Community Stories

A Muslim American Focus Group

by Chris Morrow

As a screenwriter working on a revision to my Islamically based screenplay, I’m constantly searching for perspective from the Muslim world.  Brittany Huckabee’s documentary THE MOSQUE IN MORGANTOWN was my most recent chance to gain insight.  I sat down with a group of high school and college aged Muslims and their parents to discuss the issues in the film and gauge its relevance to their lives.  All live in the Dallas and Houston areas, and their nationalities range from Pakistani and Indian to Palestinian, Turkish and Lebanese.

The election of Dr. Hany Ammar as president was the most important problem for the youth.  “This is why I stopped going to the mosque,” one college-aged Muslima announced.  “We have a mullah just like him at the Islamic Center and once he was elected he cut out all the youth activities,” said Amna Hasan, the only high school student in the audience.  She continued by saying, “Going to mosque to watch movies and talk about the issues facing us like dating, wearing hijab and socializing with non-Muslims was important to us.  What are we supposed to think when that is taken away?”

The older generation took issue with the leaders at the Morgantown mosque.  A Muslim father questioned the initial dialogue, saying, “If Hazem Bata felt so strongly about Hany Ammar, why didn’t he call meetings protesting the election?”  Another Muslim elder said, “A silent activism never works.  As Muslims living in the post-9/11 world we strive to correct the false stereotypes associated with Muslims.  Why did it take Asra’s protests for the mosque in Morgantown to open their doors to the rest of the community?”

When asked what the audience thought about the Yusuf Estes confrontation and the MSA’s failure to have a question and answer session most were in support of Asra.  “I think the lack of Muslims in attendance speaks to what we think of Yusuf Estes,” said one Muslim parent.  “And if that girl thinks being smacked in the head with a newspaper doesn’t hurt she’s welcome to visit my house,” he added.

While most supported the heart of Nomani’s ideas, not all of her actions were supported by those I spoke with.  Most felt Asra was out of line when she visited the “progressive mosque” and demanded to pray along side the men.  “She’s a guest in their mosque, she has no right to be disrespectful regardless of how valid her point is,” said a grandmother.  When someone supported the claim that Asra’s actions were self promoting and used to increase her book sales, a debate broke out between “generations” over how to promote change.  One Muslim girl said, “Without Asra’s action’s we wouldn’t be here trying to fix our community.”

As the dialogue came to a close I asked for final thoughts on Brittany Huckabee’s film.  When asked if the film was positive for the Muslim community, everyone raised their hand.  One mother said that the documentary was a step in the right direction to move on from the stereotypes associated with 9/11.  “Since 9/11 the only issue associated with Muslims is terrorism.  Now people have an inside look of REAL issues we struggle with on a day to day basis.”  When asked to see a show of hands that wanted more documentaries and films like this one, not a single hand was left down.  “The only way we are going to make progress is if we bring these issues to the forefront.  Asra’s tactics may have been at times out of line but she got people talking and taking action,” a former leader in the Muslim community said.

 

Chris Morrow is a screenwriter based in Texas.

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