All Atheists Are Muslims

Zahra Noorbakhsh’s show has sold out every performance since its debut


All Atheists Are Muslims
by Ari Siletz

A few years, before Zahra Noorbakhsh moved to the New York stage, her grandma didn’t want to shake hands with me. At the time, Zahra was an undergrad literature major at Berkeley and may have thought it was about time her conservative Muslim grandmother met her real-life friends. After so many years in the U.S., I had forgotten that when you greet a chadored Iranian woman of grandma’s generation, proper etiquette is to look down at your feet as you say your salaam. Then if it turns out she’s not ultra-conservative, she’ll let you know. I’m just glad I didn’t’ try to hug grandma because she reminded me so much of my late aunt Mehri. That one glimpse of Zahra’s family life was enough to let me know that someday she will be an author, playwright, poet or actor. Her sense of humor, penchant for drama, and poetic temperament would not be able to resist turning the ironies in the life of a second generation Iranian-American’s into art. Soon after that mehmooni with grandma, Noorbaksh changed her major to theatre.

Noorbakhsh’s show at the New York International Fringe Theater Festival is called All Atheists Are Muslims and will be playing through August 23, 2011. The one-woman play, written by Noorbakhsh and directed by W. Kamau Bell, is about a young Muslim woman stressing about introducing her Atheist-American boyfriend to the family. Well... it’s not as simple as that. She’s planning to live with the guy outside of marriage. The “groom,” Duncan, is a UPS driver with a degree in literature. He likes lamb. Her parents are so flustered they fight over which of them has the right to throw Zahra out of the house-- the mom who carried her for nine months or the dad who just “sat there and got fat.” Noorbakhsh channels all four characters in this solo performance.

When the show played in the San Francisco Area, it delighted both the audience and the critics:

“Noorbakhsh’s show seeks to skewer stereotypes as much as it elicits laughs from them.” – The San Francisco Chronicle

“Delightful! Funny, moving, and, above all... Universal.” – The Daily Californian

Noorbakhsh’s show has sold out every performance since its debut in Nov 2010. Now in New York, with just a two week run, the show has received critical acclaim from the New Yorker, which called it a highlight of the festival, as well as Newsday, making her the #2 pick of the Festival, and Time Out NY which put it on their list of the thirty-must-see shows. She has three shows left in New York, closing Aug 23rd. Surprisingly, Zahra says she isn’t seeing many Iranian faces in her sold out shows. So please hurry to see the show; it would make Zahra’s grandma proud. In fact, it would make all Iranians proud to see such a well received Iranian artist on a New York stage.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, All Atheists Are Muslims will be coming back to San Francisco September 1- October 1 2011.

Above is a video

of Noorbakhsh being interviewed by Bay Sunday, a San Francisco Bay Area CBS entertainment magazine.

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by Ari Siletz on


I will review the show when it comes to SF.

RonPaul Iranian Fan

War on Ignorance

by RonPaul Iranian Fan on

What is so extraordinary about a young and Muslim Iranian American woman living in a studio apartment with a pale white American boy without a marriage contract, despite her traditional parents' objections? What is in Zahra's work that is new about America as a purgatory of old world values? Isn't this in essence the same story that has been told as many times as there are immigrants in the US? Is the Muslim Iranian American experience different than those of Atheist Iranian Americans or immigrants from other countries? Is Zahra speaking for the "Muslim" contingent and why is her audience, no doubt mostly Americans, so fascinated by All Atheists Are Muslims? Is the interest in this tale more revealing of the current American mindset starved of an alternative to the now defunct narrative after then years of continuous war on Muslim countries? All these questions, and I haven't even seen the act yet, but I want to know before I attempt to see it, because I might choose not to. Is what I don't see in All Atheists Are Mulims, abortion and divorce as the final and glorious achievements of the "arrival"?    

 By the way, someone at please provide a way for people to edit the name that shows up with their comments.


To Zahra

by statira on

I think , most Iranian parents or even some American parents have problem with moving in their daughter with their boyfriend. You dont have to be a genius to figure out what's really their problem. For sure, they dont mind their daughter marry a white, white, white( as you say) American or even an atheist.


Thanks Ari jaan, much appreciate it

by Bavafa on


'Hambastegi' is the main key to victory 


Ari Siletz

Info on Noorbakhsh's show

by Ari Siletz on


Here's the link to Zahra's show schedule.  SF September Run playing at the Stage Werx Theater, 533 Sutter.

Ehaass: Many thanks for your interest. 

Tissa: It is wonderful to see our professional artists admire and support each other's works.

For the reader:

Tissa Hami performed for 10,000 people at First Night Boston 2005.  She has been in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, BBC radio, ABC's The View, the Hallmark Channel, NPR...

Her radio interview on  Commonwealth Journal was awarded first place in the Public Affairs category for 2004 . Tissa is one of five  comedians featured in the documentary, Stand Up: Muslim American Comics Come of Age. The film aired on PBS,  got on BBC World News won the  CINE Golden Eagle Award. Last year Tissa was named one of the Top 11 female comedians in the country by the San Francisco Chronicle.

When Tissa says a show like Zahra's is good, I pay even closer attention to the praise than the accolades Zahra has received from the New Yorker, SF Chronicle etc. This is for two reasons:

1. Tissa understands this genre inside out with more experience in the art form than professional critics.  

2. She's Iranian (so sue me!).


Ari jaan or others: if you have any info about the upcoming show

by Bavafa on

A quick search on the net came out empty, if you have any info you can pass on regarding the upcoming show in SF, date/time, where to purchase ticket etc, I would appreicate it.

'Hambastegi' is the main key to victory 




by tissa on

I've seen Zahra's show and it's both funny and touching.  I walked away wishing that every Iranian dad could be like her dad.  He steals the show.


very interesting and informative!

by Ehaass on

thank you!

Ari Siletz

Some replies

by Ari Siletz on


In the music archives in this website you will find artists whose works are mainstream non-Iranian. There, some folks reject the artist for delivering just what you're protesting about not having! The common theme between the opposing views seems to be, "let's find a reason not to support our artists."


Reality-Bites: the questions you ask have subtle psychological dimensions that are better answered through the medium of art. Which is what Noorbakhsh is doing. See if the play doesn't answer your questions.


Anahid: Yes, it's great to have both Djalili and Noorbaksh, each with their own style of humor. I'm looking forward to seeing some of Noorbakhsh's shows once she's been on stage as long as Djalili.


Bavafa: Sound like a good plan. Maybe we will run into each other at the SF show in September.





Thanks Ari for the review...

by Bavafa on

Glas she is coming back to SF and we look forward to seeing her.

'Hambastegi' is the main key to victory 


Anahid Hojjati

Thanks Ari for posting this. Zahra is such a warm person.

by Anahid Hojjati on

I have not seen Zahra's comedy so I cannot comment on whether it is funny or not. However, the fact that it has been sold out means that audiences must have liked it. As far as "Omid Djalili", I have to say that I find him very funny which takes me back to Zahra. I have met Zahra and she comes across as very warm and friendly, which is also true for Omid.


Thanks for posting this, Ari

by Reality-Bites on

I wonder more about Zahra Noorbaksh's own views/feelings on her life choices, than her conservative parents/grand parents.

She describes herself as a Muslim Iranian American. Does she really still consider herself a Muslim? And if so, as a Muslim is SHE perfectly happy that her life choices/style are not in conflict with her faith?


Do you really find this funny?

by anglophile on

What happened to the good old American humour? True, it is not half as sophisticated as English humour but still something! Why we Iranians cannot come up with something which is non-Iranian? If we make jokes in a stand up comedy it must have an element of being Iranian in it, if we write articles or books it must have something to do with being Iranian, if we make films it must be something about Iran in it. BABA mashallah shoma nasle "second generation hasteen". Write or do something related to your new "home". The only Iranian comedian whose comedy is enjoyed by both Iranian as well as foreign (in this case British) audiences is who? you guessed it: Omid Djalili //