LIST OF FILM SCREENINGS AND EVENTS:
Screenings are updated regularly as dates and venues become finalized. Please keep checking this website for further information. To set up a screening, please contact us on Facebook (look for Neelum Films) or here.
February 28, 2014, 12:00 pm
Screening of THE MUSLIMS I KNOW at the Drake Library, Suny Brockport. I will be there to discuss. It’s free and open to the public. More here.
February 11, 2014, 7:00 pm
Discussed Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq’s “These birds walk” with Linda Moroney and the audience at the Little Theatre, in Rochester. The film documents the struggles of wayward street children and the samaritans looking out for them. It’s an ethereal and inspirational story of resilience.
February 6, 2014, 1:15 pm
Met and talked about my art and film work with students and faculty from the World of Inquiry High School, in the city of Rochester. What wonderful kids and teachers!
January 24, 2014, 5:30-7:30 pm
Gave an artist’s talk about my multi-media art exhibition “This Heirloom” which was inspired by my film work on Partition Stories, at the Colacino gallery, Nazareth College, Rochester, NY.
November 21, 2013, 9:00 am
Screened “The Muslims I Know” for a book club in Pittsford. Followed by an excellent discussion about islamophobia, profiling, the hijab, the suspect nature of mainstream media and much more.
October 30, 2013, 12:00 pm
“Pakistan One on One” was screened at Hunerkada College of Visual & Performing Arts in Islamabad, Pakistan.
October 22, 2013, 7:00 pm
Screening of “The Muslims I Know” followed by community discussion, Ocean County Library, Toms River Branch, NJ.
October 6, 2013, 1:00 pm
Seattle South Asian Film Festival: “The Muslims I Know” will be screened as part of Standing out: Challenges of living as a visible minority in the US. “Remembering the Oak Creek Tragedy” by Valarie Kaur will be shown as well. The screenings will be followed by a community discussion for which I will be skyped in from Rochester. More here.
April 17, 2013
Presented “The Muslims I Know” in honor of the YWCA’s Stand Against Racism 2013 at a meeting of the Monroe County Bar Association’s Diversity Committee. Wonderful comments and questions from all the attorneys who attended, especially one about the need for more solidarity between Muslims, African Americans, Latinos, immigrants, LGBT activists and other Americans fighting for civil rights and another one about the existence of anti-Muslim/anti-Arab racism prior to 9/11. Thanks to David Tang and Louise Spinelli for organizing the screening. This was the photo of the week for the Bar Association’s eDocket.
March 12, 2013, 11:00 am
Discussed “Media and Popular Culture” with high school students at the Global Citizenship Conference at Nazareth College. Used photographs and videos to showcase the power of media in shaping our thinking.
January 18, 2013, 1:00 pm
Spoke to a PEO chapter, here in Pittsford, about my third film “Partition Stories” and the new series of artwork inspired by it. Showed them clips from the film and a collage from “This heirloom.” Excellent audience, great questions. More about PEO here.
January 11, 2013
Was interviewed by Andrea Gordon about my activism and film work for TV Apex Studios, Essex, UK. This is studio editor Arkadiusz Kozubek, myself, interviewer Andrea Gordon and producer Nabeel Akhtar.
December 18, 2012, 10:30 pm
PAKISTAN ONE ON ONE will be broadcast on PBS in the greater Rochester area. Here is more info.
October 30 – November 3, 2012
PAKISTAN ONE ON ONE has been selected for the International Ruyesh Film Festival, which will take place later this month in the city of Mashhad, Iran. The film is being translated in Farsi.
October 25, 2012, 12:45 pm
Screening of THE MUSLIMS I KNOW at OASIS community class titled “Descendants of Abraham”. The class is taught by Jewish, Christian and Muslim instructors. They have been using THE MUSLIMS I KNOW in their introductory class for the last three years.
August 31 – September 3, 2012
PAKISTAN ONE ON ONE has been selected to be screened at the ISNA convention this year, in Washington DC. This is the largest Muslim convention in North America. This year’s theme is “One nation under God, striving for the common good.”
June 8, 2012, 9:00 pm
Screening of PAKISTAN ONE ON ONE at Transforming Media: A Weekend of Education, Mobilization and Networking. Rochester Indymedia is hosting this regional convergence for independent media makers, grassroots activists and community members. More info here.
May 11, 2012, 3.00 pm
Screening of trailer from PARTITION STORIES followed by Mara Ahmed’s speech at the Baccalaureate Service, Nazareth College, Rochester, NY.
April 29, 2012, 3.45 pm
Screening of PAKISTAN ONE ON ONE at the Zizek Conference, organized by SUNY Brockport, NY.
April 27, 2012, 8:00 am
Screening of PAKISTAN ONE ON ONE organized by the Diversity Committee of the Monroe County Bar Association, Telesca Center for Justice, Rochester, NY, to celebrate the YWCA’s Stand Against Racism national day.
April 1, 2012, 7:00 pm
Screening of PAKISTAN ONE ON ONE at the Flying Squirrel Community Space at 285 Clarissa Sreet, Rochester NY, 14608.
April 1, 2012, 9:30 am
Screening of PAKISTAN ONE ON ONE at Third Presbyterian Church, 4 Meigs Street, Rochester, NY 14607.
March 29, 2012, 7:00 pm
Documentary panel discussion including Linda Moroney and Jack Garner, organized and moderated by Tom Proetti, with focus on the challenges, rewards and opportunities for documentary filmmakers and the role of docs across cultures in setting agendas and popularizing issues. Wegmans School of Nursing, St John Fisher’s College, Rochester, NY.
March 8, 2012, 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm
Speaker for International Women’s Day at 5:00 pm (Intercultural Affairs House) followed by screening of PAKISTAN ONE ON ONE at 7:00 pm (Fisher Center, located in Demarest 212), Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
February 15 2012, 11:15 am and 6:15 pm
Screening of Pakistan One on One, Basil 135, St John Fisher’s College, Rochester, NY.
February 9, 2012, 7:00
Sneak Peek: An Intro to Mara Ahmed’s Film about the Partition of India – Multi-media presentation centered on an upcoming documentary about the partition of India, followed by a discussion with director Mara Ahmed and guest panelists Dr Victoria Farmer (SUNY Geneseo), Dr Neeta Bhasin (Hobart and William Smith Colleges) and Dr Aitezaz Ahmed.
January 29, 2012
Screening of Pakistan One on One at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, organized by the Pakistani Students Association.
November 14, 2011
Screening of Pakistan One on One, SUNY Geneseo.
November 2, 2011, 11:15 am and 6:15 pm
Screening of The Muslims I Know, Basil 135, St John Fisher’s College, 3690 East Avenue, Rochester, NY.
October 10, 2011
Panel discussion with Fergus Nicholl, Dr Asma Barlas and Qawal Najmuddin Saifuddin, on the subject of “Pakistani culture under siege.”
October 4, 2011
Post-screening discussion and lecture about “The Muslims I Know,” Perceptions of the new South Asia classes at St John Fisher’s College.
Screening of “The Muslims I Know,” Class on Islam, Gender and Sexuality, Berkeley, California.
March 24, 2011, 6:30 pm
World premiere of documentary “PAKISTAN ONE ON ONE” followed by panel discussion. Panelists include Director Mara Ahmed, Dr Aitezaz Ahmed and Dr Thomas Gibson. Little Theatre, 240 East Avenue Rochester, NY 14604, Phone: 585.232.3906.
February 7, 2010
Screening of The Muslims I Know, Utica College, 1600 Burrstone Road, Utica, NY 13502, Phone: 315.792.3006.Sponsored by Utica College Diversity Committee
January 30, 2010, 9:30 am
Third Presbyterian Church, 4 Meigs Street, Rochester, NY 14607, Phone: 585. 271.6513. Clip from “The Muslims I Know” followed by lecture on: “Islamophobia: the new normalcy.”
January 19, 2010
Screening of The Muslims I Know, Robert Wesleyan College, 2301 Westside Dr. Rochester, NY 14624, Phone: 800.777.4RWC
November 12, 2010, 10:00 am
Screening of The Muslims I Know, Rundel Memorial Library, 115 South Avenue, Rochester, NY 14604, Phone: 585.428.8320. Sponsored by Rochester’s School Without Walls.
November 10, 2010, 7:00 pm
Screening of The Muslims I Know, Hamilton College, 198 College Hill Road Clinton, NY 13323, Phone: 800.843.2655. Sponsored by the Muslim Students Association.
October 28, 2010, 7:00 pm
Mason Middle School Auditorium, 6370 Mason-Montgomery Road, Mason, OH 45040, Phone: 513.398.9035. “The Muslims I Know: Myths, Movements, and the Media” sponsored by Sinclair Community College’s Courseview Campus and Mason High School. More about the screening here.
October 21, 2010, 7:00 pm
Screening of The Muslims I Know, Campus Center Auditorium, SUNY Oswego, 7060 Route 104, Oswego, New York 13126, Phone: 315.312.2500
October 20, 2010
Come Meet a Muslim featuring a screening of “The Muslims I Know,” sponsored by the One Columbus Dialogue Group, at Columbus Public Library, 3000 Macon Road, Georgia. More here.
February 5, 2010
Chatterbox Club, Rochester, NY, Screening of “The Muslims I Know”
January 5, 2010
Chatterbox Club, Rochester, NY, Lecture on “The Potent Fusion of Art, Film and Politics”
December 11, 2009, 7:00 pm
Screening of The Muslims I Know, Rochester Community Television (RCTV), 21 Gorham Street, Rochester, NY 14605, Phone: 585.325.1238. The screening is sponsored by Peace Action & Education and Rochester Against War.
September 11, 2009, 5:30 pm
Screening of The Muslims I Know, Rochester Museum & Science Center, 657 East Ave, Rochester, NY 14607. The film will be part of the Holiday Celebration series at the Museum.
August 1, 2009, 6:30 pm
Screening of The Muslims I Know at MuslimFest 2009, the Rogers Theater, Living Arts Center, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. This year’s theme is “Creative Activism”.
July 5, 2009, 5:00 pm
Screening of The Muslims I Know at the ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) Film Festival 2009, Washington DC Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Place NW, Washington DC 20001.
May 20, 2009
Screening of The Muslims I Know, Bausch Auditorium, Rochester Museum & Science Center, 7:00 pm. Sponsored by APA-HiP (Asian/Pacific Islander/American History Project of Greater Rochester) as part of the film series “Identity and Perspectives”, General Admission: $5 suggested donation.
May 12, 2009
The Muslims I Know was broadcast on PBS (Rochester) at 8:00 pm. The broadcast was the official kick off for the High Falls International Film Festival, Rochester, New York.
April 16, 2009, 7:00 pm
Screening of The Muslims I Know, Hubbell Auditorium in Hutchison Hall, University of Rochester, New York. This event will be sponsored by the English Dept, Frederick Douglass Institute of African and African American Studies, Muslim Students Association, SADACA, Amnesty International UR, ADITI, Cinema Group, and APA-HiP.
March 25, 2009, 6:00 pm
Arts Center Building, Nazareth College, Room A169. Mara Ahmed talks about film as an art form and as a platform for activism. This event is sponsored by the Art Club at Nazareth College.
February 10, 2009, 12.45 pm
Screening of The Muslims I Know, School Without Walls, 480 Broadway, Rochester, New York
December 11, 2008, 7:00 pm
Screening of The Muslims I Know, Carlson Auditorium, Rochester Institute of Technology, Organized by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology
December 4, 2008, 7:00 pm
Screening of The Muslims I Know, Emerson College, Boston, Massachusetts, Phone: 617.824.8500, Organized by Frame per Second
November 20, 2008, 6:00 pm
Screening of The Muslims I Know, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244, Phone: 315.443.1870
November 12, 2008, 10:30 am
Screening of The Muslims I Know, Rundell Public Library Auditorium, 115 South Ave, Rochester, NY 14604, Organized by School Without Walls, Rochester City School District
November 11, 2008, 7:00 pm
Screening of The Muslims I Know, Nazareth College Shults Center, Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue, Rochester, New York, Phone: 585.389.2963
November 6, 2008, 6:30 pm
Screening of The Muslims I Know, University of Rochester Medical College Book Club, Monroe Golf Club, Pittsford, New York, Phone: 585.586.3608
November 5, 2008, 7:00 pm
Screening of The Muslims I Know, 103 Edwards Hall (Gold Room), State University of New York at Brockport, 350 New Campus Drive, Brockport, NY 14420, Phone: 585.395.2211
October 30, 2008, 4:15 pm
Screening of The Muslims I Know, Keuka College, 141 Central Avenue, Keuka Park, NY 14478, Phone: 315.279.5000
October 25, 2008
Kinetic Gallery, State University of New York at Geneseo, 1 College Circle, Geneseo, NY 14454, Phone: 585.245.5211 – Mara Ahmed’s artwork will be on display at the Kinetic Gallery. The exhibit entitled “Synthesis” will include a video montage from “The Muslims I Know” along with music from the film.
October 20, 2008, 5:00 pm
Screening of The Muslims I Know, Milne Library, Room 104, State University of New York at Geneseo, 1 College Circle, Geneseo, NY 14454, Phone: 585.245.5211 – The film will be screened as part of Cultural Harmony Week at SUNY Geneseo.
October 16, 2008, 7:00 pm
Screening of The Muslims I Know, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY 14454, Phone: 315.781.3000
October 15, 2008, 5:00 pm
Screening of The Muslims I Know, Clemens Hall, Room 120, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY 14260, Phone: 716.645.2000
October 14, 2008, noon and evening shows at 12:15 pm and 7:00 pm
Screening of The Muslims I Know, Basil Hall, Room 135, St John Fisher’s College, 3690 East Avenue, Rochester, NY 14618, Phone: 585.385.8000
June 8, 2008, 1:00 pm
World Premiere of the “Muslims I Know” at the Dryden Theatre, George Eastman House, 900 East Avenue, Rochester, NY 14607, Phone: 585.271.3361
SNEAK PEEK: AN INTRO TO MARA AHMED’S FILM ABOUT THE PARTITION OF INDIA:
February 9, 2012
Multi-media presentation centered on an upcoming documentary about the partition of India, followed by a discussion with director Mara Ahmed and guest panelists Dr Victoria Farmer (SUNY Geneseo), Dr Neeta Bhasin (Hobart and William Smith Colleges) and Dr Aitezaz Ahmed.
As the British left India in 1947, after about 200 years of colonial rule, they partitioned it into two separate states based on religious demographics: a Muslim majority Pakistan and a Hindu majority India. As people began to migrate across quickly drawn, arbitrary borders, riots broke out. About a million people were killed in the violence. More than 12 million were displaced.
When Mara Ahmed (a Pakistani-American whose mother’s family immigrated to Pakistan from India) met Indian filmmaker Surbhi Dewan (whose family had made the same terrifying journey in the opposite direction), they decided to collaborate on a documentary that would explore the legacy of partition. Rather than recount the story of partition from a historical perspective, they decided to stitch together personal stories of family and friends and look back at a pre-partition era when people managed to live side by side and somehow get along. They felt there might be lessons to be learned for the future of the subcontinent.
In order to travel back in time and bring back to life a rich cultural mosaic that no longer exists, they got animator Gayane Bagdasaryan on board. Gayane graduated from RIT and is presently working at the Academy Award winning Alexandr Petrov Animation Studio in Russia.
The documentary is in post-production and should be completed by the end of 2012-mid 2013. This event is designed to introduce the Rochester community to this extraordinary film (shot both in Pakistan and India) with clips from the film, examples of how animation will recreate a lost world, and the use of pre-partition music to evoke nostalgia. This presentation will be followed by a discussion/Q&A in which other panelists will be able to weigh in, share their thoughts and interact with audience members. Don’t miss it!
WORLD PREMIERE OF “PAKISTAN ONE ON ONE”:
March 24, 2011
World premiere of documentary “PAKISTAN ONE ON ONE” followed by panel discussion. Panelists include Director Mara Ahmed, Dr Aitezaz Ahmed and Dr Thomas Gibson. Little Theatre, 240 East Avenue Rochester, NY 14604, Phone: 585.232.3906.
POST SCREENING DISCUSSIONS ABOUT “THE MUSLIMS I KNOW”:
University of Rochester – May 12, 09
Emerson College in Boston, MA – December 4, 08
Was there any one particular incident that motivated you to make this film?
No there wasn’t any one specific incident. After September 11th it became difficult for me to watch the news, because a lot of information that was being presented was inaccurate, or distorted or incomplete. When I tried to write about it, for example I wrote letters to the editor, and I know a lot of other Muslims did the same, it was absolutely impossible to get published. We were constantly being talked about but at the same time we were completely shut out of the discourse. It was this frustration that kept building up over a number of years. I then thought that film would be the best medium to use because if it’s self financed then nobody can stop it from being screening. It was the best way for me to show you a different side of the story, something that was not being presented to you elsewhere.
What do Muslims feel about the election of Barack Obama?
Most of the Muslims I know voted for Barack Obama and I voted for him myself. We are very hopeful that things are going to change. The whole idea of change is very refreshing. The world is a scary place and a lot is going on right now but hopefully we will find a different approach to solving those problems. A lot of Muslims are very hopeful that there will be that shift. However, I have to say that I do not agree with the things Barack Obama has said about Afghanistan and Pakistan during his campaign. Shutting down one war in Iraq only to escalate another war in Afghanistan will not be the right policy. I hope that with the new team he has put together, they will think it out and decide not to go that route.
Is the film complete or is it still a work in progress? What is your process?
It is complete. It opened in June this year so it is relatively new. I’ve done about a dozen such screenings on different campuses. The other venue I do want to explore is PBS and WXXI, the local PBS affiliate in Rochester and the greater Upstate New York area, has shown interest in broadcasting it. I do film all the discussions we have after the film is screened because I’d like to start a discussion blog where other people (Muslim and non-Muslim) can comment on and participate in this discussion.
Is there any perspective that you feel is missing from the film, that you would have liked to have in there?
It was important for me to keep the film under an hour. It’s 54 minutes long right now, close to the 56 minutes and some seconds that PBS requires. I wish I had had more time to elaborate on each and every issue I tackle in the film but I think that it is a good start. The whole idea of the film is to start a conversation by showing you something you might not have seen in mainstream media – to provoke a reaction. I think the film does a good job at starting that dialogue.
Do you think that Muslims are more comfortable in America because they think that it is a Christian country?
Someone talks about this in the film. I think that Muslims like that Americans are a little more religious, a little more traditional, as compared to for example European countries. In Muslims communities values are more traditional – there is a lot of emphasis on family. It doesn’t matter to them that they have a different faith and most of the country is Christian or Jewish. They feel that they share the same values and that’s a good starting point.
How do terror attacks affect the majority of Muslims?
They have a huge impact on Muslims and that’s why I made the film. The ensuing stereotyping and generalizations and lumping together of a quarter of the world population don’t make any sense.
Islam, maybe more than any other religion, is extremely diverse. You have Muslims in India and Pakistan but you also have Muslims in Saudi Arabia and Dubai and Kuwait, you have Muslims in Turkey (which is a completely different culture, a different way of seeing religion), you have Muslims in Iran and Iraq, you have Muslims in Indonesia (which is one of the largest Muslims populations and very different from all these other countries), and then of course you have Muslims in America and Europe as well. So saying the word “Muslim” and visualizing this monolithic entity is absolutely ridiculous and that’s the image being propagated by the media.
If there is someone in the world using Islamic rhetoric, whether they’re truly Muslim or not is another issue, but if they use Islamic rhetoric to justify their acts, then they will simply be represented as being “Muslim”, there won’t be any other context, and therefore there will hardly be any difference between that person and myself – because we’re all supposed to be “Muslims”. If you fabricate such a generalized and universally applicable stereotype and apply it to 1.3 billion people in the world – that doesn’t make any sense and that’s not going to solve any problems. It will only lead to further misunderstanding and hatred. We have to focus on the radicals and understand what they are doing and why they’re doing it but we can’t involve the whole Muslim population in that.
How can we deal with extremists that already exist for example those in Afghanistan?
Terrorism is a crime. It’s not something we can go to war against. To fight crime you don’t occupy a country, you use more intelligence and better police work. What we’ve done in Iraq was completely unprovoked and should never have happened. Instead of capturing any terrorists we have developed this huge breeding ground for more terrorist activity and more terrorist recruitment. In the same way if there is an escalation of the war in Afghanistan it will only destabilize that region. We’re already seeing some of that. After the American occupation we have seen violence spilling out of Afghanistan. Now you have terrorism in Pakistan and in India. The solution is not to start bombing people.
Another strategy could be to try and develop a relationship with the local people and that can only happen through human development. If you talk to people in the NWFP or Afghanistan, if you talk to their jirga or the local tribal leaders, you will find out that their demands are quite commonplace. They will ask for more schools and hospitals, better infrastructure, more electricity in more villages. If we can help them with that then it will become impossible for terrorists to recruit.
As far as the groups that are already existing and are not under anyone’s control anymore – they’re acting as free agents and pretty much doing whatever they want – the only way for the American government to deal with them would be to work closely with the Pakistani government and the Pakistani army. They have more information and more intelligence on where these people are and who these people are. More intelligence and police work on the ground could be an answer. This has to be done with the cooperation of the Pakistani government. We can’t just go there and drop bombs on villages.
I remember that there was talk after 9/11 about not repeating the same mistakes that we had made with Japanese citizens during the second world war, on NPR. Are there media outlets that are more sensitive to these issues?
I am a pretty harsh critic of all media outlets in America, even the NY times. There are some writers that are better than others. For example Nicholas Kristof. He travels to Pakistan, he is on the ground, he talks to Pakistanis and he’s been doing that for a number of years. His understanding of the culture, the people and the changes that he has seen over the years is much more valid. I think that the best way to get good coverage of the world situation is to go on the internet and to watch news from other countries. That’s the only way to get a well-rounded idea of what’s going on in the world.
What we have here, let’s face it, are corporate media. They’re run by corporations which have their own agenda and they stick with that. They don’t like it when somebody goes against the grain. For example recently Deepak Chopra was on CNN to talk about the Mumbai attacks and he said some of the same things that I am saying – that we need to talk to these people, we need to think in terms of human development rather than just warfare. People just jumped all over him, even the host was doing it. Later on there was a mean, nasty article in the Wall Street Journal in which personal attacks were made on him. So the media definitely have a story that they’re going to stick with and if someone is saying something different, they will either never be shown on TV or their credibility will be called into question. And this is happening now, when we know that Obama is President-elect and that hopefully things are going to be more open.
Consulting the internet is a good idea, for example Link TV’s Mosaic News where you can hear news from the Middle East. That might give you a different perspective.
What has been the effect of 9/11 on kids and how they’re treated in school?
People’s experiences have been different. For example many of the young people I interviewed in the film said that nothing untoward had ever happened to them or their families. In fact they had received a lot of support from their American counterparts who wanted to make sure that they were OK and offered them help. But of course there is also the other side. Some of it, like name calling, is part of growing up but another layer of prejudice has been added on. If you look at the coverage in the media it is always very negative and always very sensational. It’s not balanced and it obviously influences people.
Do you think that schools teach enough about Islam, in middle school and high school?
No, they don’t and there should definitely be more of that. Some people suggested that I should show this film to middle school students – that they would be ready to see something like this. I wish that there was more dialogue and just more information. Like a brief intro to Islam to explain that it is not so different from Christianity and Judaism, that it’s the same Abrahamic tradition. A lot of people don’t even know that.
There is this vicious cycle of how the media represent Islam. What if anything is going on in the Muslims community to try and break through this?
I can speak for Rochester. There is a lot of interfaith activity in Rochester, I think more so than in most towns. There is a large number of interfaith organizations. Muslims are participating in that activity in order to have more dialogue with other faiths. I also know that a Muslim family in Buffalo has launched a television channel called Bridges TV. Their coverage is more balanced and more educational vis a vis Islam. There should be more of this definitely.
Rundell Public Library Auditorium in Rochester, NY – November 12, 08
The film was screened for middle school students from School Without Walls. This is the assignment that students were given after the screening of the documentary and a Q&A with director Mara Ahmed:
Nazareth College in Rochester, NY – November 11, 08
An analogy to today’s radical Muslims would be the Ku Klux Klan. The only thing that could stop the KKK was when white Christians thought that it was enough. Do you think that moderate Muslims will take that stand against radical Islam first in the United States and then around the world?
Mara Ahmed: I think that that has started already. This film too is taking that stand. The people who are most affected by the radicals are the vast majority of Muslims. The extremists give us a bad name. They make our lives very difficult. And they do not represent us – it is not a fair representation at all. So we the moderate Muslims of the world, the majority of Muslims all over the world, are compelled to stand up against them and say, “This is not our faith and how we understand it”.
Do you think that Muslims in America are more integrated in society than in Europe?
Mara Ahmed: This is something great about America that it is possible to integrate, specially for second generation immigrants who are born and raised here and speak English with an American accent, I think that they can integrate quite well. That’s what makes our country great. I spent my childhood in Europe and I think that it’s a little bit more of a challenge over there. However, things might have changed over time. I was there a long time ago, in the late 1970s. so from my own personal experience I do think that America gives you this opportunity to integrate and become just plain American.
Dr Muhammad Shafiq: The Muslims who migrated to Europe were mostly part of the labor class. They had less education and sought blue-collar jobs. They didn’t have the education or the know how to integrate well and that posed a greater challenge for them. Most Muslims who immigrated to America were professionals. A lot of doctors and engineers migrated to America in the 1960s. There were subsequent waves of immigrants who came in who were refugees and might not have had the same chances at integrating but many American Muslims are well-educated. This difference in demographics also accounts for differences in levels of integration achieved by Muslim immigrants.
In addition to the media bias mentioned in the film, what do you see as the greatest challenges to the moderate Muslim community in this country in their fight for what Islam truly represents and how can non-Muslim Americans help?
Mara Ahmed: Before September 11th Americans didn’t really think much about Islam or Muslims – we were really under the radar. Then all of a sudden with 9/11 we came into focus. And people obviously formed a very negative image of Muslims. That is a very big challenge: the moment that people became aware of our existence was such a negative moment in the history of America. It’s hard for Muslims to begin at that starting point and move forward from there. We have to constantly explain ourselves, constantly defend ourselves – which is not fair. But that’s just the position we have been put into. We are invariably under the microscope.
The other challenge is, and the media doesn’t help with that either, that people always lump all Muslims together. Muslims constitute a quarter of the world population. They come from such diverse cultures and they interpret their faith in such different ways, that sometimes there’s hardly anything in common. Yet we are all bunched together and simply called “Muslims” by the media. It is hard to fight against such a generalized and therefore universally applicable stereotype.
Dr Muhammad Shafiq: There’s a famous saying that two Jews cannot agree on any one thing. I always say that one and a half Muslims cannot agree on any one thing.
You mention in the documentary that in Islam life is a sacred gift. In Islam it’s clearly stated that suicide is a sin. God gives you life and life is a test – it is understood that it’s going to be hard. How do you then explain suicide bombings? Is there a certain level of desperation that’s coming from somewhere? Do you think economics has something to do with it?
Mara Ahmed: I don’t want to make a sweeping generalization. I don’t want to say that it’s only the poor who become terrorists. That would be inaccurate. But I do agree that socio-economic conditions have a lot to do with what is happening. If you take care of that, if you build schools and hospitals and better infrastructure and people have a shot at leading a normal, decent life, It will become impossible for the radicals to recruit. Because the radicals they have their own agenda, they are also involved in some kind of power grab. There is a certain level of desperation where you feel that your life has no value, that you have no future, and that might become a prelude to terrorist activities.
That probably makes it harder for moderate Muslims to root out terrorism.
Mara Ahmed: if we all get together we can do it. For example, as far as American policy is concerned in places like Afghanistan, which is a focal point right now, instead of bombing people if we started talking to people and asking them what they need, we’ll find out that what they will ask for are more schools, more jobs, better roads, and more electricity in more villages. If we decided to help them with that I think that it would prove to be a much wiser policy that will be much more beneficial to us down the road.
In the film I talk about what happened in the 1980s and a lot of what is going on today in Afghanistan and Pakistan is a direct outcome of what we did there. We poured a lot of money in that region, a lot of arms and ammunition and we created these guerrillas who were armed to the teeth. And then when the Soviets left we became disengaged from that region. What did we expect? What was this entire generation of jihadists going to do? These types of short-term policies have to stop. We have to start thinking long-term. Hopefully with the new administration we will use a little more intelligence, a little more wisdom, a little more knowledge in how we deal with people abroad.
Should we say “Muz-lim” or “Mus-lim” and do we inadvertently offend people?
Mara Ahmed: We say Muslim – not Muz-lim with a Z but Mus-lim with an S – but how people pronounce the word is not at all offensive to me. It is the intention that counts. We want to have this type of dialogue, we want to have these kinds of conversations and whether you say Iz-lam or Is-lam or Muz-lim or Mus-lim – it doesn’t matter at all.
Could you explain in more depth what happened in the 1980s, with American policy in Afghanistan.
Mara Ahmed: in the 1980s a lot of money and weaponry was being funneled into Afghyanistan via Pakistan. We had a dictator in the country, General Zia ul Haq, and even though he deposed and then hanged an elected Prime Minister (Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who happened to be Benazir Bhutto’s father) he was still considered an ally by the US government in their war against the Soviets. We moved back to Pakistan in the 1980s and lived in Islamabad for a while. I remember these long rows of brand new trucks, which were sleek and cutting edge and seemed to move around ceaselessly in and around the capital. They caught my eye because they were quite different from traditional trucks in Pakistan, which are huge and chunky, every inch of them decorated with paintings and mirror work.
But these trucks were different. They were owned by the National Logistics Cell (NLC), a subsidiary organization of the Pakistan Army and apparently they were involved in transporting weapons into Afghanistan. On their way back into Pakistan they would sometimes be loaded with drugs as a lot of drug money was being made simultaneously. A lot was going on in that region in the 1980s. The result of that activity was that we were able to defeat the Soviets but we paid a price for that. We indoctrinated, trained and armed an entire generation of fighters who don’t know anything else. This is what is creating a lot of instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the rest of the world.
What I mean to say is that things are complicated. There is a lot of history here. We went into Afghanistan to try and capture the terrorists but it hasn’t been that simple. It is impossible to rule over that region. The terrain is harsh and unyielding and the people who live there, the Pushtoons, are famously proud and independent. No one has ever been able to conquer them or rule over them. The British couldn’t do it, the Russians couldn’t do it and certainly we haven’t been able to do it. You must have heard in the media about how we are now trying to engage the Taliban and thinking in terms of having a Taliban government in Afghanistan that we can work with. Well, I could have told them that in 2001. Occupation has never worked in that part of the world.
What has been the response to film screenings so far?
Mara Ahmed: The response has been great. I have been to a lot of universities and colleges and the turnout has been terrific. I was at SUNY Brockport yesterday and there were about 200 students in the audience. People were standing in the back of the auditorium because there were no seats left. The response has been amazing and I really enjoy the questions and comments that are sparked by the screening.
University of Rochester Medical Center Book Club – Nov 6, 08
How has the film changed you?
Mara Ahmed: I think that since 9/11 Muslims have been forced to delve more into their own religion and identity. Talking from personal experience, although I grew up in a Muslim family and have prayed and fasted and celebrated Eid all my life, I never really studied Islam apart from the religious education I received in elementary school in Pakistan – which is pretty rudimentary. After 9/11 the media was rife with attacks on Islam and Muslims. That really made me look inwards and want to understand Islam better. I read about the history of Islam, the life of Muhammad, the rights of women in Islam.
With this film, for the first time in my life, I’ve begun to identify myself as being a Muslim first and foremost. I don’t know if I have fully digested that reality at a personal level but that’s certainly the public persona that has emerged. I screened the film at the University at Buffalo in October and a couple of days later an article about the event was published in the Spectrum. The heading went something like this: “Fighting for religion through documentary”. I had a hard time absorbing that. I have always been vocal about civil liberties and human rights violations but I still feel funny when people characterize my work as a Muslim’s fight for Islam. I never defined myself through religion – it was just something I took for granted, something that was always there but never articulated, like the wallpaper on my computer desktop. The film changed all that.
Another important change in perspective brought about by the film has to do with how I view other Americans. So many wonderful people came forward and helped generously with this project that I was quite taken aback. These were people who were not Muslim or Pakistani. They just believed in the message of the film and offered to help with their time, their talent, and their contacts. It still amazes me how people react to the film and how they want to help in any way they can. This is the America I love and this is the America I would like to see
Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY – October 16, 08
Watch YouTube videos of the post screening discussion at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in this post.
Post screening discussion at the Dryden – June 8, 08
The hour long screening of the film was followed by a robust discussion with a panel comprising director/producer Mara Ahmed, cinematographer Thom Marini, Dr Aitezaz Ahmed, Ibrahim Tariq, Dr Bilal Ahmed, Farah Ahmed and Dr Carl Davila.
USEFUL LINKS FOR “THE MUSLIMS I KNOW”:
Download Discussion Guide from the Film’s Website – Written by Dr Anthony Cerulli, Dr Aitezaz Ahmed and Mara Ahmed
A is for Allah, J is for Jihad – Article by Craig Davis, World Policy Journal, Spring 2002
Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue – Nazareth College, Rochester, NY
From US, the ABCs of Jihad – Article by Joe Stephens and David B. Ottaway, Washington Post, March 23, 2002
Muslim scholars decry terrorism – Article by Sanjoy Majumder, BBC News, February 25, 2008
Muslim victims of 9/11 attacks – List compiled by ICNA, Newsday and other news organizations
Muslims condemning terrorism – Statements by Muslim leaders in the wake of 9/11 attacks
Saudi Grand Mufti condemns terrorism – Statement issued by Saudi Grand Mufti
Statement by 50 Islamic scholars – Statements made by 50 Islamic scholars about 9/11, September 17, 2001
Ten Myths about Pakistan – Article by Mohammed Hanif, The Times of India, January 4, 2009
WORLD PREMIERE OF “THE MUSLIMS I KNOW”:
June 8, 2008
“The Muslims I Know” opened on June 8, 2008 at the Dryden Theatre in Rochester, NY. The event was co-sponsored by Women in Film and Television Rochester. About 300 people attended the screening. The response to the film was enthusiastic and the screening was followed by a robust, hour-long discussion.
June Foster, Executive Director, Rochester/Finger Lakes Film and Video Office, introduced Mara Ahmed, the film’s Director, Producer and Writer. Mara spoke briefly about why she made the film and thanked people who had helped with the project, many of whom were in attendance. They included most of the film’s interviewees as well as Thom Marini (Chief Cinematographer), Chuck Munier (Post Production Services), Dave Sluberski (Post Production Sound), Shamoun Murtza (Musical Score), and Teagan Ward (Theme Song). Nora Brown, President of Women in Film and Television Rochester, and Sarita Arden were the main organizers of the event.
The post screening discussion was moderated by Barry Goldfarb, Professor, Department of Visual and Performing Arts, Monroe Community College. The panel consisted of Aitezaz, Bilal, Farah, Ibrahim, Dr. Davila, Thom Marini and Mara Ahmed.
RIT REPORTER TALKS ABOUT “THE MUSLIMS I KNOW”:
check out this article in the RIT (rochester institute of technology) reporter – issue dated 3/14/08, page 11. it’s based on an interview i did with andy rees a few days after we got back from belize. the article is thorough and well-written. here it is:
A CLIP FROM “THE MUSLIMS I KNOW”:
FINAL DOCUMENTARY TREATMENT FOR THE MUSLIMS I KNOW:
October 15, 2007
Duration: 60 minutes
Directed and Produced by Mara Ahmed
Topic and background:
If you were to yahoo the words “moderate Muslim” today you would get more than 8 million hits on the internet. This obsession with moderate Muslims is the result of a post-9/11 Western world trying to make sense of Islam and its followers. The need to identify “militant Jihadists” by distinguishing them from moderate Muslims has cast suspicion on all Muslims in America. Stereotypes are becoming well-entrenched. The purpose of this documentary is to break those stereotypes by showcasing first generation Pakistani American immigrants who can be classified as moderates and to ask them questions many non-Muslim Americans would love to ask, even if these are not always politically correct. A secondary goal is to educate people about the basic tenets of Islam in order to highlight similarities with the Judeo-Christian tradition. In short it is to address concerns such as those of my Jewish friend Susan who emailed to me: “I would love to talk about religion with you sometime. It’s so distressing to me that there is this huge schism between what we hear in the media (about Islamic extremists and the sacred writings that some say support Jihad) and such lovely and reasonable Muslims as yourselves”.
This will be a personal documentary which will focus on the Pakistani American community in Rochester, rather than presume to speak for all Muslims. Instead of contending with stereotypes by advancing religious postulates, the more audience-friendly approach of cultural exploration (including cultural norms and religious values) will be used. Islamic scholars will be interviewed to answer basic questions related to Islamic theology and history, but most issues will be dealt with by regular Pakistani Americans who would like to have a voice in America’s mainstream socio-political discourse. The filmmaker (Mara Ahmed) will act as narrator and interviewer.
Structure: The documentary will be a montage of several visual as well as thematic elements:
1) Transitions between different segments/topics will feature Mara and will provide an introduction to the issue at hand, an appropriate context for the discussion, some food for thought, and will also point out inconsistencies and help focus on certain issues. These will be shot in a variety of places in the greater Rochester area to give a sense of place. Voiceover will be cut with this local footage.
2) Vox pop will be used to interview non-Muslim Americans and frame some of the questions to be addressed in the film
3) Vignettes will be interspersed throughout the documentary. The purpose of these vignettes will be to break up various segments/topics and provide some relief from serious discussion. Another goal will be to show how mainstream and human American Muslims are and to deconstruct the virulent mind-set of “us versus them”. Vignettes will include the following:
(a) family scenes from the lives of American Muslims
(b) American Muslims in their place of work
(c) scenes from Lahore to provide a sense of where these American Muslims come from
(d) scenes from Rochester to give a sense of where the interviewees are based in America
(e) scenes from a wedding both in Lahore and Rochester to provide a sense of culture
(f) religious scenes showing Muslims praying or fasting in Ramadan, shots of the mosque in Brighton and an Eid dinner
4) Interviews with Pakistani American Muslims, Islamic scholars, the Imam at the Islamic Center of Rochester – sample questions include:
(a) When and why did you migrate to America?
(b) What did you think of America at the time?
(c) Have things changed since 9/11?
(d) Do you have an answer to “why do they hate us”?
(e) What do you think of how Muslims are portrayed by the Western media?
(f) What is Islam’s theology? What are its basic tenets?
(g) Are Islam, Christianity and Judaism very different?
(h) Is Islam, at its very core, a violent religion?
(i) How do you explain today’s “terrorism”? How can we combat it?
(j) What is the concept of jihad?
(k) What is the role of women in Muslim societies?
(l) What’s next? (Conclusion)
The documentary will begin with footage from Mara’s childhood in Brussels. The movement in time and place from the middle of Western Europe (in the 1970s), to Pakistan (in the 1980s), to America (in the 1990s), to 9/11 in 2001 will form a foundation from which to explain why it was important for her to make this documentary. Voiceover. Mara will talk about the term “moderate” Muslim and the dangers of defining yourself in language designed to reduce you to a stereotype. What is a “moderate Muslim”? There are 1.3 billion Muslims all over the world. Their cultures and socio-economic conditions are so diverse that sometimes, they hardly have anything in common. Clip of Dr Davila – ‘Whenever we talk about Islam in the abstract we are setting ourselves up for misunderstanding. Is there something generic we can call the West?’ Voiceover – ‘When you think of Muslim men and women in a post 9/11 world, THIS is what comes to mind’. Followed by a slew of images taken from American media, to the sound of a drum, showing gun toting bearded men, women sporting burkas, crowds burning American flags, etc. Voiceover – ‘This makes for electrifying journalism and explosive politics, but is this real? These are the Mulsims I know’.
Introduction of Pakistani-American Muslims as they talk about their migration to America – why they migrated, what they identify with in American culture. A couple talks about their love for Lahore and how they met there. Cut to vignette about Lahore showing a colorful collage of historic forts, ancient bazaars, and Lahore’s old city.
The following segments will follow with appropriate transitions and comprising of vignettes:
(1) How things have changed since 9/11 (2) Why are Muslims portrayed a certain way by American media? (3) Islam 101 (4) Is Islam a violent religion? (5) Islam and today’s terrorism (6) What’s jihad all about? (7) Islam and women (8) What’s next?
The documentary will address serious issues in an edgy, fast-paced, tightly edited modern format. Interviews will be shot handheld, in different locations. Short sections of interviews will be intercut with old photographs and footage to bring personal histories to life. Footage/images shot in Pakistan will be presented in super-saturated color to bring out cultural exuberance and will take the form of an explosive collage that captures the spirit of the city rather than being a real-life representation. It will be visual art, adding a different dimension to the film. Qawali music will be used to tie those images together into a dynamic collage. There will be abundant use of music to give the film a vibrant positive feel. The idea is to make the documentary thought provoking yet attractive. The gravity of its theme combined with the appeal of its format will make this documentary all the more palatable and effective in its reach.
FIRST DRAFT OF DOC PROPOSAL: MODERATE MUSLIMS IN AMERICA
november 28, 2006
objective: if you were to google the words “moderate muslim” today you would get about 6.7 million hits on the internet. this obsession with moderate muslims is the result of a post-9/11 western world trying to make sense of islam and its followers. the need to identify “militant jihadists” by distinguishing them from moderate muslims has cast suspicion on all muslims in america. stereotypes are becoming well-entrenched. the purpose of this documentary is to break those stereotypes by showcasing first generation pakistani american immigrants who can be classified as moderates. it is to address concerns such as those of my jewish friend susan baruch who emailed to me: “i would love to talk about religion with you sometime. it’s so distressing to me that there is this huge schism between what we hear in the media (about islamic extremists and the sacred writings that some say support jihad) and such lovely and reasonable muslims as yourselves”.
treatment: rather than speak on behalf of all muslims, the documentary will focus on the pakistani american community in rochester. instead of contending with stereotypes by advancing religious postulates, the more audience-friendly approach of cultural exploration (including socio-religious norms and values) will be used.
content: the documentary will begin with a discussion between susan and mara in order to establish a background to the film. as both the director of the documentary and one of its subjects, mara ahmed will act as narrator, interviewee and interviewer. we will start by getting to know mara – her life in belgium, pakistan and the u.s. she will explain why it was important for her to make this documentary. mara’s husband dr ahmed will be interviewed next. he will share his interpretation of current world events and what we can learn from history. photographs and brief family histories will be used to add a personal dimension.
footage and images from the streets of lahore will help explain the “pakistani” in pakistani-american.
the ahmeds will speak about their approach to islam and how it influences their lives. they will then introduce other pakistani americans. afshan will be profiled by providing a brief personal history (a divorcee with kids who fought her way through the legal/economic system and is now happily re-married) and by highlighting her work for women’s rights. she will be asked to elaborate on her views about women and islam. bilal will be asked to speak about islamic ideas and how they jibe with today’s world. he will be asked why he is considering changing his sons’ family name so that they are not automatically identified as muslims and harassed. tariq and his family will be asked to comment on the same subject. they will talk about their politics. their politically engaged teenage son will also be interviewed, along with other young, second generation pakistani americans. in addition to individual interviews, group discussions will enable a more dynamic exchange of ideas. some of the questions asked will be collected via vox pop and snippets of questions will be cut with respective answers from interviewees.
1. when, why and how did you migrate to america?
2. could you give us a summary of your personal history?
3. what is a pakistani american?
4. How and where do pakistani americans fit in american society?
5. how do you describe yourself in terms of religion?
6. what is the definition of a “moderate” muslim?
7. how did 9/11 and its aftermath affect you and your family?
8. how do you define the word “terrorism”? how do you explain it?
9. is islam, at its very core, a violent religion? is it supremacist?
10. how can we combat terrorism?
11. what do you think of how muslims are portrayed by the western media?
12. does that affect mainstream perceptions about muslims? can you illustrate with examples from your life?
the final look: the documentary will address serious issues in an edgy, fast-paced, tightly edited modern format. interviews will be shot handheld, in different locations. short sections of interviews will be intercut with old photographs and footage to bring personal histories to life. stories of migration to the u.s. will be intercut with images of american cultural icons. footage/images shot in pakistan will be presented in super-saturated color to bring out cultural exuberance and will take the form of an explosive collage that captures the spirit of the place rather than being a real-life representation. it will be visual art, adding a different dimension to the film. fast bhangra music will be used to tie those images together into a dynamic collage.
the pakistani american community in rochester will be introduced with photographs and footage showing social, cultural and religious events. afshan’s interview will be on the go to give a sense of her busy life and the role activism plays in it. some of the doctors will be shown in their place of work to introduce people to a different muslim image. there will be abundant use of music to give the film a vibrant positive feel. the idea is to make the documentary thought provoking yet attractive. the gravity of its theme combined with the appeal of its format will make this documentary all the more palatable and effective in its reach.