The Tipping Point of Ramy Spiritual Journey, The Mess Should’ve been Owned Up
The second season of the pilgrimage unfurls the stronger wave inside the life of a practicing millennial Muslim. Yet, it confronts the bigger stake of responsibility towards human frailty.
The spiritual journey finally pursues to the second phase. In the first season, Ramy has successfully delivered an unapologetic introduction about the inseparable issue of Islam culture and the ugly reality countenanced by the people inside the Muslim community. With sharp eloquence conveyed in casual and wise-cracking remarks, the show in the full courage depicted the nuanced portrayal of a practicing millennial Muslim who was grappling to find a well-secured religious path for his life.
Better yet, what the show achieved in the first season now escalates to the next level of observation. Ramy does not take a bizarre left turn like many other shows dealing with existential belief theme, instead the second season draws a clear spiritual arch connected to the previous one. Even though, the arch insists the story delves into the bleaker and more perilous circumstances.
It’s clearly uneasy for millennial and younger generations to be devoted to religious faith whilst modern society alone more gravitates toward cynical discourses and prioritizes self-satisfaction over collectivism in the family tradition. The experience of figuring out about their actual self inside the religious perspective will be an endless battle against secular culture. Where they can easily become exhausted for always projecting guilts to their own mistakes or be preoccupied with all the contradictions that adverse to what they were taught to believe.
Most of it already occurred in the fist aspirational stage of Ramy’s spiritual journey. In fact, what becomes the next big fuss of being a millennial Muslim in a nation of nonbelievers like America is apparently pretty similar to what happens with the majority of millennial Muslims in the largest Muslim country in the world.
The extreme phase of being religious
After being distasteful learning Islam only from the rough surface — merely focus on rituals and conventional rules — millennial Muslims are eager to search the genuine answers of Islam as the paragon of moral virtue from under its own skin. When their age turns to the period they can make decisions based on their own will, they are desperately want to be righteous. Their spiritual path is shifting to what Ramy does in this second season, they are getting towards “the extreme region” of the religion.
Enclaved with guilt, sorrow, and disappointment, Ramy stumps on the dead-end road. He just returns from the trip to his parent’s hometown in Egypt where he hoped to find enlightenment to the core of his spiritual beings and instead it just added up another mess to the bulk of mistakes after he slept with his own cousin. That pilgrimage to Egypt ended up making Ramy stayed 24/7 on the bed jerking off five times a day instead of getting up to pray five times a day.
Then, he decides to find new guidance to fix the broken faith, something that provides direct counseling from the expert. Until he eventually met an Imam — played by Mahershala Ali — from the Sufi community nearby, his life embarks on a new page full of transformative lessons taught by a new spiritual guru, Sheikh Ali.
He pledges himself as a compliant student, he takes all the commands from the Sheikh as his own words. Haplessly, he just accepts all of it on the face value with such limited view about the actual merits lay beneath the rituals he implements. As a result, he causes a tragedy by helping a young veteran who’s struggling with PTSD convert to Islam instantly. This provokes additional problems, eventually leading the primary sponsors of the mosque to withdraw their funds.
With Ramy being in the extremely religious state, the second phase of his spiritual journey is on the path to explore the deeper idea of Islam, including the religion’s integration in the life of the modern Muslim community. The show unabashedly reveals the intricate dogma, strict rules of impropriety, and suppressed taboo in Islam. What deserves a respectful adoration in here is not just the bravery of addressing controversial subjects, but also how the show represents these issues in three-dimensional layers in compliance with honesty and hilarity.
Every second time I watch Ramy, it’s hard not to bashfully reflect the ham-fisted approach most of the Indonesian films take of incorporating Islam as the subject matter. Too often Indonesian film comprises the religious element in one-dimensional state as a rigid institution or as a mere sacred attribute, rather than a subject that’s ingrained as a personal matter to the people who believe and implement it.
Apart from the inaccurate portrayal, historically it is hard to make a show about religion. Adjacent to what occurs in Indonesian cinema, Islamic film frequently aims itself as a didactic tool that places people to see their moral value in the tinted glass for what is good and what is bad for them. Worse yet, it prevalently works like a boring manual operating book for people who might already be lost in faith.
By preferring not to stand in the clear boundary of black-and-white, Ramy chooses to place all the religious and traditional conceptions in the sea of grey area. It unfolds a wide range of Islamic cultures, from the less strict prohibition, like not to engage with dog’s related stuff, to the highly fundamental Shariah rule such as Taaruf — the moderate dating process for couples to enter marriage without physical contact.
Nevertheless, the show is never caught out of over-explaining these particular cultural conventions nor desperately pushing these exclusive traditions to be accepted entirely in the modern view.
Celebrating the universe of the show
Even this show can manage to constantly apply the principle for not incorporating religion as a tool to answer everyone’s problem when it comes to addressing the inner conflict from the other character’s point of view.
In the first season, the show already tried to conquest its own mission to broaden the representation by acquiring a couple of episodes to unfold the conflicted live of Muslim women precisely from Ramy’s mother and sister perspective, also ventured the sexual desire of a disable man which is Steve, his best friend who’s living with muscular dystrophy.
In the second season, the discourse in the Ramy’s universe seems enlarged not only because some new characters successfully enrich the spirit the show aspires, but the issue they experience is also genuinely developed with the sheer of uncomfortable truths. The discourse gets wider to converse the malady of toxic masculinity in the domestic field as Ramy learns the hardship being the leader of a family from his father, who’s constantly compelled to live mentally in the future, yet he technically needs to fake his own misery in the present.
Meanwhile, his mother and his sister each get another wickedly-funny stand-alone slot. Their story cultivates the two sides of the immigrant story in the course of trying to make sense of the world with their contradicted beliefs. His mother’s journey to acquire American citizenship probably showcases how a top trier, well-rounded sketch comedy should comprise humor and social commentary in a balanced sense with sentimental ache. Moreover, we even get time to peek inside the sturdy and masculine facade of the misogynist uncle Naseem where he lets himself be loved and become vulnerable.
Apparently, it always takes certain ways to arrive at the conclusion, and most of the time we barely can draw a fine line at the end. That’s how exactly the show refuses to close the other character’s story with such an easy feat. At the very least, it works because the empty conclusion lets the story grows by contemplating its own mystery.
The limits of love
Although the stories from the other character already intensify the level of irony until the last of two final episodes, the main tragedy of the show has not been revealed fully yet. It places the focus on the pivotal conflict between the student, Ramy, who tirelessly seeks the grand wisdom from the teacher, Sheikh Ali.
As the learning process to become a better Muslim already gets awry from the start, Sheikh Ali continues to find more indications that Ramy is not merely a decent and compliance pupil. None of his surmises is strengthened with a fact that shows that Ramy keeps rebelling the advisory he gives or dismissing his order to avoid certain problematic behaviors. It’s fair to say that Ramy is a pretty avid student and also a compassionate listener who holds strong respect towards the Sheikh’s credibility as a religious leader. But the prominent issue here is Ramy has become a chronic underperformer every time he’s trying to reflect on his past mistake.
On the course of this premise, the show maintains to dispute another conventional archetype that is prevalently depicted in the realm of a religious theme. Notably, in Indonesian films, the character of religious leaders is pretty much underdeveloped on the two dry stereotypes, whether the character is extremely righteous, pious, and flawless, or sometimes it describes as a hypocrite who is prone to corrupt the faith of the people who look up for his guidance.
In this show, Sheikh Ali inhabits more compound region, he’s charismatic, affirmatively dominant, and demanding, but he’s also profound and thoughtful. This is shown when he’s not afraid to add some layers of understanding like when he figuratively explains the core of Islam practice as a bitter-sweet orange. He also showcases the zenith of modern leadership by challenging Ramy to complete a quest that counters one of the common misconceptions in Islam which Ramy stringently believes.
In spite of his persona, Sheikh Ali never completely acquires the embodiment of Messiah which always become the issue in the narrative with religious theme. The presence of a religious leader in the screen often solely serves as an ultimate hero, the messenger of spiritual enlightenment who shows the lost ummah the right path to ascend their religious journey. In contrast, Sheikh Ali is pretty much challenged by his own student. Ramy’s self-justified behavior gradually pushes the Sheikh to the corner of his own faith, turns the honorable Sheikh into a decent guy crashed by his limited capability to respond Ramy’s degraded actions with grace, compassion, and empathy.
Ramy keeps learning from the Sheikh otherwise he also keeps failing to hold himself accountable for his own action. He seems to lean towards fixing himself, but as what the Sheikh scorns that he only wants the world to compensate with his faults, so he can always reflect on it every time he needs to be a decent human being again. His lack of responsibility is actually an echo to the trait of millennial and younger generation who constantly indulges in the idea of self-improvement without ever figuring out the source of their problems.
At this point, the show has immensely exceeded what a dramedy should meet in the eye. If the profound lesson of the season one is to bravely open the heart to see our own mistakes nakedly, in the last momentum of the second season the show reinforces us to take full ownership of it. Self-improvement without responsibility is superfluous, we will continuously fail to receive the real nourishment and only feeding ourselves with empty calories of free sugar can of self-interest. When we cannot clearly recognize the risks and consequences of hurting other people, it’s fair to others for giving up their love for us.