Muslims around the world will begin a month of fasting and prayers known as Ramadan on September 23rd. (The exact date is determined by Muslim holy men using the lunar calendar.) This tradition is the focus of a new documentary film. "American Ramadan” tells the story of five Muslim families observing the fast in the United States.
Muslims and others attending screenings of the documentary "American Ramadan" are learning more about the fasting Muslims do during daylight hours all through the month of Ramadan.
The film served as a catalyst for discussion in the Dallas suburb of Plano.
"I really enjoyed seeing the movie,” said John Whaley, a resident of Plano, Texas, “because I did not know anything about Ramadan and I learned a lot today and I particularly enjoyed seeing it with such a diverse group of people here in Plano."
Plano Mayor Pat Evans was among those who came to see the film and meet people from the Muslim community.
"The thing I enjoyed about this was that it emphasized how much we are all alike, how many things we have in common, all of the races and religions of the world," said the mayor.
"American Ramadan" is the brainchild of filmmaker Naeem Randhawa. He was born in Pakistan, raised in Canada and has been a resident of the Dallas area for the past eight years.
He and his brother, Imran, started a year ago to make a 15-minute film about Ramadan. But he says the stories they heard inspired them to go further.
"The content just drew us in. The content was so rich," said Naeem.
So the film grew to 48-minutes in length and involved five separate families in Dallas and Los Angeles.
"We witness their fears, their hopes, their challenges, what is it that they are trying to overcome,” Naeem said. “We have a divorced dad who is struggling to manage time between himself, his kids and his ex-wife. We have a student who is trying to balance school life with work life and with her parents. We have an interracial couple. They have cultural issues they are trying to manage."
The film includes input from Muslim scholars. It also features a medical doctor talking about the benefits of fasting and a Christian scholar and Jewish rabbi discussing similarities with their religions. Rabbi Robert Haas said, "A community that fasts together supports each other. All of these beliefs you can find in Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Not only can you find them, I think you could not be Islamic, Jewish or Christian without having those beliefs."
"Muslims working with Christians, working with Jews. I do not want to sound corny, but truly, that is the essence of the film and that is what we hope to get out of it and that is what we are getting out of it," said the filmmaker.
Imran Randhawa says demand for copies of the film is growing, especially among academics. "You have a lot of professors from different states that have e-mailed us and requested a copy because what they want to do is introduce it into their course."
Naeem Randhawa says he has had inquiries from people in Muslim nations. Many are ill-informed about Islam in the United States and the open dialogue between religions that can take place.
"The rabbi talks about it in the film. He says, 'Hey, man, I go visit the imam at my local mosque and I sit down with my Christian clergy friends and I am open to do so, living in America.' I think for us, that is what America is all about. It is about opening the doors to your neighbors. It is about sharing your views and respecting each others views."