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Muslim actors Marnò, Ali, Jaffrey star on House of Cards

Written By | Feb 20, 2014

Warning: Every effort is being made to avoid revealing plot lines from the newly released season; however, this article may inadvertently contain spoilers for the second season of House of Cards.

WASHINGTON, February 20, 2014 – Remy Danton is a lot of things: a hotshot lobbyist, an associate of Raymond Tusk, and someone who has known Francis Underwood for many years. The actor that plays Remy Danton, Mahershala Ali, is something else: an Ahmadi Muslim.

The creators of House of Cards have not directly brought up the issue of Islam and politics on the hit show, but that has not prevented them from showcasing ordinary Muslims as a part of the series community.

Muslim actors play an important role in the show as either main characters or important secondary characters. The show’s White House Chief of Staff, Linda Vasquez, is played by Sakina Jaffrey, who comes from a Muslim background. Jaffrey has not discussed her faith publically, but the etymology of her name implies Shiite Muslim ancestry. Neither of the two play openly Muslim characters on the show, rarely (if ever) discussing the topic of religion on screen.

Interestingly, one on-screen character appears to have a common Muslim name: political reporter Ayla Sayyad. The name “Sayyad” is sometimes used as a variant of “Sayyid,” implying that a person is a descendant of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.  She is played by Iranian American actress Mozhan Marnò, who has a rich background in portraying Middle Eastern or Muslim characters in a variety of shows and movies.

The show’s main character, Frank Underwood, has little to say about religion. However, in a season 1 episode, Underwood is forced to attend church for political reasons, and delivers a fascinating, if not disturbing, monologue:

“[speaking to God] Every time I’ve spoken to you, you’ve never spoken back, although given our mutual disdain, I can’t blame you for the silent treatment.

“Perhaps I’m speaking to the wrong audience. Can you hear me? Are you even capable of language, or do you only understand depravity? …

“There is no solace above or below. Only us – small, solitary, striving, battling one another.

“I pray to myself, for myself.”


Rahat Husain

Rahat Husain has been working as a columnist since 2013 when he joined the Communities. With an interest in America and Islam, Rahat is a prolific writer on contemporary and international issues. In addition to writing for the Communities, Rahat Husain is an Attorney based in the Washington DC Metropolitan area. He is the Director of Legal and Policy Affairs at UMAA Advocacy. For the past six years, Mr. Husain has worked with Congressmen, Senators, federal agencies, think tanks, NGOs, policy institutes, and academic experts to advocate on behalf of Shia Muslim issues, both political and humanitarian. UMAA hosts one of the largest gatherings of Shia Ithna Asheri Muslims in North America at its annual convention.