LaReeca Rucker has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and her work has appeared in newspapers across the nation. She spent a decade as a features writer and multimedia journalist with The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was also a USA TODAY contributor. She is a freelance journalist and support journalism instructor in the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media in Oxford, Mississippi.

Comedy show promotes religious diversity

LaReeca Rucker
The Oxford Eagle

While some would say religion is not a laughing matter, three comedians from varying religious backgrounds will perform at Millsaps College tonight as part of the "Laugh in Peace Comedy Tour," designed to bring cross-cultural comedy to the area.

James Bowley, a professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Millsaps College, said the event, starring comedians Rabbi Bob Alper, Azhar Usman and the Rev. Susan Sparks, will be held at 7 p.m. in the Academic Complex Recital Hall. It is free, and ages 11 and up are welcome to attend.

"It's a comedy show, featuring three stand-up comedians, who all work independently, and also together, for shows like this," Bowley said. "What's perhaps most interesting about them is that one is Jewish, one Christian and one is Muslim. So the show is more than just laughs; it's also an inter-religious dialog of sorts and a cross-cultural experience."

Alper, an ordained rabbi, who served congregations for 14 years and has a doctorate from Princeton Theological Seminary, has had a 25-year comedy career.

Azhar Usman has been called "America's funniest Muslim." The Chicago-based attorney-turned-comedian founded "Allah Made Me Funny: The Official Muslim Comedy Tour." He was the subject of an episode of ABC's "Nightline" and was featured on "CBS Sunday Morning."

The Rev. Susan Sparks, a Baptist minister who is also a trial lawyer and standup comedian, is senior pastor of the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. She also has written "Laugh Your Way to Grace: Reclaiming the Spiritual Power of Humor."

Bowley said the Islamic Culture Association brought the event to Millsaps.

"We are grateful to student leaders of several student clubs at Millsaps and generous people in the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities for underwriting the event," he said.

Student leader Muzamil Khawaja said the event was brought to Millsaps to serve as the basis for future interfaith work.

"By bringing in comedians from three different religions, we can provide the Millsaps, as well as the Jackson community, with an opportunity to witness how religious differences cannot and should not be dividing forces among people," he said. "People from all faiths should be able to come together to enjoy as well as learn about other cultures and faiths.

"Essentially, we want to prove that no matter what religion one may practice, we must always have interfaith dialogue as well as mutual respect."

Khawaja said the hope is that all who attend learn something about another religion or culture.

"There are often prejudices against people of other religious ideologies," he said, "but we aim to eradicate the misconceptions that people may have.

"These comedians all share their love for their respective religions, as well as for bringing smiles to people, and with their comic talents, I believe they can prove to the audience that all of us do, in fact, have a lot more in common than we originally think."


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