Are the Shahs of Sunset Muslim or Jewish? The popular Bravo series is all set to return for its fifth season, but fans new and old are often still confused by the religious distinctions among cast members. In part, that confusion stems from the fact that a lot of the “Shahs of Sunset Muslim or Jewish” explanation came in the show’s first couple of seasons; now that we’re four full seasons in, a great deal of the drama has shifted to relationship problems, as well as issues of homosexuality within the greater Iranian-American community.
Of the six main cast members for Shahs of Sunset Season 5, two are either Jewish or have Jewish ancestry. Reza Farahan, contrary to what many fans of the show believe, is Muslim, but does have a Jewish background. The show dealt frankly with this divide all the way back in Shahs of Sunset Season 1: the episode “The Shahs of Great Neck” featured Reza traveling to New York to visit with his father, who he hadn’t seen in years. Reza’s father was born Jewish and his mother born Muslim; his father converted from Judaism in order to get married. According to Jewish religious law, Judaism is passed to the children through the mother; because Reza’s mother was not Jewish, technically, he isn’t, either.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times after the episode aired, Reza acknowledged the difficulty of connecting the two worlds: “It created drama almost 50 years ago that, as you see, never really went away,” he said. “It can be an issue, depending on how religious you are. It can be an issue, depending on how religious you are. But for us in our group, we’re Persians, we’re friends, we love each other, and that’s it.”
Likewise, Golnesa “GG” Gharachedaghi is sometimes thought to have Jewish ancestry. It looks like that belief is another misconception, though–the “Persian Princess” comes from a totally Muslim family. It’s possible that a misunderstanding about GG’s background stems from a 2012 profile of the Shahs of Sunset, published just before the show debuted, in which GG said her own diverse background helped her appreciate America’s diversity: “I’m Muslim by the laws,” she said, but went on to explain that she also attended Jewish day care, Catholic preschool, and Loyola Marymount University.
(It’s maybe also worth pointing out that there was another reason GG attended so many different schools. The self-proclaimed “spoiled brat” once revealed that, over the course of her early years, she was kicked out of around ten different schools for fighting!)
Mike Shouhed is Shahs of Sunset‘s lone remaining Jewish cast member. (However, former main cast member–and, later, guest star Sammy Younai is also Jewish.) The son of Persian Jews, Mike “defines himself as a Jew more than he does [an] Iranian.” Part of the reason for that is his family left the country during the Revolution, and Mike was only one month old upon arriving in the United States. But reconciling these two components of his identity hasn’t been easy for Mike. The Season 3 episode “Return to the Homeland,” in which the cast visited Turkey and Mike refused to enter a mosque, resulted in a thoughtful explanation on his Bravo blog:
Reflecting back on my childhood and how my parents were forced to leave their homeland where they faced imprisonment or worse because of their practice of Judaism was simply too much for me to bear at the time. I just couldn’t bring myself to visit the Mosque because of the feelings I continue to have for my parents and their struggle when I was young. I embrace and respect the Muslim faith as a part of my Iranian heritage, while I practice Judaism to this day….Honestly, the continuing conflict of mine–being of Iranian heritage and Jewish faith, not a practicing Muslim–is the cross I have to bear and where I have to continue to do my work as a faithful son of my parents, who gave up their homeland to stay true to their faith….We all pray to our different sense of God, and in the end don’t all our notions of God just come down to love and faith and belief? In my struggle and hard work on myself and my heritage, culture, and faith, I hope one day soon to get past the memories of my parents’ struggles as Jews and learn to experience the Muslim faith and its proximity to being an Iranian at birth.
As for new episodes of Shahs of Sunset, the wait is almost over! Shahs of Sunset Season 5 premieres tonight at 9 PM EST on Bravo.
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(Photo credits: Shahs of Sunset Muslim or Jewish via Facebook, Instagram, Bravo)