Later this month, Muslims around the world will begin a month-long fast to observe Ramadan. During this time, they fast all day long and then eat in the evening. A Muslim-American filmmaker has chosen this as his subject in a new film about how five American Muslim families practice their faith and how non-Muslims relate to their traditions.
The director of the feature-length documentary American Ramadan is Naeem Randhawa, who was born in Pakistan, raised in Canada and, for the past eight years, has made Dallas, Texas his home.
As a thoroughly American Muslim, he was distressed by the distorted image of Islam many Americans have, partly because of conflict in the Middle East and terrorism, but also because of negative images in movies and television shows. He wanted to find a way to bridge the gap between people of his faith and other Americans, most of whom, he says, hold the same basic family values as Muslims.
Randhawa says he thought a documentary film might be a way of showing how traditions that are fundamental to his faith are similar to traditions in other religions. Speaking to VOA, he says the fasting Muslims do during Ramadan seemed an ideal subject.
"I was trying to find a platform that would seek to build bridges and look for commonalities between Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus ... Really, just about every religion has some form of fasting," he said. "So, this seemed to me like a great platform to bring different people come to the table and have a dialogue about what is common to all of us."
Randhawa says he also wanted to show that Muslims in the United States are not all the same. For this reason, he says, he deliberately looked for a variety of subjects to use in the film.
"We purposely went out and chose five different families. We wanted to make sure they were all very diverse," he said. "We have a student who is trying to balance her student life with work, with her home life, with school life. We have an inter-racial couple in California. We have a divorced dad who is coping with taking care of his kids by himself and sharing time with his ex-wife. We have another lady whose husband was incarcerated."
Randhawa says the film also includes interviews with scholars and religious leaders from various faiths who comment on the benefits and blessings of fasting.
"I have a rabbi who talks about fasting for Yom Kippur. I have a Christian doctor who talks about fasting for Lent and I have an iman who talks about fasting for Ramadan," said Randhawa. "It is interesting that they all talk about the same purpose of fasting. We all fast to be closer to God. That is their words. What is interesting is that all three of them say the same thing, they just say it in a different context."
Randhawa says reaction to screenings in Dallas and elsewhere has been very positive, from both Muslims and non-Muslims. He says he was especially pleased by a conversation he had with one non-Muslim woman whose image of Islam was almost entirely based on misconceptions before she saw the film.
"She had thought the call to prayer was some kind of jihadi type call to war. So she was very surprised to see it in its context, in a mosque," he said. "Things like that really encourage us and we are really happy to see that Americans are watching this and understanding that Muslims are not different than Jews and Christians in their family values and the way they live their life in America."
The film American Ramadan has been shown at some film festivals and in special screenings here in North America, but Naeem Randhawa is finding interest in the film from as far away as Europe and the Middle East. With the success of this endeavor, he says he is ready to take on other topics and continue making films that are aimed at bringing people of divergent faiths and traditions together in understanding.