one way was extraordinary.

Best Buy employee Mustafa, who is featured on a Best Buy commercial. Photo courtesy of Best Buy

Best Buy employee Mustafa, who is featured on a Best Buy commercial. Photo courtesy of Best Buy


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The ad shows a young, clean-shaven salesman named Mustafa talking about the television, advising customers and relaxing at home watching movies and football with his friends.

“I’m never going to get these guys out of here,” he jokes to his girlfriend at the end.

While the commercial never identifies Mustafa as a Muslim, many might assume that given his name, a diminutive for Muhammad. For viewers used to seeing negative images of Muslims on television, the commercial was a rare exception.

“He has all the right stuff,” said Timothy de Waal Malefyt, a longtime advertising executive who now teaches at Fordham University in New York. “He has a girlfriend. He has Anglo friends. And he’s watching ‘Despicable Me’ and football. It’s very American.”

Video courtesy of Every TV Commercials via YouTube

Muslims in commercials are still rare, but that could be changing as the acceptance of Muslims accelerates across America.

The Best Buy commercial, scheduled to run through Feb. 1, sparked a flurry of Twitter chatter after it debuted.

“Wow. Best Buy getting multicultural. Thanks Mustafa!” wrote a user named Eddie Najarro.

“Well, hello Mustafa. I never see any guy who looks like that at my local Best Buy,” tweeted Vixen By Night.

Best Buy spokesman Jeffrey Shelman said the ad featured actual Best Buy employees, chosen based on their tech knowledge and on-camera performance. Mustafa is Mustafa Hakami, a native of Afghanistan who lives in Harbor City and is applying to medical school. He works one day a week at Best Buy’s El Segundo, Calif., store.

“I thought the people watching the commercial in their living room would see me like I could have been them,” said Hakami, whose girlfriend in the spot is his wife, Amber. “I see the same things they do, we run into the same issues, we’re all Americans here. So I did the commercial as Mustafa from America.”

While there have been other commercials with Muslim actors — Aasif Mandvi of “The Daily Show” has appeared for Domino’s Pizza and comedian Asif Ali has acted in Best Buy spots — there was no indication that the actors were Muslim.

The Best Buy spot, on the other hand, does make that suggestion, and it joins a rarefied group.

In 2011, Prudential released a series of commercials featuring Americans on their first day of retirement. One ad showed an older African-American man fishing, playing with toddlers, eating a meal with family. He also spelled out his name on the screen: Mujahid Abdul-Rashid.

Video courtesy of Nike via YouTube

For the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Nike created a series of commercials called “Find Your Greatness” that ran in 25 countries. One 17-second spot showed girls huddling with headscarves under the lights of a soccer field, listening intently to their female coach speaking in Arabic. A female narrator with a British accent then says: “If we think greatness is supposed to look a certain way, act a certain way and play a certain way, we certainly need to rethink some things.”

The spot left an impression on Marium Mohiuddin, who once wore an Islamic headscarf as a sports-obsessed teen and now works as a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council.

“When I saw that, I thought, thank you for showing me as someone who likes sports, and who was part of a team, all while wearing the hijab,” she said. “It’s a powerful thing to see yourself reflected positively on television.”

Shahed Amanullah, an Internet entrepreneur and former State Department adviser on diplomacy to global Muslim communities, said the commercials don’t promote acceptance of Muslims so much as they point to an acceptance of Muslims that already exists a dozen years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Advertisers would not be doing this if the idea of a Muslim being a normal American would not play in Peoria,” said Amanullah. “The market is telling us that it isn’t weird anymore to see Muslim consumers behaving like any other Americans.”

YS/MG END SACIRBEY

24 Comments

  1. Earold Gunter

    Not to be snarky, but I caught the name Mustafa, but the only thought that went through my head was “Hey, that name was in the movie “Lion King”, but in talking to my grandchildren I learned I was wrong.

    The premise of the article rests on a recognition of this name with a religious belief. Perhaps I am less exposed than some, but I didn’t put those two together.

    Hopefully in the future no name will be automatically associated with any religion as it is stereotyping, which is a type of prejudice. Hopefully in the future man will learn that all religion is just superstitious beliefs held over from history, and instead of relying on it to run society, which has only caused war, we will instead use logic and reason, and settle our difference peacefully.

    Religion is poison!!

      • Earold Gunter

        Don, Thank you for your comments. Perhaps, “Religion is poison!!” could be interpreted as islamophobic by someone who wished to twist it as such, but not those who are honest, sane and have even a rudimentary education. Also, islam was not excluded purposely as it is also a religion.

        Religion is poison!!

  2. “The market is telling us that it isn’t weird anymore to see Muslim consumers behaving like any other Americans.”

    Unfortunately, “any other Americans”, for the most part, still means not *behaving* like a Muslim! This commercial would NEVER be made with anyone wearing *any* kind of Muslim headwear (or even with a long beard, most likely). Sadly, most still consider that “scary” and “un-American” or not acting like a “real” American or assimilating.

  3. Daniel Berry, NYC

    The tragic aspect of this story is that it shouldn’t be a story Muslims were part of the American scene long before the smear-job they received at the hands of Cheney, Bush & Co in the wake of 911. That it IS a story is a testament to the effectiveness of peddlers of ethnic-based hate who invariably align themselves with conservative politics and politicians. Perhaps even more sad is that many in the US perceive such conservatives as typifying religious people of all stripes. For me, as a left-wing, faithful Anglican Christian, that is deeply disturbing.

    • Don Davenport

      Smear job at the hands of Bush..?? How so??!!! Days after 9-11 he spewed that preposterous “Islam is peace” mantra. He might as well have said AIDS is a condition of good health. The ones who got smeared with this nonsensical lie was the western world. Although Bush is so dumb he probably actually believes it.

  4. We should accept Muslims and moderate forms of Islam. Islamic gender discrimination and the idea that women should be invisible or partially invisible in public is against our liberal Western notions of equality. These ideas should not be accepted and normalized. People should be allowed to practice retrograde religious prescriptions, but we do a disservice to our social ideals to see Islamic inspired discrimination of women, gays and free thinkers as a good thing. Remember it is wrong to discriminate against people, but Islam (like any religion) is a set of ideas (many of which haven’t changed since the dark ages) and it is o.k. to disagree and reject those ideas. Just like it is o.k. to reject republic tax policy or democratic social programs, etc.

    Hijab is an attempt to cover women so that they are visible only to the men that own them (husbands, fathers, etc). Many muslims don’t accept it, but many white liberals think it is somehow progressive because they confuse religion with race & ethnicity.

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