Remembering Nicholas Brody and His Muslim Faith

“You live in despair for eight years; you can turn to religion, too. And, the King James Bible was not available.” – Nicholas Brody

source: Showtime
source: Showtime

I was born and raised in a secular family in Turkey, a country that is predominantly Muslim. That is, even though I am not religious myself, I am very familiar with the Islamic traditions, rituals and norms. I am obviously coming out of the culture and have been shaped by it in ways that I am probably not aware of 🙂 Thus, I thought it would be neat to talk about Nicholas Brody, my most favorite fictional character ever on small screen, as a Muslim character in celebration of Ramadan!

Now, I am not an expert, not even close, about Muslim characters on TV shows; however, even if there had been a popular Muslim character on TV before Brody came along, I just don’t think there is any way she or he could beat him on any popularity scale.

Before getting to Brody as a Muslim man, I’d love to talk a bit about the portrayal of Muslims in Homeland in general. Because, I know that some publications, have not particularly enjoyed the portrayal of Islam in the show. To give an example, Salon said “every Muslim on Homeland is a credible threat.” I see their point to an extent, but with all due respect, I disagree.

Firstly, Homeland has portrayed Muslims way better than anything that preceded it — I am looking at you, 24, interestingly brought to us by the same team but at a very different time in America — and I believe even Salon agrees with that assessment.

muslimshomeland

Secondly, even though I see Salon’s point to an extent, what I think differently is that every Muslim on Homeland is not a credible threat but he or she is “perceived” as a credible threat. Just to give a few examples: Carrie has suspicions about Galvez thanks to his Lebanese roots, or Saul gives a pretty hard time to Farah when she shows up for her very first work day at the CIA in veil. Or, think about the Imam in Caracas who pretends like he would harbor Brody but instead chooses to report him to the police and pays with his life. Galvez, Farah and the Imam in Caracas. These people may be “perceived” as credible threats by Carrie, or Saul, or us, the audience, but then turn out to be decent individuals with the best intentions.

I believe that the perceptions of the CIA agents regarding Muslim characters in Homeland are portrayed quite realistically in the show. These people are trained to be terrorism experts, and they rely on the information they have as well as the statistics — thus their perception of a Muslim individual as a “potential threat.”

As we see those decent people, we, of course, also see the not-so-decent tailor in Gettysburg who prepares and fits the suicide vest for Brody, or Roya Hammad who works for Abu Nazir, or Aileen Morgan the “homegrown” terrorist. In particular, when you look at Roya and Aileen, you see very similar stories, both women believe some injustice is going on in this world, which is true, but they choose the wrong way to deal with it. Neither of them is a Farah. And, people like Farah, Roya and Aileen all exist in this world.

I just think this is yet another good example of the “nuanced” portrayal of good and bad in Homeland that Damian Lewis talks about in an interview with Hunger Magazine: “There’s a well-pronounced sense of fear in America, a fear of the “other”, and Homeland has largely been a success because it feeds into that. It has also challenged the audience to explore the idea that terrorism, or acts of violence, can be orchestrated by governments, and that it’s not as clear-cut anymore. There’s no clear hero in this show. It has refused to make judgments, and I think it has been brilliantly nuanced and ambiguous.”

TRUE. On both fronts.

First on the fear of the “other”: I agree that the fear of the “other” accounts for the general perception about Islam in American society which I think Homeland depicts brilliantly. I think Jessica is a great representation of this fear that I will talk a bit about later in the post,

Second on the “nuanced” depiction of good and bad: As we have seen the likes of Roya, and Aileen, and of course the big bad wolf Abu Nazir, we have also seen the bad in the U.S. government itself with William Walden cooperating with the CIA to cover the drone attack that killed many school children. We have also seen the corporate men laundering money coming from Iran. If this does not put a question mark into one’s previously clear mind about good and bad, then what does?

Now… Let’s move on to Nicholas Brody and his Muslim faith:

I don’t know if you found out about Brody’s Muslim faith only when you saw Brody praying in the garage but I certainly had my “A-ha” moment earlier in the episode when Brody was shopping for some sort of a rug and a bowl at the shopping mall. Ha… I nudged my husband — “Man, the guy is Muslim. Things are getting quite interesting.” It was quite obvious that Brody wanted to live his new faith in secret and without his family knowing. He still went to Church with his family, prayed with Chris at night, and then did his own prayer secretly in the garage. But we all knew, and Brody did, too; the family would find out one way or the other at some point and the reaction he would get was what I was most curious about!

source: Showtime
source: Showtime

And, I was right — the reactions Brody has got from the three women in his life; namely, Carrie, Jess and Dana, about his new faith are all fascinating in their own right.

source: Showtime
source: Showtime

Carrie is almost amused when she asks “You’re a Muslim?” We don’t know much about Carrie’s faith, my hunch is that she is probably not religious at all, and in particular hearing a middle-of-the-road American guy converting to Islam of all religions sounds funny to her. She gets serious though in the next moment probably because she is thinking it is NOW even more likely that Brody is that turned-POW that her asset had told her about. Again: Her perceptions are driven by information and statistics — you know, Carrie is always working!

source: Showtime
source: Showtime

Jess is scandalized. She is in shock. She is in disbelief. She just cannot believe that the man she married, probably in a church, has now become a Muslim — essentially sharing a religion with those who tortured him for years. In her outrage, Jess throws the Quran onto the floor

Brody: “That’s not supposed to touch the floor.”

Jess: “Did you just actually say that?”

The guilty look on Brody’s face, as if he did something wrong, at that moment is SAD — which also tells why he has not told Jess earlier.

Jess does not even want to hear what Brody has to say. “ I thought you put all that crazy stuff behind you.” She just finds this unacceptable. “This cannot happen.” She also obviously thinks of the potential implications of this “crazy stuff” on Brody’s political career – a concern that I would sympathize with. Well, think about the 2008 US Presidential Campaign.

source: Showtime
source: Showtime

Dana, on the other hand,  understands Brody. Dana is young. She has not yet developed biases about the “other.” She is perceptive. She is curious. She is much more open-minded than her mom and ready to accept her dad’s new faith thinking that it may, in fact, help heal his deep wounds.

As someone that lost her dad at a very young age, I am a complete sucker for loving dad-daughter relations on screen, but regardless of that, Dana helping her dad burying the Quran – desecrated when thrown on the floor by Jess earlier in the day – is almost poetic attesting to the strong bond between Brody and Dana… And, much later, after her dad “bombed the CIA” Dana going to the garage and trying Brody’s prayer rug to see if it has any magical powers to heal her deep wounds is one of the most heart-breaking scenes in the entire series.

source: Showtime
source: Showtime

Now… We know Damian Lewis chooses his jobs carefully, and it is not surprising to me at all that he was very careful in his talks with Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon to make sure that he would not play a character who finds Allah and becomes a terrorist.

Damian Lewis tells on Jonathan Ross:

So, how did Damian prepare to play a Muslim?

“Well, my research is pretty conventional. I’m not an out-and-out method actor, but I do like to stay in character a lot during filming. I don’t need to go and live in Iraq for three months to embed myself – well I can’t, I’ve got a family! – but I certainly spoke to a lot of Muslims, and here in London I went to the London Central Mosque, and I read the Koran and its teachings.”

I can tell Damian practiced with someone that knew what he was doing, because he does extremely well with ablution — the obligatory washing ritual before Islamic prayer — in particular the details with hand washing.

Damian Lewis made Brody his own along the lines that he highlights on the Jonathan Ross show , “acting is like advocacy… you advocate for your character, you believe and trust and love your character…” He loved Brody and gave us a man, who has, in fact, found some inner peace in his faith.

A good example is from S3 Ep3 The Tower of David: Brody hearing the call to prayer in CaracasHe is practically living in hell at the time. On the run. Shot at the border, operated on by a doctor with limited equipment. Alone. No family. No friends. He is running up and down the stairs in the tower trying to gain the strength he lost. And… he hears the call to prayer. It may be his only connection to life at that moment. The only familiarity he feels in a city that he is ALL ALONE. He closes his eyes and just “lives there” for a second. His faith gives him some inner peace and, I believe, a little hope, to keep going in the middle of darkness.

Why do I love this scene? It’s probably because I feel exactly the same when I hear the call to prayer. I have already told you, I am not religious, but the call to prayer, in particular, the morning prayer on a cool and dark morning, when I am still in my sleep, gives me some inner peace that I just cannot put into words: a feeling like I am not alone in this world and everything will be okay, and Damian Lewis in that very scene just makes me feel THAT.

Fascinating.

Damian Lewis concurs about the inner peace: “In spite of the fact that Brody was prepared to blow everybody up in a suicide mission, his faith always provided a very personal source of nourishment. We always depicted his faith in an intimate, personal and very sincere way, and a lot of people I’ve spoken to have been thankful for that.”

I am certainly one of them 🙂

38 thoughts on “Remembering Nicholas Brody and His Muslim Faith”

  1. Damian was great, when he said, that he would not have accepted this role, if the fact was Muslim, meant to be violent !!
    My husband is a Muslim, not a practitioner, he has accepted that our sons be Christians, he does not do Ramadan, and he is truly scandalized to see all these acts of violence, these atrocities are committed or said in the name of Allah
    Damian was wonderful in his interpretation of a Muslim, who must hide his faith!
    Do you know if Billions season 3 is over?
    Thank you Monique

    1. Yes, Monique! I am so proud of Damian that he publicly said he would never have accepted the role should the producers have portrayed Brody as someone that did what he did because he converted to Islam. I personally respect all religions but I do not identify with any of them. I grew up in Turkey so I am naturally coming from the culture but I do not practice. And we should of course be against all kinds of atrocities done in the name of any religion.

      Billions Season 2 is over in both the US and the UK. Damian is doing The Goat on stage in London until June 24 and he will film Season 3 later this year in New York.

        1. You are one of the greatest Damian Lewis fans ever and we cannot thank you enough for your constant support to us. Thank you <3

  2. Thanks for the interesting piece! It was a pleasure to read it!
    That was one of the things that impressed me most in the show and in Damian`s acting in particular (along with his vivid eyes and that SIGHT wich covers everything in the scenes <3 ) The way he portrays Brody's faith as a cure for wounds and salvation and peace for his restless mind and soul. I said to my self: This guy is anything but a featherbrained actor!
    Unfortunately, there are too many speculations with this very trading topic about the relationship between Islam and terrorism. And this makes me so angry. I was also impressed by his “Fatiha”. I am a Christian but I studied Arabic language and culture at the university. I have a great interest in sacred texts and “Fatiha” is very special for me. And last but not least I admire his "Ayn" [ع] 😀 This sound is so difficult to me and he pronounces it with such an easiness. I'm a bit jealous but as he said it`s a fluke 😀
    I`m sorry for grammatical errors and inaccurate words!

    Sincerely:

    Tsvetanka

    1. Thank you so much for reading! It was a pleasure to put the post together. And, hey, your English is perfect! You should really write your fan story, too!!! <3

      It is so cool you studied Arabic language and culture in college. "Fatiha" is special and Damian did a great job with the Arabic sounds. I am sure you know you usually recite "Fatiha" for your loved ones that passed away so even someone like me that does not practice finds herself reciting it from time to time.

      I really loved the way Damian washed his hands before prayer, too: He certainly did his homework!

      You know what? I MISS BRODY!!!!!

      1. Thank you for your kind words! I should really write my fan story soon because I like you gays so much and it will be pleasure for me to share my crazy fondness with you 🙂 I’m under a lot of stress right now – new lodging, new job… and I’m so tired 🙁 But I will write it these days.

        About “Fatiha”: As my teacher says: …”Fatiha is the mother of the Qur’an. It contains within itself the entire universe” …

        I miss Brody too!

        Oh, and:
        !رمضان المبارك 🙂

  3. Dear Damianista,
    I am happy to be able to add some more information to your very interesting text about Brody’s faith! ☺
    On the dvds and blu-rays of season 1 there is plenty of extra material that I have watched over and over again. There are also a lot of interviews and in one of them Damian Lewis says that there was an imam, who came to the set and showed him how to do/perform all the rituals correctly. This was especially for the episodes with Issa. I loved his words in this interview, because he said that he felt like walking on eggshells at first, when he met the imam. He did not want to say or do anything that would hurt his feelings or insult his religion. The imam told him to relax and not to worry too much.
    I can totally unterstand his worries! I was born in Austria and -like most people here-
    raised Roman Catholic, but I don’t practice my faith anymore. I live in a house now with some Muslim friends, who study at my hometown’s university. When talking to them, I can relax, too, because they are used to talking to Westerners and explaining their Muslim faith and we have become good friends. With people from other countries though, I try to avoid the topic of faith most of the time, because I don’t want to say “something wrong”.

    1. Thank you so much for reading, Barbara!

      Damian is a considerate person so I am not surprised at all he was concerned about the possibility he could hurt the imam’s feelings in some way.

      I was born into a very secular family in a Muslim country and I have never really practiced religion even though I am very familiar with the rituals and have respect for them. And I completely understand why you would try to avoid talking about religion to people you do not know well. Because you are a considerate person, too. Exactly like Damian. When it is about something some other person holds holy and you do not have much idea about it, you get concerned you may hurt them in some way and avoid from talking about it or asking questions.

      Please keep your feedback coming!

  4. P.S. I have a question about Brody’s faith!
    Is it really correct to bury the wrapped Quran in his own garden after his wife threw it on the floor? (I have heard from some people of Muslim faith that they would not do this.)

    I am a very sceptical person in general. Especially with movies and tv series that come from Hollywood/the US. My first instinct is not to trust their information and their stories, until I have checked the details.
    I have watched several critical documentaries about propaganda. Plus: I am sceptical about the writers and producers (some from Israel, Keshet). I love the first two seasons of Homeland for various reasons very much, but: Are they able to depict a neutral or even positive picture of Muslims? I am not sure and I have read some comments from people calling Homeland “a very islamophobic tv show” -that was a comment in the Washington Post!
    Of course “24” hast been much worse, but in Homeland there are still (too) many evil characters, who are Muslims.

    About Carrie’s faith: She is shown more and more in recent seasons (5. in Germany) praying in Christian churches.

    Plus: In “Homeland” they simply don’t care about some important details like different Muslim faith groups.

    Just some questions and thoughts of a sceptical mind! I don’t want to make anyone mad at me…
    Greetings from Austria.

    1. Good question! As far as I know if the Quran touches the floor, it is desecrated, and one needs to dispose of it respectfully. As far as I know burying it wrapped in a piece of cloth as well as burning it are acceptable practices. Again, this kind of practice may change from culture to culture and I am not an expert on Islam in any way even though I am familiar with most practices. And this article may be helpful: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2012/0221/Quran-burning-What-is-the-respectful-way-to-dispose-of-Islam-s-holy-book

      As I said in my article, yes, there are some Muslim terrorists in Homeland, but after all they exist in the real world. They had those but they also had the imam in Season 3 in Caracas who, in fact, let the authorities know about Brody (he was a fugitive after all), and they also had Galvez and Farah at the CIA. I understand you regarding Hollywood/US products. And, after all, it is the same people that made 24 and Homeland but I think Homeland is way more balanced than 24 when it comes to portraying Muslims. And, I do not know if you kept watching Homeland after Brody died but for example the last season surpassed my expectations in this context.

      Why would you make anyone mad at you? These are all very good questions! Please keep your feedback coming. Much love to Austria! And, hey, we would love to have your Damian Lewis fan story, too <3

  5. Oh, a chance to talk about Brody!
    In the years since 9/11 I’ve tried to learn as much as I can about Islam. A salient point to me is that Islam, in its purest sense, is not a religion as Westerners think of religion. It is in addition to a spiritual practice, a state, both judicial and cultural and, ideally, a territory. Strict delineation are made between Muslims and infidels. Historically the practice has been benign and tolerant, particularly when Muslims were the rulers.
    Brody seemed unconcerned with any of that. His faith was personal; it made sense out of his unique world. His terrorism was the result of Nazir’s careful manipulations of his feelings of abandonment and revenge. “You develope a close relationship when you take a man apart”, I’m paraphrasing here. Brody certainly ignored teachings against women and alcohol!
    Other positive portrayals of Muslim characters were the imam in the DC mosque through which Walker escaped, as well as his wife. There was also the shopkeeper who tried to help Saul escape the Taliban. Oh and Carrie’s contact who helped with the unsuccessful ambush of Nazir.
    Even though he lied about it after, even Walden wouldn’t have attacked the madrassa had not Abu Nazir hidden among the children.
    I often wonder, who are these Americans so frightened by “the other”? The degree and speed to which I’ve seen others integrated into the mainstream in my lifetime are profound. Sorry, Damian on this we must disagree. I’m not sure that Damian loved Brody, he’s seems to pity him. Brody to me was incredibly brave. Lost, used, played and lied to but ready and deserving of salvation. After everyone let him down Abu Nazir, the CIA, Jessica and Carrie, Islam offered him that as he purified himself in his final cage.
    I miss Brody!

    1. Religion is such a sensitive subject to talk about that I can’t be happier we have such a wonderful conversation here!

      Islam is very similar to Christianity and Judaism that it accepts both Moses and Jesus and all other prophets before them as prophets and takes most biblical stories granted. It builds on whatever has existed before and says Mohammad is the last prophet so he is the true one. You are absolutely right some countries, like Saudi Arabia, has Islamic rule but then there are countries like Turkey (of course I do not know where it is going nowadays!) where the population is 99% Muslim but the state has been secular for decades. This is how I grew up in a predominantly Muslim country. And the interesting thing is that people who identify themselves with Islam have a huge variation in practice. There are a lot of Muslims living like Brody. Their belief system is personal and they do not get to practice the religion as much. My family is a good example. They identify as Muslims but they drink alcohol, women do not wear hijab, or they do not pray or fast. But they are “culturally” Muslim. I believe pork is a bigger taboo than alcohol in Islam. My mom, a very secular woman whom I never saw praying, is not comfortable that I eat bacon and prosciutto 😀 Some practices are very much embedded in culture that you practice them independent of religion. It is fascinating in so many ways.

      You and I probably do not get to see the people that are so frightened by “the other” because we live in communities that are exposed to the other — call it foreigners, immigrants, etc — and find out that they are also human beings like you and me. People that do not have any interaction with “the other” have a tendency to be scared of them. This does not only apply to this country but I think it is a general problem at the moment in the world. Here is a very sad thing just happened in Portland: http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/28/us/portland-train-stabbing-victims/index.html

      OMG that scene in the cage where he washes up for the last time… You are right his faith gave him peace. But even thinking about it makes me feel sick. I have never seen the scene following that and I do not think I ever will…

      Thanks so much for your wonderful feedback, Lina, keep it coming! <3 And, yes, Brody Forever <3

  6. Do you watch Aziz Ansari’s Master of None? Synchronicity! The latest is all about being Muslim, eating pork and varieties of observance. It’s entitled Religion. You and Lewisto will relate as foodies.

    1. I do not but I feel like I should. It seems we would definitely relate! Thank you for the recommendation!

  7. Dang it. This Axe-Charlie-Soames girl just got the feels again for Brody. I thought I had laid him to rest. Reading the blog post and all the comments makes me want to watch Homeland again this summer. *le sigh*

    1. I am so torn about this summer. We recently visited Tower of London for a second time — knowing the history better now has made it a very enjoyable experience! And I have been craving some Henry since then… But then there is Brody. There is always Brody. The love of my “fiction” life… So much to re-watch and so little time. *le sigh* indeed.

    1. So I bought the first 3 seasons of Homeland just to see the extras. I have Showtime and can stream the show I watched the season 1 extras today. What a treat to see deleted scenes, hear commentary. New Brody!! That was my Sunday afternoon…..

      1. New Brody!!! OMG!!! It seems I need to get those DVDs as well! I have my Homeland on iTunes — no extras 🙁

  8. I fully agree! You DEFINITELY need to get the first two (or maybe three) seasons on disc! The bonus material is totally worth it and I LOVE it soo very much! I have the discs from UK and from Germany, because of the languages.

  9. The bonus material for Homeland Season 1 contains

    –Commentary on PILOT by Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Alex Hansa and Howard Gordon
    –a featurette of approx. 32(!) minutes with a lot of interviews and tons of information:
    “Homeland Season One: Under Surveillance”

    –Week Ten: Prologue to Season Two

    –deleted scenes

    (I took some tv screenshots, but unfortunately I’m not able to post it here, sorry!)

    Season Two has another (+/- 30 minute) great featurette about finding the right location for filming the “blowing up of the CIA” without giving away the story of the season. Of course the media wanted to find out as much as possible about this hit show!

    And- OMG!- a short movie filmed with an oldfashioned handheld camera made by Mr. Damian Lewis himself!!
    He brings his EMMY award to the set and interviews different people of the crew. Ms. Claire Danes shows proudly her growing baby bump: very sweet!!
    How could you, Damianista, of all people not have seen this?!?

    1. I’m embarrassed! Well, we saw Homeland on iTunes – we streamed it – so I never had the DVDs. Just to defend myself, Damian’s personal video was somehow in the public domain that I was lucky to see THAT 😀 But, yeah, it seems I need to spend some money on those DVDs!

  10. Bara, are you a reader? Probably not much time with your job, your marriage and taking care of us 🙂 I read a great book entitled A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk. It gave me a real sense of Turkey and particularly Istanbul. The ending is the culmination of the panoramic story …. one line. I was inspired to search out images in order to know where these people were. Such a different and ancient city! Now I know what boza is!

    1. I am a reader, and Orhan Pamuk is one of my favorite writers. But you are right, since we started the blog, I am not able to read as much as I used to, but I still do. If you liked “A Strangeness in My Mind” and I agree it is a fantastic book, please read “My Name is Red.” I am not a nationalist at all but Pamuk is one person that I am proud to have been born on the same land. Istanbul is a fascinating city in so many ways — it combines West and East and makes an interesting mix of it!

          1. I mean I don’t like Pamuk just because he is from Turkey but because he is a GREAT writer — well, the Nobel committee agrees, too 😀

  11. Thank you for the trip down memory lane with Brody. I read a comment online “Damian Lewis will forever stand in the shadow of Nicholas Brody. “ Could very well be true. Maybe that’s just me.

    1. Thank you! As someone that grew up in a Muslim society, I cannot tell you the appreciation I have for the way Damian portrays Brody as a Muslim man. This is my tribute to him.

      I don’t know if it is annoying for Damian, and it could be for any actor when s/he needs to live in the shadow of a certain character, but I think I agree with that comment you read online. So it’s not just you. I can honestly add there would have been no Fan Fun if there had been no Brody. And I am so glad I was able to tell this to the man in person. I had no idea about Damian before Homeland. And he hit me like a truck. I never saw such acting before. My jaw dropped. And it is still on the floor 6 years later 🙂 And it is amazing that people still love and miss a character years after he passed away in the show. Even the show could not forget him, huh? I saw that glimpse of Brody in Homeland Season 7. I looked away. I will never see that scene. Ever. <3 I know that I would still have liked him as an actor as well as found him very attractive should I have seen him in Band of Brothers, or Life, or Billions before I met Brody. But I also know I would never have started a blog for any of those characters. I have not called myself a Brody widow for nothing <3

      ps. So looking forward to publishing your Brody posts just after Billions frenzy is over.

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