How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

by

Moustafa Bayoumi

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The subject of Bayoumi’s final portrait, Rami is a devoutly religious Palestinian American teenager who has decided to dedicate his life to Islam. He wants to teach Muslims to live more virtuously and show the West that Islam is, in the vast majority of places and forms, a peaceful and community-oriented religion. He is physically imposing, a star football player in high school. But, when his father goes to prison, he turns his energy to religion, which offers him a sense of fulfillment and solace he sees nowhere else. In college, he befriends Ezzat and Mohammad, who are also pious and ethically-minded; the three hope to do their part spreading peace, good will, and wisdom among Muslim and non-Muslim communities alike. With Mohammad, Rami runs a nonprofit website that sends copies of the Qur’an to anyone who requests one, which he considers a form of da‘wa (missionary work). At the end of Bayoumi’s portrait, Rami gives an eloquent speech about life and death at a mosque. He starkly contrasts with the common American picture of a devout Muslim, which associates religious conservatism with violent fundamentalism, and his aspiration to heal a Muslim community that has lost its moral compass and an American community that has lost its sense of compassion offers a kind of hope that is increasingly rare in the tense, divided world of post-9/11 America.

Rami Quotes in How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

The How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? quotes below are all either spoken by Rami or refer to Rami. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? published in 2008.
Rami Quotes

But still it's not enough. “There are a lot of Muslims,” Ezzat says, “but there is no Islam.”

Related Characters: Moustafa Bayoumi (speaker), Ezzat (speaker), Rami
Page Number: 223
Explanation and Analysis:

“Oh, man,” he said. “I forgot a good ending!” He pursed his lips. “Sometimes you just forget,” he explained.

“How did you want it to end?” I asked.

He paused to get the expression just right. “You come into the world crying while everyone around you is laughing,” he said. “But when you leave this world for the next life, and everyone else is crying, you should be laughing.” He summed up what he meant. “You've done good. Now all you have is bliss,” he explained with wide eyes. “That's what I should have said.”

The young imam was kicking himself and smiling.

Related Characters: Moustafa Bayoumi (speaker), Rami (speaker)
Page Number: 256-257
Explanation and Analysis:
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How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? PDF

Rami Character Timeline in How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

The timeline below shows where the character Rami appears in How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Rami
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
On a night in July 2006, with Israel and Lebanon at war, Bayoumi sits with Rami and Ezzat, his friend, in a Bay Ridge Dunkin’ Donuts. Rami is 19, thoughtful, and... (full context)
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Born in Jordan to Palestinian parents, Rami grows up in Brooklyn, spending his nights with his father at the grocery stores where... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
...enforcement begins investigating Arab groceries (which they believe fund terrorism) and plants an informant in Rami’s father’s circles. When the man offers to sell them weapons, they realize his identity, but... (full context)
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Rami turns to the Qur’an for solace, listening to a famous reciter on the internet while... (full context)
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
After five months, Rami’s father is released from jail on probation, but set to be deported. Their lives return... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Rami’s father is arrested again, abruptly, because a man with a similar name has cashed fraudulent... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Unable to focus, Rami does worse than expected on his SATs but still wins a partial scholarship to a... (full context)
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
One night, during an argument about marriage and children, Ezzat asks why Rami is Muslim and how he knows his religion is the right one, how he knows... (full context)
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
After a few weeks, Rami joins Ezzat’s Islamic study group in Queens, talking about how to model their lives on... (full context)
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
After his sophomore year, Rami goes to visit family in the Jordanian capital Amman and is thrilled to receive “a... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
During their meeting at Dunkin’ Donuts, three more of Rami’s friends join him, Bayoumi, and Ezzat. They continue to talk about politics, namely Israel’s bombing... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
A few weeks later, Rami and Bayoumi go to Friday prayer, where Rami’s friend and Bayoumi’s student Mohammad, an outstanding... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
Bayoumi accompanies Rami and Mohammad for their da‘wa work, sending free Qur’ans to anyone who requests them from... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Bayoumi spends numerous Fridays with Rami and Mohammad, working a few hours in the office before following Mohammad to a prayer... (full context)
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Bayoumi also meets Rami several times at his local Muslim youth center, which used to be an Italian banquet... (full context)
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Rami’s other future plans are changing, however. His family cannot afford for him to go to... (full context)
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
A few weeks later, Bayoumi meets Rami in a “bleak, working-class neighborhood” on Church Avenue, where now Rami is going to lead... (full context)