As you may or may not hear, movie theatres across America this weekend are premiering the movie, “Noah,” starring Russell Crowe. Several of my Muslim friends and colleagues have expressed interest and excitement about the movie and their desire to attend a showing of the film. Therefore, I felt it necessary to implore us to show restraint and not waste our time watching it. As Muslims, we should abhor that Hollywood or any entity would produce a movie depicting a Prophet.
1. Why are only the Prophet Muhammad Images Offensive?
We often get desensitized, especially those of us living in the West, when it comes to making images of the prophets since we see so many portraits of Jesus everywhere we go. Nevertheless, we should firmly be against the imaging of any of our Islamic Prophets. Many of us get up in arms when others portray our Prophet Muhammad in a cartoon, but don’t blink an eye if any of our other beloved prophets are depicted. Before you say that cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad are meant to be offensive while other images are not, just think about the outrage caused by Maajid Nawaz with his cartoon in England back in January. As Muslims, we rightfully should be offended when anyone depicts our Prophet Muhammad whether done to be offensive or not. What I’m also trying to advocate is that, as Muslims, we should similar be offended when others depict other prophets as well, including but not limited to Prophets Eesa and Nuh .
2. Russell Crowe has nothing on Prophet Nuh
Another problematic aspect of the movie includes the role played by Russell Crowe. As Muslims, we honestly don’t know too much about what Prophet Nuh looked like. However, if we watch this movie, we will start to intertwine the character played by Russell Crowe, looks included, into our imagination of Prophet Nuh . Russell Crowe has nothing on Prophet Nuh , so let’s not give him the opportunity to represent him in our minds.
The producer of the movie “Noah,” a self-professed atheist, according to the Washington Times, says he is proud of the fact that he’s taken a story inspired by God’s word and turned it into something so secular.
3. Don’t want to mess up my Reading of Surah Nuh
By sitting through a two hour movie specifically about one of the greatest human beings in history, our subconscious may start to associate the props in the movie (the clothes, the bad guys, the language) as all being part of the story of our beloved prophet.
Even if we fight the urge, our subconscious may start thinking of Russell Crowe’s version of Prophet Nuh when we are reciting the verses regarding the flood in the Quran.
As Muslims, we should firmly restrain ourselves from showing support for the “Noah” movie. Many conservative Christian groups have already expressed concerns regarding the movie. Paramount Pictures has admitted it took some “artistic license” in producing the movie. Several Muslim countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have already banned the movie (source).
O Muslim, won’t you also abstain from watching “Noah”?
Art by Zohayma Montaner
Prayers Beyond Borders Offers Hope to Separated Families
On the border of San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico, several families live their lives torn apart—they were born on the wrong side of a wall. Now, faith groups are joining together to give them hope through prayer. Since the Mexican-American War in 1848, the boundary that divided the two countries transformed from an imaginary line, to a monument, to a simple barb-wire fence where people on either side could meet, greet, hold hands, or exchange a warm smile, to a heavily monitored steel wall stretching across almost 15 miles between San Diego and Tijuana.
In recent years, crime, drug trafficking, an influx of undocumented workers, and increasingly white nationalism created stricter immigration policies in the U.S., directly impacting those who live straddling both sides of the border. Included in these are families whose loved ones have been deported – parents, spouses, children, and other relatives – to Mexico, undocumented workers providing for their families, and relatives who have not made physical contact with each other in years, sometimes decades. They gather along the steel mesh barriers of the border wall at Friendship Park to touch each other’s fingertips and pray.
The documentary, “A Prayer Beyond Borders,” produced by CAIR California, MoveOn, and Beyond Borders Studios captured some of these emotive moments during a Sunday prayer service held by the Border Church in partnership with the Border Mosque. Christians and Muslims came together in solidarity at Friendship Park on September 30, 2019, and held a joint bilingual ceremony, led by Reverend John Fanestil, Pastor Guillermo Navarrete, Imam Taha Hassane, and Imam Wesley Lebrón.
Imam Lebrón, National Hispanic Outreach Coordinator for WhyIslam, witnessed the nightmare families separated at the border endure when he was invited to participate in this first meeting of the Border Church and Border Mosque. As a Puerto Rican, U.S. born citizen who never experienced the hardships of immigration, he was moved by what he witnessed. He said,
“I entered Mexico and reached the border at Friendship Park and immediately noticed families speaking to each other through the tiny spaces of an enormous metal wall. They were not able to touch except for their fingers, which I later learned was the way they kissed each other.”
He described families discussing legal matters and children crying because they could not embrace a parent who traveled for days only to speak to them briefly behind the cold steel mesh partition.
“Walls are meant to provide refuge and safety from the elements and they are not meant to prevent human beings from having a better life,” he explained, “As I stood behind that wall, I felt hopeless, angry, and had many other mixed emotions for our Mexican brethren who have been completely stripped of the opportunities many of us take for granted.” During the service he addressed the crowd gathered on the Mexican side of Friendship Park and recited the Adhan, the Muslim call to prayer. It was the first time the call was heard in Friendship Park, but not the last.
The Border Church and Border Mosque will continue to provide a joint service on the last Sunday of every month and are calling for a binational day of prayer on Sunday, October 27th. They will be joined by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and indigenous spiritual leaders to “Pray Beyond Borders.” The event will be filmed and possibly live-streamed to a global audience with the objective of raising awareness and requesting financial support to address issues related to family separation in the region.
On October 7th CAIR California with MoveOn, Faith in Action, MPower Change, and a social media team and distribution partners released the film “A Prayer Beyond Borders,” With the digital launch of this film in English and Spanish they wish to reach millions of viewers in telling the story of the Border Church and the Border Mosque and bring more faith leaders and activists on board to protect families’ right to gather. Please join them at Pray Beyond Borders – A Binational Day of Prayer – Sunday, October 27th at Friendship Park.
“when the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles” (Psalm 34:17 – NIV).
“And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive [to Allah ]” (Qur’an 2:45)
Retire Aladdin To The Ends Of The Earth
By Jinan Shbat
I grew up in an upper-middle-class suburb in Ohio, where I never felt different than the kids in my neighborhood. Sure, my siblings and I had odd-sounding names, and we spoke a second language. But to our neighbors and classmates, we were white, like them. However, that perception changed when I was 11-years-old, when a Disney cartoon movie named “Aladdin,” was released based off of a character created by a French orientalist at the height of Orientalism. At first, my siblings and I were excited because we thought Disney had made a movie that represented us. However, shortly after the movie came out, the questions began.
Are you from Agrabah?
Do you have a magic carpet? Are you going to be married off to someone your parents choose? Do you have outfits like Jasmine?” My head was swarming with all these questions, and I admit, I was intimidated. A little scared, too. I didn’t know how to answer them, and so I just shook my head and walked away.
My parents thought they were doing us a favor by buying the movie and have us watch it anytime other kids came over to play. This just created a larger divide between us, and soon my siblings and I were the “other.” It made me hyper-aware of my brown skin, my visiting foreign grandparents, and my weird-sounding name that no one could ever pronounce correctly. As I grew up, the movie and its racist, Orientalist tropes followed and haunted me. Anytime anyone found out I was Arab, they would ask, “oh, like Aladdin?” I didn’t know how to answer that. Was Aladdin Arab? South Asian, Persian? These were all different ethnicities, yet the movie seemed to be an amalgamation of them all, set in a fiction land I could not identify.
Why is Disney’s Aladdin Harmful?
It may not seem like a big deal to be misidentified in this way, but it is. And these stereotypes that have been present in Hollywood for decades are a huge disservice to our communities- all our communities- because when you misidentify a person’s culture, you are saying that all people of color are interchangeable— which is dehumanizing.
With the new release of the live action version, “Aladdin” is reinforcing the trauma and obstacles we have had to fight for the last 30+ years. The addition of a diversity consulting firm made Disney look good; it showed good faith on their part to receive feedback on the script to try and improve it.
However, issues remain with the original story itself, and no amount of consulting will change that.
Although the Aladdin remake was marked by controversy over Disney “brown-facing” its white cast, and despite original Aladdin’s racist history, last weekend Disney’s live-action version soared to $207.1 million globally. Money experts tell us that the remake success comes from the “power of nostalgia”- that is, the film’s ability to connect with feel-good memories.
The original production is the second highest grossing film project in Disney history. Last weekend, millions flocked to the remake in record numbers, despite critics’ negative and mixed reviews.
The accompanying Aladdin Jr. play is also a major concern, sales of which will skyrocket because of the film. Disney only recently removed the word ‘barbaric’ in its description of Arabs in the opening song. Many more problems abound, but Disney promises through its licensing company, Music Theatre International, to keep the concepts explored in the original production intact.
A Whole New World Needs Less Anti-Muslim Bigotry
From my perspective, as an organizer that fights a huge Islamophobia network in my daily work, it would be a disservice to my work and our community to sit by and allow racist, Islamophobic, orientalist tropes to make their way into our theaters, homes, and schools. What exactly is not a big deal in this movie? The depiction of Arabs and South Asians as one demographic, the storyline of forced marriage, power struggles, a black man playing a genie literally bound by chains to a lamp?
Hollywood’s history of Islamophobia needs to be rectified. There is a plethora of writers, actors and creative minds with alternative positive portrayals of Muslims, Arabs and South Asians. Our consumer appetite must shift to embrace authentic stories and images about people like me.
Aladdin is beyond repair; in its original form, it is problematic. No number of meetings with executives will fix the problems that are still prevalent. It should be retired, indefinitely, and put on the shelf with all the other racist caricatures from Hollywood history.
It’s our duty to speak out- and if you don’t believe we should, then you can choose to stay silent. I cannot.
Jinan Shbat is an organizer in Washington DC.
Bring Your Own Spoon To Dinner – 8 Lessons from Ertugrul
Ertugrul (died c. 1280) was the father of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman Empire. According to Ottoman tradition, he was the son of Suleyman Shah, leader of the Kayı tribe of Oghuz Turks, who fled from eastern Iran to Anatolia to escape the Mongol conquests. According to this legend, after the death of his father, Ertuğrul and his followers entered the service of the Seljuks of Rum, for which he was rewarded with dominion over the town of Söğüt on the frontier with the Byzantine Empire. This set off the chain of events that would ultimately lead to the founding of the Ottoman Empire (Wikipedia).
Like his son, Osman, and their descendants, Ertuğrul is often referred to as a Ghazi, a heroic champion fighter for the cause of Islam. In 2014, a Turkish TV series by the name of Diriliş: Ertuğrul was launched on TRT 1 which took the Muslim world by storm. Diriliş: Ertuğrul is a Turkish historical adventure television series created by Mehmet Bozdağ, starring Engin Altan Düzyatan and Esra Bilgiç Töre in leading roles. It is filmed in Riva, a village in Beykoz, Turkey. The show is based on the history of the Muslim Oghuz Turks and takes place in the 13th century. It centers around the life of Ertuğrul, a fascinating character and inspiration to today’s Muslim youth.
Earlier this month, I sent out a mass message to a group of friends who are die-hard fans of Diriliş: Ertuğrul to ask what they thought were the biggest lessons from this unique TV series. Here is the list I compiled below:
1. Bring your own spoon to dinner
One of the most intriguing occurrences in the series is when the tribal chiefs of the Kayı tribe get together for feasts and pull their own personal spoons out from the inside of their robes. Many fans of Ertuğrul have deliberated the rationale behind this and the most likely explanation is that the spoon, unlike the bowl, actually goes into the mouth of the individual. At a time when water was scarce (and detergent non-existent) it probably made most sense to bring your own spoon rather than the host having to scrub oral bacteria off a number of spoons. The lesson learned is that one should think about the ways on how not just to be a gracious host but also a gracious guest. What can we do the next time we are invited to dinner to make life easier for the host and not be a burden for our hosts?
2. People should know their leader – he should be like a father to the people
There are many instances in the series where we see the most “insignificant” pauper personally knowing and recognizing the Chief (Bey) of the tribe Suleyman Shah and vice versa. It is clear that in the old days, the leaders of the tribe were not only well known by their subjects but also had personal relationships with them. In fact, the relationship was so close that the Bey of the tribe had to give permission for every marriage to take place. When we compare that to our institutions now, from the smallest Masjid or charity to the largest federal Governments, it is as though leaders are only supposed to deal with the second line of command and no one else. We need to slowly start changing this and change happens starts from the self. Do you have a leadership position of any kind? Whether it’s at work, a committee at the masjid or anything else – do the people from the lowest rung to the highest know who you are? Maybe it can be as simple as saying “Hello/Salam” to everyone around and introducing yourself – the results are likely to be miraculous.
3. Keep your eyes on the prize – ignore the noise around you
Engin Altan does an amazing job of playing the part of the inspirational Ertuğrul and one of his strongest characteristics is his ability to keep his mind clear of confusions and stay focused on the task at hand. At times it looks like there is a constant storm happening around Ertuğrul with oppression, injustice, deceit and evil permeating every corner, but Ertuğrul walks through unscathed never paying more attention to the deviants than they deserve. Especially in today’s world of constant bombardment of negative and sometimes “fake news” this is a skill which we all need to practice – ignore the noise and keep your eyes on the prize.
The victory is not ours, it belongs to Allah. As long as we follow Allah’s path, nobody can bring us to our knees. But if we start to believe victory is ours, if we forget our purpose and contaminate it with our desire for fame, then our Lord will shame us. —Ertugrul Ghazi
4. Situations can be complex – try to get into the weeds on matters and don’t judge immediately
One of the main themes in the first 50 or so episodes is the deceit of Ertuğrul’s uncle Kordoglu. Kordoglu is the textbook two-faced hypocrite, pretending to be loyal at one juncture and stabbing his brother and nephew in the back at the other. At many instances Kordoglu tries to double cross and frame Ertuğrul and the people who fall into the trap are the ones who jump to conclusions. If the same people stopped for a moment and gave Ertuğrul the chance to defend himself and provide his evidence much confusion could be avoided. We are also prone to this type of haste and many times it is our nafs that is probing us to fall into intrigue. It is easy to fall into sensationalism and drama, and not as easy to restrain the nafs and take a step back without judging immediately.
5. If you are in love, get married fast but try your best to get the blessing of elders
Like many romantic series, the love interest between Ertuğrul and Halime Sultan is a major theme of the series and if you watch the show with Aunties you will often hear “Oh why don’t they just get married and get it over with.” LOL. The lesson learned reminds us of Rasool Allah’s hadith: “There is nothing better for those who love one another than marriage.” (Narrated by Ibn Maajah, 1847). Repeated experiences within our community show that where the blessings and acceptance of elders are taken, marriages tend to succeed more. As youth, we should make a concerted effort to gain the blessings of elders in marriage, while elders should make a concerted effort to expedite marriages and this is where the ultimate balance would be achieved.
Love will not bring harm to your bravery. Don’t be afraid. Love fortifies it. Protects it. — Dogan Alp
6. Know the truth and you will know who is speaking the truth
I heard this saying many years ago and the person who shared this with me attributed it to Ali ibn Abi Talib (r.a.). The saying seems to apply very well with the Ertuğrul series and our personal lives in the current world. So many of us seem to be confused about world events, circumstances in the community and issues with their own families and many times it is because we haven’t taken out the time to seek the truth. Seeking and knowing the truth comprises many painstaking hours of research, taking naseeha from others, being humble and adopting a beginner’s mind. When one is equipped with a certain foundational understanding and knowledge it becomes easier to decipher honesty from deception.
7. Women and men should know to fight, men and women should know how to cook
Examples from the great lives of Muslim leaders and their communities show that the Muslim world was not as segmented into rigid societal roles as one might think. Women would fight when needed and men would cook when needed and this is the lifestyle displayed in Ertuğrul. Nowadays it almost seems as though, even in a situation of life and death a woman in our society might not be equipped to defend herself and a man would starve if he was not served food in front of him. This might seems like an exaggerated view but the point is that we need to be much more balanced and equipped on both sides of the gender equation than we currently are. Men should not have to wait for a life and death situation to cook a meal for their families, and women should not have to wait for a moment of desperation to take on more physically strenuous tasks.
8. You will be trivialized, misunderstood and possibly stabbed in the back – warriors don’t pay attention to their wounds
As we all go through life we realize that everyone faces major calamities and hardships but the amazing thing about warriors, as we see in the T.V series, is that they are trained to only look forward and not allow life’s scars to distract them. This point also relates to the much larger concept of qadr (destiny) – the fact that whatever has to happen, happens and sulking over it cannot change anything. If having a medicine or dressing the wound is making it better, than alhamdulillah, but if it isn’t we just have to live with our ailments and there is likely some other good in it (bringing us closer to Allah, making us more humble etc.). There is a famous saying “If you sat around a table with a group of strangers and each person wrote down their problems passed them around the table, you would ask for yours back.” Everyone is facing difficulties of varying degrees, and there are two types of people in the world – those that accept and those that don’t – and that is what makes all the difference.
Write to the author at email@example.com