Those who know me well know I’m not a fan of television and popular movies. But occasionally I make an exception when I hear of something that may be beneficial or relevant to Muslims in America or abroad.
I first heard of Qasim Basir’s movie Mooz-lum through the online trailer and was intrigued by both the title and plot. As a child of Christian converts to Islam, the struggles of the main character Tariq (played by Evan Ross) resonated with me although I myself never struggled with the practice of Islam itself. However, I was able to relate to both the taunting by classmates due to the Islamic affiliation and the “culture shock” of living as a Muslim on an American college campus.
However, I had reservations about how the movie would actually play out. From the trailer, I gathered the movie would be “Hollywood style,” complete with all the sexual innuendos and immorality that makes simply sitting in front of a film spiritually tormenting—for a religiously inclined person of any faith.
Thus, I wasn’t too excited about seeing it.
Nevertheless, as the plot was directly relevant to me personally and American Muslims in general, I decided I would watch the movie to at least know “what was out there” so to speak.
Due to my travels, I was unable to see the movie in theatres, but a week ago I was able to watch the film on DVD.
I was pleasantly surprised.
Unlike similar scenes advertised in popular Hollywood trailers, the scenes from the Mooz-lum trailer that had initially incited my reservations (namely the partying, drinking, and male-female interaction) were not “tasters” of something more licentious to come, but were merely snapshots from the main character’s life and portrayed little more than the trailer itself had. However, as other Muslim reviewers have expressed, I still felt uncomfortable with the scene (albeit brief) between Tariq (Evan Ross) and Ayanna (Maryam Basir) in the dorm room. This encounter disturbed me mostly because of the Muslim backgrounds of the writer and director Qasim Basir and actress Maryam Basir. The scene would have been more powerful, in my view, if there had been no intimate contact and if moving dialogue was used in its place.
Despite this brief disappointment, I found myself intrigued by the plot, particularly Tariq’s relationship with his mother and father (played by Nia Long and Roger Guenveur Smith) and the emotional and spiritual tug-of-war between both husband and wife and father and son.
I was most moved by the painful emotional and religious struggles of Tariq, especially after his traumatic experience in a Hifz school, a boarding school established for the memorization of the Qur’an.
The scenes following the September 11th attacks were very authentic to the experiences of American Muslims, who experienced the same shock and horror upon news of the Twin Towers collapsing yet were subjected to senseless hate crimes and “terrorism” themselves.
I was also deeply affected by the character Professor Jamal (Dorrian Missik) and his professional struggles with his superior Dean Francis (Danny Glover). This was one of the most disturbing parts of the movie to me because it reminded me so much of the opposition and jealousy I faced from some non-Muslim peers and superiors who viewed my successes in the American academic and professional realm with unwarranted suspicion and disdain.
The only major part of the movie that I wish was handled differently was the portrayal of Tariq’s father (Roger Guenveur Smith). I felt that the movie could have humanized his character more, as his “crime”—of being a strict father who was unaware of the depths of Tariq’s struggles—did not warrant his portrayal as a heartless “fanatic” to be blamed for all of Tariq’s suffering. In truth, the father was no more responsible for what Tariq experienced at the Hifz school than Tariq’s mother was responsible for what Tariq was subjected to at public school—or in college for that matter.
This imbalance of assigning blame to the father exclusively left me deeply troubled. No parent knows the unseen, and we all make mistakes. Allah does not put on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Why then should we place such burdens on ourselves and others? Especially our parents.
Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and was moved.
I think both Muslims and non-Muslims will find it beneficial and heart-warming.