During the month of Ramadan (August 11 – September 10), I am going to be posting daily reviews of books that deal with Islam, as well as other discussion posts related to the topics that come out of these books. I will be writing about both fiction and non-fiction books, and from a variety of sources and perspectives.
Today was the first day of school for me, even though the students were only there for a very short time to fill out paperwork and pick up their timetables. It’s a new school, with a completely different environment – for the next two months, I’m teaching at an alternative school. More about what that means later this month when I get back into the “normal” swing of things.
One of the things that school means for me is that I have less time to read for myself. Thus, the book I had planned for today’s review is nowhere near read yet; hopefully, I will be there for it to be posted tomorrow.
In the meantime, I’m going to highlight some movies – some that I’ve seen or that I own, some that I haven’t or don’t – that I think you might find interesting. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and there are probably tons of other films that I didn’t think of or don’t know about that could be included in this list. If you have some suggestions, please leave them in the comments! I’d love to keep my eyes out for new (or old) films that I haven’t yet seen.
A Jihad for Love
Director/Writer: Parvez Sharma
Fourteen centuries after the revelation of the holy Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad, Islam today is the world’s second largest and fastest growing religion. Muslim gay filmmaker Parvez Sharma travels the many worlds of this dynamic faith, discovering the stories of its most unlikely storytellers: lesbian and gay Muslims.
Produced by Sandi DuBowski (Trembling Before G-d) and Sharma, A Jihad for Love was filmed in 12 countries and 9 languages and comes from the heart of Islam. Looking beyond a hostile and war-torn present, it reclaims the Islamic concept of a greater Jihad, whose true meaning is akin to ‘an inner struggle’ or ‘to strive in the path of God’ – allowing its remarkable subjects to move beyond the narrow concept of Jihad as holy war.
Director: Spike Lee
Spike Lee brings the life of African-American leader Malcolm X (an intense Denzel Washington in an Oscar-nominated performance) to the big screen in this sprawling, epic biographical drama. Born Malcolm Little, son of a Nebraska preacher, on May 19, 1925, he became one of the most militant leaders and charismatic spokesmen of the black liberation movement before his assassination at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City on February 21, 1965. The film sweeps through his early life as a small-time hustler and thief with his friend Shorty (Lee), his conversion to Islam in jail, and his subsequent life as a controversial spiritual leader and husband of Betty Shabazz (Angela Bassett). Malcolm’s tragic assassination is presented as a conspiracy of Nation of Islam leaders; the film shows how his philosophy has been realized in the lives of others who have been moved by his words. Filmed with great visual flair by Lee, the film is a work of entertainment as much as it is a historical artifact. Washington captures the spiritual conversion of the hero with a sincerity that is entirely as believable and ultimately moving as it was in the book that inspired the film, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X.
Me and the Mosque
Director: Zarqa Nawaz
Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. In North America, a large number of converts are women. Many are drawn to the religion because of its emphasis on social justice and spiritual equality between the sexes.
Ironically many mosques force women to pray behind barriers away from the men, and some mosques do not even permit women to enter the building. When it comes to user-friendliness for women, Canadian mosques run the entire gamut.
In Me and the Mosque, journalist and filmmaker Zarqa Nawaz visits mosques throughout Canada and talks to scholars, colleagues, friends and neighbours about equal access for women.Discussions about the historical role of women in the Islamic faith, the current state of mosques in Canada and personal stories of anger, fear, acceptance and defiance punctuate the film. And Nawaz herself speaks of the spiritual longing that comes from belonging to an institution that doesn’t want you.
With original animation, archival footage and deeply personal interviews, Me and the Mosque is a smart, self-aware and whimsical story that documents the debates and presents the personalities on all sides of the issue.
Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam
Director: Omar Majeed
“I am an Islamist! I am the anti-Christ!” With their tongues firmly in cheek, Boston’s The Kominas belt out an anthem for a new generation of young Muslims. And in this basement of a decrepit Chicago punkhouse, a mob of like-minded Islamic misfits sneers along.
It is the summer of 2007. The Pakistani punkers have arrived at the last stop of their U.S. tour and are celebrating with tourmates. There’s Koroush, an Iranian kid from San Antonio who calls his bandVote Hezbollah; Sena, a Pakistani lesbian from Vancouver who fronts the all-girl Secret Trial Five; Marwan, whose Chicagobased group Al-Thawra pounds heavy metal beats into Arabic drones. And there, at the centre of it all, pumping his fists in the air and shouting Allah hu Akbar, is a white American convert named Michael Muhammad Knight.
The Islamic punk music scene would never have existed if it weren’t for his 2003 novel, The Taqwacores. Melding the Arabic word for god-consciousness with the edge of hardcore punk, Michael imagined a community of Muslim radicals: Mohawked Sufis, riot grrrls in burqas with band patches, skinhead Shi’as. These characters were entirely fictional.
But the movement they inspired is very real.
Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam follows Michael and his real-life kindred spirits on their first U.S. tour, where they incite a riot of young hijabi girls at the largest Muslim gathering in North America after Sena takes the stage. The film then travels with them to Pakistan, where members of the first Taqwacore band, The Kominas, bring punk to the streets of Lahore and Michael begins to reconcile his fundamentalist past with the rebel he has now become.
By stoking the revolution – against traditionalists in their own communities and against the clichés forced upon them from the outside – “we’re giving the finger to both sides,” says one Taqwacore. “Fuck you and fuck you.”
Director: Roy Jacob Westler
Like many 17-year-old girls, Shadya Zoabi enjoys listening to music and hanging out with her friends. But unlike most other girls, Shadya is also a world champion in karate, a feminist in a male-dominated culture and a Muslim Arab living in Israel. SHADYA tells her story over the course of two years, as she journeys from teenage girl to woman, from daughter to wife and from one family to another.
Shadya is lucky to have grown up with a father who wanted his daughter to be free to practice karate and develop her talent in the sport to the fullest. But in spite of her father’s support, the social pressure from her brothers and the surrounding community is difficult to overcome. In her brothers’ view, a Muslim woman has a specific path in life and is forbidden to stray from this destiny. At the same time, Shadya is grappling with the challenges that Muslims face as citizens of Israel. Her internal conflicts intensify when she meets the Palestinian team at an athletic competition, and when she prepares for marriage at the height of her career.
At the start of the film, Shadya, the 2003 World Shotokan Karate Champion, is full of optimism and self-confidence. “I’m different,” she says, “This is the way I am.” But will she succeed in balancing her aspirations after her marriage? Will she stay true to her promises to never give in and continue competing in karate? Depicting a universal conflict between tradition and modernity, SHADYA is the coming-of-age story of a young Muslim woman who desires to succeed on her own terms while staying committed to life within her community.
Director: Brigid Maher
Women across the Arab world are redefining their role as leaders in Islam. Veiled Voices investigates the world of Muslim women religious leaders through the eyes of three women in Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. Filmed over the course of two years, Veiled Voices reveals a world rarely documented, exploring both the public and private worlds of these women. The stories featured in the film give insight into how Muslim women are now increasingly willing to challenge the status quo from within their religion, promoting Islam as a powerful force for positive transformation in the world. Each triumphs over difficult challenges as they carve out a space to lead—both in Islam and in their communities.