International Emmy-winning presenter Baz Ashmawy, Ireland’s most famous Muslim-born personality, has stated that there are massive misconceptions about the faith and that Irish people are a lot more like Muslims than they might think.
He won the Emmy for best non-scripted entertainment for his show “50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy,” which he made with his mother Nancy.
Even though the Libyan-born presenter revealed he has been questioned numerous times at airports he said it had not affected his love of the Irish.
His documentary “Baz: The Lost Muslim" debuts on RTE, Ireland's national television station, this week.
He was raised Muslim, but when his parents divorced he took his mother's Catholic faith not his Egyptian father’s Muslim one. Today he is agnostic.
The RTE star was speaking to the Irish Independent in the run-up to his widely anticipated documentary "Baz: The Lost Muslim," which airs on Tuesday on RTE.
The series shows the presenter trying to understand the culture and beliefs of the Muslim faith into which he was born, but which he hasn't practiced since childhood.
Remembering his Muslim years he says: "My dad would have told me to pray. We would never have eaten pork. He would have never drink. I was always culturally connected to Islam but forgot a lot of it so that's what the show was about," he explained. "I'm hearing people talk about Islam and thinking that doesn't sound anything like what I remember."
He said there is “ignorance surrounding Muslims" and that many people believe the strict Saudi Arabian laws apply throughout the Muslim world.
He pointed out there are 1.5 billion Muslims and Saudi Arabia accounts for only 1.5 per cent of that number.
"This [practice of women] walking behind [men] is a Saudi Arabian thing. They have laws that women can't drive. No other country has that. So the Muslims who live under archaic laws have nothing to do with Islam, that has to do with an ideology or a translation of Islam to do with a specific area, but that's not the case anywhere else.
"In Islam, if a woman works, her money is her money and the man has to provide for his family. My family in Egypt is run by women. My sister Mahy wears a hijab because she wants to, not because she is made to. It's a symbol of empowerment."
He added: "Just like if you go into a mosque and women and men aren't allowed to pray in the same room together, a lot of that comes down to a very simple thing: if you're praying in a mosque and there's a woman in front of you bending over and standing up and bending over and standing up, I don't think your mind will be on prayer."
He also protested efforts to stop Muslims wearing traditional outfits.
"I think it's very odd that you can have someone with a six-foot Mohawk and a bolt through their mouth but not someone with a scarf on their head. I think it's personal preference and you should always allow people to wear what they want. It's a freedom. It's democracy."
As for always being stopped going through airport security, he said: "I was pulled in America. I'd rather not get into how many times I was pulled in.
"I don't want to let people get to me like that, to be honest. I haven't done anything wrong so I have the confidence of being calm. You can only change things that you can control. I can't control what some guy in airport security in Dallas does. If he wants to pull me, he's going to pull me."
"In Dublin, they all know me. They wanted to see the Emmy the last time I was there," he laughs. "It's the best airport in the world."
He stated he wanted to see a multi-ethnic Ireland. "This is the direction I would love to see Ireland go," he said. "I think there's a lot of similarities between Ireland [and Muslims]...we [the Irish] faced racism and were painted as terrorists for a long time and it was untrue of the people."