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Ramadan Profile: Filmmaker Omar Mahmoud


The image of Muslim youths in the U.S. is often perceived as one of alienation and firebrand sermons. But life for young American Muslims is actually more multi-faceted, if not mundane. Like many other young Americans, they also like to have fun, while aspiring to high academic and athletic achievements. This is the portrait of Muslims that Director Omar Mahmood wants to capture. VOA Producers Ade Astuti and Susy Tekunan recently spoke to the filmmaker in Los Angeles, California. Jim Bertel narrates.

There are scenes in the film "Muslim Boarders" which show young American Muslims enjoying the sport of snowboarding. The young men and women play, like any other American teenager. But what sets them apart, is they break for prayer.

"Muslim Boarders" has been screened in film festivals across the U.S. and Canada. It is the work of Muslim filmmaker Omar Mahmoud who wanted to break away from the usual depiction of Muslims as conservative and rigid. In this movie, he shows that young Muslims also have a penchant for carefree fun.

Mahmoud was born and raised in the U.S. His father is Pakistani and his mother is Filipino. From an early age, Mahmood realized it was often difficult reconciling his identity as both a Muslim and an American.

He realizes he is not alone in grappling with this dual-identity issue. "Sometimes I think it's hard for young people to negotiate, and try to really realize who they are. And what I and some of my friends, what we're trying to do, is trying to basically come up with what is an American Muslim culture. Something that is a fusion that is acceptable on both sides."

This issue is brought up by the main subject of the documentary, Layla Shikley, who also narrates the film.

Layla Shikley says the film and its director address many stereotypes, especially regarding Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab (veil). "With regards to Muslim women in hijab, a lot of people see Muslim women as kind of just more servile, being kind of blobs, not being productive members of the society, or people with good things to say. And, that was the first stereotype he is trying to break."

Omar Mahmood works from Los Angeles in California, a city renowned for promising dreams of stardom. But Mahmood admits to using his camera, not for personal fame, but to ensure that American Muslims have a voice in the media of film. "We cannot just rely on news media to kind of define who we are, or anyone else -- Hollywood -- or anything else. We ourselves have to come up and sort of define who we are and explain what it means to be a Muslim."

Mahmoud hopes his films will foster greater understanding by giving young American Muslims the opportunity to tell their stories to the wider American public.

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