We have been watching a lot of great Muslim films, documentaries and dramas over the past year. Here at the end of 2021, the Alchemiya team pick some of their favourites.
Masud Khan – Editorial and Content Executive
As the person who was tasked with finding and acquiring most of the films in our content library so far, picking out an absolute favourite is a bit of a tough one. So I will give you my five most favourite items from the Alchemiya library in no particular order.
Putting aside the obvious great cinematic films like Journey to Mecca: In the footsteps of Ibn Battuta, and the “Disney-esque” The Knight and the Princess, I am going to go for three less obvious but equally compelling titles.
Firstly, The Imam: Ahmed bin Hanbal is a biographical drama series based on the life and the struggles of one of the most beloved and great early scholars of Islam. It gives an excellent and inspirational insight into the life of this great personality. Top-notch production value, great script and an excellent cast, particularly Mehyar Khaddour in the title role. A must watch series that tops our journal round up of 5 Unmissable Muslim Historical drama series to watch.
One thing that has always excited me about working at Alchemiya and looking for great content to bring to our library is finding young, talented and independent Muslim filmmakers. There is a huge amount of talent out there in the Muslim world which bodes well for the future of Muslim film. Three particular filmmakers have impressed me with their short films, and all three are Muslim women.
Makr (Deception) – a tale of the supernatural in which a fake exorcist arrives at a house and gets more than he bargained for. A very gripping short film by Hana Kazim with a great script, expertly paced and atmospherically shot. You can read our interview with filmmaker Hana Kazim on the Alchemiya Journal.
Ismail – Inspired by a true story from 1948 when Palestinians were expelled by Israeli forces to refugee camps, the film follows Ismail, who along with his young brother, enters a minefield where we discover Ismail’s true spirit! Filmmaker Nora Alsharif has done a remarkable job in making a very cinematic short film and is representative of the talent among Palestinian filmmakers. Interview with Nora Alsharif
Fruit Chaat – a comedic short film from Pakistan by producer Tanzila Khan, who has been wheelchair-bound since birth, and also stars as the central character, Shabana. The film deals with issues of disability and romance with a “tongue in cheek” and irreverent style to highlight the issues involved. Pakistan is a goldmine of talented young filmmakers and creative artists who are often not appreciated by their own mainstream media outlets and don’t get the breaks that their talent deserves. You can read our review and interview with Fruit Chaat’s producer Tanzila Khan on the Alchemiya Journal
Valerie Grove – Journal Editor
It is definitely tough to pick out favourites from all the films and documentaries I have either written about or edited reviews of for the Alchemiya Journal. However, what first comes to mind are those that expanded my knowledge of the Muslim world or allowed me to interact with people creating new and exciting projects. Often both at the same time! Another factor in these choices is that each film, in its own different way, gives some insight into present realities.
Two of my favourites are about Muslim minorities. Muslims in China: On the Footsteps of the Hui People is a documentary telling the little known story of China’s largest Muslim minority group, the Hui. Starting with Islam’s introduction to China in the 7th century, this film is a historical and cross-cultural epic of faith, community and survival.
De Staat van der Nederlandse Moslim 2020 (The State of the Dutch Muslim 2020) features interviews and commentary from eighteen different people. Poetically moving and with much contemporary relevance, this deeply insightful film examines what it meant to be Dutch and Muslim in 2020. This was also a review in which I had the pleasure of talking at length to its director Faisal Mirza.
Another highlight for me was Kasbah – the Music of Morocco, a series of 17 short films documenting the culture of spiritual music in Morocco. Each episode contained a live performance by musicians from different communities or regions, filmed in a place relevant to that tradition. However, it was not just a glimpse into musical tradition but part of a very current, wonderful and global project that puts ethics, respect and creative cooperation right at the heart of things.
As someone who has long been involved with environmental issues, Dar al Islam, New Mexico: America’s Eco Mosque and Retreat should be a must watch for everyone! This wonderful short film unites mosque architecture and Muslim history with Quranic teaching about our responsibilities towards the Earth. It is also a memorial to the architect of Dar Al Islam, the artist and poet Hassan Fathy (1900-1989). For more details about this film see Six Films about Beautiful Mosques.
Sarah Khurshid – Journal Writer
My favourite movie on Alchemiya? It has to be Rahm! I grew up reading Shakespeare from Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night to Hamlet and Macbeth. I’ve watched countless on-screen adaptations of Shakespeare’s celebrated plays.
Despite my rich background in Shakespeare literature and media adaptations, I had never heard of Measure For Measure. So I was intrigued and pleasantly surprised to find an adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘most spiritual play’ for a Muslim audience in the Alchemiya collection.
It’s been a few months since I last saw Rahm, but I still can’t stop thinking about it. I love that Islamic virtues of mercy and compassion are explored through the perspective of a Muslim woman. Although the film navigates heavy themes such as sexual harassment and arrogance, it’s an easy watch with plenty of whimsical quotes and life lessons.
Creators Ahmed Jamal and Mahmood Jamal make Shakespeare accessible to a global audience. Sanam Saeed’s emotional performance as Sameena still catches my interest. I adore this film, and I strongly recommend anyone to see it!
It was made even more special by the fact that we were able to interview the Director, Ahmed Jamal, which gave so much more insight into the background story and the making of the film.
Irfan Ahmed – Creative Director
My favourite piece of content in 2021 has to be the Malaysian drama series, Nur, directed by Shahrulezad Mohameddin.
I have to admit when I came across Nur, it was the word ‘prostitute’ in the description that really made me and the team think carefully about putting it on Alchemiya. I soon realised that I too was showing that same prejudice and judgement that the drama was seeking to address. With 11 million views just on the Malaysian premier, and a host of national drama awards I felt we should (within our mature theme guidelines) give this the chance it deserved.
Nur tells the story of a forbidden relationship between a pious young scholar, Adam (Syafiq Kyle) and a prostitute, Nur (Amyra Rosli). Adam, the son of a celebrity Ustaz, returns after years of studying in Jordan. His father is the elderly spiritual head of an Islamic based series of TV shows and Adam is expected to take over his father’s lucrative and high profile mantle on his retirement. His mother is now keen for Adam to be married to family friend Qhadeejah, a doctor. His sister Aishah runs the channel and is keen for expansion. Adam’s future has already been set for him. It is Adam’s chance meeting with a mysterious woman at Masjid morning prayers that sets up a sequence of events that puts all these plans in jeopardy.
With the beautiful Malaysian cultural mannerisms, I was hooked from the first episode. I also discovered that Malay dramas tend to use plenty
of beautiful Islamic and cultural references. This was no different, but for me Nur really highlighted the simple premise that Islam is not exclusive to a certain group of ‘chosen’ people, and that nobody is beyond redemption.
I also noticed the subtle digs at the phenomena of social media Imams, who become cult-like personalities with all the entrapments that can and have been involved in the past. There’s one more thing. It’s a cliché but …. don’t judge a book by its leather bound Islamic cover. We don’t know what the next person is going through. There are some truly beautiful quotes and instances of true faith that often left a lump in my throat.
And have I mentioned the beautifully tailored Baju Melayu clothing worn by Adam and his younger brother? A sight to behold, with some lovely symbolism and meaning. Just like this beautiful drama.
These are just a few of our team favourites from 2021. We are all really looking forward to seeing what’s new to view on Alchemiya in 2022.