Mooz-Lum the Movie: the Benefit of Trial and Error

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  • Title: Mooz-Lum
  • Year: 2010
  • Director: Qasim Basir
  • Stars: Danny Glover, Summer Bishil, Evan Ross, and Nia Long
  • Language: English

As part of the Cairo International Film Festival, among a total of 450 films from 71 countries, and under digital feature films, Mooz-Lum the movie was shown in Cairo before its release in the US theatres in February 2011.

The film is about Tariq Mahdi, a Muslim youth and his journey to come to terms with his faith and overcome a troubled past. Along the plot, the film highlights some of the misconceptions, and racist behavior faced by American Muslims especially around the 9/11 tragedy. These violence acts eventually push Tariq over the edge to defend his Muslim fellows and bridge the distance that he has created between himself and Islam.

An overall impression of the film may bear some negative images: the rigid father who wants his son to be a carbon copy of himself, the Qur’an teacher who lashes kids, and the post 9/11 remorseless assaults on Muslims. A deeper look, however, shows that the director and writer Qasim “Q” Basir tried to balance them by the image of the Sheikh preaching about compassion, the fact that the teacher was fired as soon as his aggression was revealed, and a non-Muslim college student who stands up against violence despite losing his sister in the attacks.

Social Dilemma

The film starts with well developed scenes of an ordinary family giving children their sandwiches and driving them to school. An argument stems between the father and mother – played magnanimously by actors Roger Guenveur Smith and Nia Lang – highlighting their different philosophies for upbringing their children and the mother asks for a divorce. As the father takes the boy to an Islamic boarding school and the mother takes the daughter, the background is set.

Tariq’a character stresses the rebounding effect of pressure by the parents on minor details of the faith – like wearing a kufi to school – and makes one of the strengths of the film. The father’s insistence on the fact that they are “Muslim children” rather than just children; that matter that lays an early burden on their shoulders and contributes to the alienation and identity crisis that Tariq faces later.

And while many will agree that pressure is not always healthy, the opposite image proposed in the character of the sister who was apparently raised in a more lenient way by the mother may be controversial. Will dancing to concerts, wearing halfway kind of hijab pass as the kind of “balance” that people should try to achieve? It depends on what kind of audience is watching.

Also, read: Father of the Nation – Gandhi My Father

Which Audience?

The film is mostly addressed to non-Muslims, attempting to “humanize a group of people [Qasim] says have been demonized for far too long” as Marvin Scott says on his Pix News close up interview with Qasim.

For a more strict-observing Muslim audience, some of the scenes where the writer is trying to show the challenging partying environment at the dorm and campus may not be very appealing. And although not winning much acclaim from Egyptian critics, the film was well received by a wide public audience of young people as it fits with their eat-pray-love lifestyle.

Artistically Speaking

Technically, the film had a wonderful cast – Evan Ross, Hollywood star Danny Glover, Summer Bishil, Dorian Missick, and others – who played their roles beautifully without exception. Yet apparently, the statement that the director needed to make about Islam hindered the development of the characters and events. The dialogue was minimal and rhetorical to a great extent, leaving us unable to draw a picture of the main characters beyond their statements about Islam.

Regardless of the shortcomings, it remains a breakthrough to have a film in which Muslims can speak for themselves. It also definitely gives the viewer a closer look at the daily verbal and physical harassments and hardships that American Muslims are likely to face at school or on campus.

Qasim’s website says he planned a career in law then decided to do what he loved and make a difference while doing so. Mooz-Lum is based on Qasim’s second work, One Nation Filmmaker 2007 award winning short drama “Glimpse”. In an interview about it, speaking about first generation Muslims who wanted to raise their kids as Muslims, Qasim says that “whenever you’re trying something new like that there’s trial and error”.

As a first generation American Muslim filmmaker, he deserves to be given the benefit of trial and error too.

By: Yosra Mostafa — Freelance Writer- Egypt

More here: Movie Review: Left Behind: The Movie

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