Is Euphoria’s Ali the Muslim Representation We Need?

The second season of Euphoria came to an explosive end, leaving viewers with a mixed bag of emotions. While we were introduced to a variety of new characters this season, we also got to see the return of some of our favorites. Among them, we saw the return of Ali, Rue’s sponsor and mentor in rehab.

Ali is a grounding force for Rue, he is the person that brings her back to reality when she needs it most. Although Ali’s character may not have as much screen time as other characters, his presence is powerful. Notably, Ali is the only Muslim character on the show. With Muslim representation on television shows becoming more prevalent now, there is a delicate balance between what is accurate, good, bad, and just outright obnoxious. While Ali’s character on Euphoria is not perfect, there is room to grow.  

Ali’s Past

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The show delves into Ali’s rocky past and his spiral into addiction and how that has affected his life. As a young child, he witnessed his father struggle with alcoholism that led to the abuse of Ali’s mother. As a result, Ali turned to drugs and alcohol to mask his emotions and his feelings. While Ali built a life for himself and had a wife, and two daughters, his addiction was a source of strife for the family.

While the show acknowledges that Ali has a rocky past, they don’t take the easy route of demonizing his character like most television shows does with Muslim men.

Ali is honest and admits to fighting and getting into physical altercations with his wife during their marriage. He acknowledges that his addiction and these altercations were the reason for his estranged relationship with his daughters today. He hit rock bottom, and he needed a way out. But then, he got into rehab and converted to Islam. He changed his name from Martin to Ali — a symbolic start to a new life.  

While the show acknowledges that Ali has a rocky past, they don’t take the easy route of demonizing his character like most television shows does with Muslim men. Ali faces his past head-on and takes accountability for his actions. He acknowledges his shortcomings and how he could be and do better.

While the show could have chosen a more creative past for Ali, instead of relying on a “broken home” storyline, the pain is what makes Ali’s character real. This is what also makes the conversion more rewarding. Often, people find religion in their darkest moments, and Ali’s found Islam. We see Ali doing good on his promise to create a new life for himself. We see him actively trying to help the addicts at the rehab center. Likewise, we see him trying to help Rue get clean before she spirals even further in her addiction. And although it’s not clear, Ali is working on himself.

Ali is a flawed character — and that is normal. His story is a raw and real depiction of how addiction affects you and your surrounding lives. Ali is living with the consequences of his actions, and he is navigating his way through his new life.  

Ali’s Relationship with Rue

Ali and Rue in Euphoria
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In Euphoria’s Season One and Season Two, we see Ali and Rue’s relationship play out on screen, much like a father-daughter duo that has their problems. Ali is not afraid to call Rue out on her bluffs and hold her accountable for her actions. He sees himself as a guide and mentor to her and stresses repeatedly that he is looking out for her. He warns her of the dangers of addiction, this disease she is battling with. If anything, he never blames her for her addiction. Instead, he acknowledges she is a good person, and that this path was not her choice.

While their friendship is tested over the infamous “suitcase,” with Rue taking a jab at Ali’s past, Ali forgives her. Ali accepts Rue for her who she is, as he puts it: “The good, the bad and the ugly.” He practically predicts Rue’s outbreak at her sister and mother, but he shows up to try to help the family figure out the next step. Throughout the messiness and chaos of Euphoria, Ali is always a grounding force for Rue. 

Ali is a father figure to Rue. He feels obligated to care for her, and he wants her to get better. He sees himself in Rue, and he wants to help her get out of this before she ends up like him, alone and full of regret.

While some people may criticize Ali for not doing the same for his own family, Ali may not be ready to take this step with his family. He sees Rue and her family as an extension of what could have been. He does not want Rue’s family to end up in the same place as he is, so he is doing everything he can to stop that from happening. Ali has faith in Rue, and he reassures her of this several times. Ali knows firsthand what it is like to be in Rue’s place — which makes their friendship is special; because they share a bond that no one else has, albeit a difficult one of addiction.

Ali’s determination to get Rue clean and Rue’s adversity to being sober is what makes their presence on screen so compelling. Every time Rue pushes back, Ali is there to pull her back in. While he emphasizes, he wants her respect and is stern with her about this point, he does so from a father’s perspective.  

Ali’s Relationship with Islam

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The show’s depiction of Ali’s relationship is intriguing. While he talks to Rue about his journey to Islam, we never see him practicing his faith by praying or fasting, for example. Besides his name, the only visual representation we get of Ali’s faith is the fact that he is always wearing a taqiyah, topi, or kufi. But Ali’s faith is prevalent in almost every conversation he has with Rue. He points out the hypocrisy of corporate America and how they claim to stand by movements, people, or revolutions when really none of those revolutions matter. Ali tells Rue the real revolution is spiritual. He tells her she needs to find something greater than herself, something that can’t be found in the material world or even yourself because, more often than not, you fail yourself. And even though Rue retorts saying she doesn’t believe in God, he tells her God believes in you.

As a Muslim who’s still starting his journey in Islam, Ali is progressing at his own pace. Not an extremist, Ali is tolerant and expresses empathy for Rue. So in fact, even if it’s not obvious, Ali is practicing Islam.

When Rue tells Ali about her father’s death, and she expresses her anger towards this argument of faith and God as well as having a purpose, Ali’s response is worth noting. While he tries to interject a few times, he ends up listening and allowing her to speak. He does not try to force Islam or even his beliefs onto her; he listens. And when she finishes speaking, he acknowledges how hard that is for her and allows her that moment.  

This is where the show really shines with Ali’s character. Ali is patient and even feels guilty for sparking this trauma in Rue. While Ali falls back on his faith in times of need and struggle, his relationship with Islam is internal throughout the show.

While some people might argue they want a more visual depiction of Ali as a Muslim, I think this is a more accurate depiction of what being a Muslim is. To viewers, seeing him only talking about Islam might seem like an extremely surface-level depiction of Ali as a Muslim — given all the risks the show takes. However, as a Muslim who’s still starting his journey in Islam, Ali is progressing at his own pace, and that is something we must respect. Not an extremist, Ali is tolerant and expresses empathy for Rue. Instead of pushing back on Rue’s beliefs, he takes the time to understand where she is coming from. So in fact, even if it’s not obvious, Ali is practicing Islam.  

Additionally, he forgives Rue after her blowout at him. Even though he was hurt, he understood she was not coming from a place of malice, but a place of hurt herself. Ali even goes to Rue’s house to make dinner with their family, and he gives Gia the reassurance she needs. He encourages her to not suppress her feelings and reassures her that she is validated and heard. Here he is working to try to bring Rue’s family unit together. Whether this is out of a place of guilt for his own shortcomings with his family, he is making the effort and that is what counts.  

Muslims in TV & Film: How Ali Compares

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Overall, Euphoria does Ali’s character justice. Their depiction of Ali, a Black Muslim man, could have gone in so many directions, and while there is room to grow, they found a balance in his character.

Your faith isn’t about what you show to people; the biggest part of being a Muslim is your relationship with Allah. That isn’t always public or out there for everyone to see. Instead, it’s a private journey; one that only you can take.

First, there are some places where the show has fallen short. I do wish they could have chosen a different narrative for his childhood instead of a broken home troupe. This is overused, especially when it comes to Black characters on television, and especially when it comes to Black men. They have Ali’s character estranged from his family and daughters, while I understand this speaks to the reality of addiction and how it drives a wedge between families. However, the narrative borders the line on the absentee father trope, yet another trope that is stereotypical for Black men in media. This is where the criticism of Ali as a father is prevalent, given his relationship with Rue and her family. If he can spend all this time trying to help Rue and her family, why not do the same for his own? 

Additionally, what’s worth noting is that Euphoria lacks an appropriate visual depiction of Ali putting his faith into practice. There really is no shot of him praying, going to the mosque, or reading the Quran. That said, while it wouldn’t hurt to see Ali do something a bit more than talk about his faith, it’s important to remind ourselves that your faith is not always about what you show to people; the biggest part of being a Muslim is your relationship with Allah. That is not always public or out there for everyone to see — it shouldn’t be. Instead, it’s a more private journey; one that only you can take.

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On a positive note, the show does a lot of good by Ali’s character. He doesn’t fall into the angry, oppressive, violent, Muslim man that we so often see on television. They don’t box Ali into the extreme depictions of Muslims, either the Muslim that takes their faith so far it becomes more extreme than Islam or the Muslim that throws away their faith in the name of “freedom.” Instead, Ali is honest, patient, and empathetic. When he gets angry and passionate, it’s not dramatic; it’s real. He takes ownership of his flaws and everything he has done wrong. He is actively trying to work on himself while helping others. Through Islam, he is trying to build a new life for himself and we, as viewers, see that. 

Euphoria takes a more subtle approach to Ali’s character, depicting his relationship with Islam through his actions and his words. And even though it’s not an obvious, visual, in-your-face showing of how Ali is Muslim, we see all the attributes of being Muslim in him. Ali does not shy away from admitting his faults. He does not try to lie or cover up for the pain he caused. He knows he is not perfect. He is strong when he needs to be, and he tells it like it is. Not only that, but he returns to God and shows us how important it is to have God in your life. He helps those in need, and he is forgiving. These are all the qualities that make a real Muslim.

The Journey to Islam: How Accurate Ali’s Character Is

Islam looks different for everyone, and for the most part, the journey is inside oneself. It also takes us time to get better at practice and stay consistent with our faith.  

In all, Ali’s depiction of Euphoria is beautiful: The subtly of his character, the power behind his words, the ability he has to turn the chaotic aura of the show into something more peaceful. Too many times, we have seen television shows that try too hard to show the character is or is not a Muslim. Euphoria manages to do this effortlessly; this makes Ali’s character relatable and real.

While I appreciate this approach to Ali, I hope to see him grow in his faith and as a person the next season. And I hope he doesn’t lose his spark in Euphoria; Ali’s character is special, and he deserves to take time with his journey as a Muslim.