I went out to see Mooz-lum this weekend, and alḥamdulillāh I'm very glad I did. When the trailer came out a few months back, the cynical part of me really wanted to hate it for some reason. All the “positive” Muslim portrayals in the media thus far were usually marred with misrepresentations of Islam or contained unrealistic characters. I expected this film to be no different.
Overall the movie is really good, and every Muslim in America should watch it not only due to the 'cultural relevance' of it for Muslim Americans [especially as a mainstream film], but also due to the common struggles it highlights.
If I had to mention some negative points of the movie, they would be three in specific that I recall. Firstly, I felt that the movie ended abruptly and some of the storyline could have been developed out further. Secondly, I felt that some of the acting was incredibly awkward and a bit over the top (such as the father). Thirdly, the scene with Tariq and Ayana in her dorm room could have been left out, or at least not taken as far. Relatively speaking, it was incredibly tame compared to other movies, but as a Muslim movie, I felt it was in appropriate and we should hold ourselves to a higher standard. I know that some people will argue that it contained some artistic benefit and so on, but we can agree to disagree.
With that aside, let's get into the good stuff. The primary reason that I liked it was that I felt it was the most accurate and relevant depiction thus far of a Muslim's life in America that has been told on such a stage.
Growing up, myself and many of my friends fit the general character of Tariq. We were raised in religious environments, and oftentimes not taught the reasoning behind what we were told to practice. This put us at odds with many of the things around us in society and led to various degrees of rebellion. Then later, usually during college, a spiritual re-awakening of sorts would take place. In that respect, I was glad to see the movie depicting accurately (in my eyes) the struggle many people face in those years of life.
I think many times community leaders, and sometimes even our elders, write these struggles off as just following of desires or something that can easily be cured. I feel though that some of the rebelliousness is also in a sense pushing back at religious teachings that were not properly imparted at an earlier age.
The 9/11 part of the movie is what made me teary eyed. It brought back a rush of memories that I never even properly sat down and evaluated myself until seeing this movie. Everyone has 9/11 stories, and I felt that mine was just another of thousands and not interesting to anyone. But I can honestly say that the portrayal in the movie is almost exactly what I experienced down to the smallest detail, and for me this was what made everything in the movie really hit my heart.
I was 19 and had just moved out to an apartment at my University the weekend before it happened – my first time living away from home. I went to work [on campus] early in the morning and saw something about a plane crashing into a building on a random sports related website. At first I thought it was a joke (like something from The Onion). Then after a while the internet stopped working and I couldn't access CNN. A girl in our office then told us the news and we all rushed out. I went straight to the student union where students were all huddled around the TV's watching in horror at what happened. I distinctly remember someone saying “I bet it was that Osama Bin Laden guy who did this” and then turned around and glared at me and my spiritually-reawakened-longer-than-fist-length-beard. It was the first moment that I really felt fear that someone was going to take out some sort of revenge or retaliation against me because I was Muslim.
I ran to my apartment and woke up my roommate [who I had known for about 3 days now]. For some reason he thought I was playing some kind of joke on him, some cruel form of a roommate initiation ritual of sorts. When I finally convinced him it was real, we scrambled trying to figure out what to do. Cell phones were barely working, classes were cancelled, and everything was seemingly in chaos.
The few nights immediately after were nearly exactly the same as some of the events in the movie. I remember going to the computer lab one night and a Muslim student working there told me I should shave my beard. I replied with the exact same line from the movie – “Allāh will protect us!”
Many of the Muslim students at our University worked off-campus jobs in the outskirts of town and so we were concerned for their safety. When one of them had a gun flashed at him and a death threat made, we all scrambled to do what we could. It reminded me specifically of the scene where someone threw the bottle at Hamza and Tariq, despite his anti-religious sentiment, immediately came to the defense of his Muslim brother. The Muslim students at our University, despite their “level of religiosity” organized into groups going around to the different gas stations and so on to make sure the Muslims working there were okay and in some cases staying with them until closing time and escorting them home.
It was breathtaking to see this movie, and this story, told on such a grand stage. I'm even more optimistic at the fact that a grassroots Muslim effort helped get it into the movie theaters. Many of us have come to write off the younger generation, and in many cases give up on it all together, but this is at least a small step indicating that not only do they have a voice, but inshā'Allāh an influential one that will lead to more positive changes.
I originally posted this on my blog: http://ibnabeeomar.com