In celebration of its diversity, Montgomery County, Maryland hosted a screening of a documentary film on Islam and Prophet Muhammad.
"Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet" tells the story of the Prophet of Islam; who he was, and what he means to Muslims today. Because the film is told entirely through the daily lives of American Muslims, Daniel Ehrenberg, one of the organizers of the screening in Montgomery County, thought it would be an ideal way to spark discussion of Islam in the United States.
"We thought if we can show this film and entertain a discussion on interfaith understanding and bring people together then we would be able to help people to understand the importance of religious diversity and tolerance," he said.
Alex Kronemer, the writer and co-producer of "Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet" said he also hoped to educate Americans through the television broadcast of his documentary last December.
"Here is a story of not only a person who changed the world in 23 years, but also a person who continues to exuberate a living presence around the world and most Americans know very little about him," explained Mr. Kronemer.
Mr. Kronemer and his collaborators spent two years thinking the idea through and consulting various scholars. They finally began filming in March 2001, when they were encountered with a number of challenges. "The challenge of doing this program, of course is trying to keep two audiences in mind and in balance," he said. "We have a Muslim audience who knows a great deal about this person and for whom he is a sacred and a very important religious figure. Then we have the other audience who knows very little about him and probably is going to be skeptical to hear anything positive."
To further complicate things, writer and co-producer Alex Kronemer says the film was almost done when the terrorist attacks of September 11 occurred.
"We determined that since we had done a program that was much about the American Muslims, we could not ignore this too huge of an event," he added. "And it happened that we met a Muslim fireman who was at the WTC on that day."
Despite the challenges they faced making "Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet," Mr. Kronemer says, response to the broadcast on American public television was overwhelmingly positive.
"We've received very favorable comments from most of the Muslims who have seen the program and from the non-Muslim American audience," said Mr. Kronemer.
In Montgomery County, an audience of about 200 people of different faiths and cultural backgrounds showed up for the screening of the film.
"It is a great documentary," commented Imam Yahya Hindi, the Muslim Chaplain at Georgetown University and one of the panelists, who said the film has a rational and passionate message. "I wish we could produce more documentary films on the legacy of Moses, Jesus and Muhammad together to show that those very important figures have a lot to help us with in these days of calamities and differences," he said.
Other Muslim and non-Muslim viewers also expressed their opinions.
"It is really important that we come together especially these days, and just respect each other's beliefs and cultures," said one of the viewers. "And look at one's commonalties rather than differences. For criticism, I would prefer if there had been a debate, more discussions about the video or question and answer session. But all in all it was really good."
"Wherever I personally can learn something new, it is something that certainly helps me to enhance myself as a person. So, this has been a wonderful opportunity for that to happen," said another guest.
"The film was absolutely amazing," said another viewer. "And I think dialogue is really important in this community, here in Montgomery."
"It feels good that we can sit in a room together," added one of the viewers. "Unfortunately when we watch the news, we do not see Christians, Jews, and Muslims sitting side by side in ways that are open to one another and respectful to one another."
Rabbi Warren Stone, the Rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Kensington Maryland, and president of Washington Board of Rabbis said there are common threads in the teachings of all major religions.
"Our traditions all speak about our need for peace in the world," he explained. "And by learning those traditions from each other we can grow together and respect each other. This week in Jewish Torah Portion we read from the book of Leviticus, which says, 'love the other as you love yourself', and this film teaches us in a way that we are all reflections of God's presence in this world."
In the coming months, film writer and co-producer Alex Kronmer will take that message to a much larger audience. Having screened "Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet" in his own community, he now plans to do the same in communities worldwide.