On A Wing and A Prayer is a funny and heart-warming documentary about a resilient Muslim family. The endearing and enthusiastic Salams are as American and suburban as The Simpsons, but Muslim. The documentary’s director Max Kaiser follows the husband and wife duo, Monem and Iman, as Monem trains to become an aeroplane pilot and Iman confronts her fear of flying.
Allow us to introduce you to Salam family! Muslim-American couple Monem and Iman Salam were born and bred in the deep south of the USA. As the only Muslims in their small town, the couple and their children hold both their Islamic values very close and embody traditional American values of hospitality and openness. It’s refreshing to see practising Muslims assimilate into an American setting like this on-screen. This easy-watch documentary is light hearted and very motivational. It features solo interviews with different family members and follows the Salams as they go about their daily tasks. At times it was like watching a long YouTube vlog or even The Real Housewives series with a few additional sports drama themes!
The first act of this documentary introduces viewers to Monem and Iman. Monem is an ethical and thoughtful husband and businessman, passionate about his faith and his family and someone who enjoys taking part in interfaith activities that tackle religious stereotypes. Despite his action-packed schedule, Monem’s admiration for his aeroplane pilot father inspires him to try and get his own aeroplane pilot license.
My favourite character has to be Iman! Iman is like lightning on screen and brings energy into all the scenes she appears in. Once her school’s mascot, Iman is now a loud and unapologetic mother of three. Despite her own fear of flying, she is supportive of her husband’s pilot but this is not easy. As a married couple with mischievous and wide-eyed children, this dynamic duo juggle disagreements, anxieties and prejudice, but ultimately they remain united.
The emotionally-charged second act focuses on Monem’s flight training and the harsh realities of being a post 9-11, Muslim-American, wannabee pilot. Monem shares that he applied to two different flight schools in his hometown and had high hopes of being accepted into one particular prestigious and renowned school. Despite his open and well-intentioned justifications for learning to fly, the school had not contacted him to confirm or decline his application. Instead they had reported Monem to the FBI for further investigation. On A Wing and A Prayer was made in 2008 so the extreme extent of this racial profiling that denied Monem the privilege of studying at an accomplished flight school is a bit of a shock. Nonetheless, Monem perseveres and is eventually accepted to begin his studies at the sincere and unaffected Bellingham Aero Flight School.
Iman also speaks of her own experiences of Islamophobia as a headscarf-wearing youth so the documentary reflects the wider degree of systematic and social barriers that can prevent Muslims from achieving their goals. Iman’s strong will and determination, however, have helped her confront her painful past and accept herself in the present giving this modern American tale a very rewarding conclusion. Monem and Iman grow through their disagreements and resentments as they both strive towards their personal and family goals. It was really quite inspiring to watch them relying on their Islamic values to maintain their identities, connect with their American community and even achieve their own American dream.
On A Wing and A Prayer is not only humorous, adventurous and inspiring but is a bonus trip through stunning landscapes and upbeat country music as well. Enjoy the flight!