There are a lot of documentaries on Alchemiya that look at what it means to be American and Muslim. Some are quirky and light-hearted, some face serious issues head- on and others just celebrate the joy and inspiration of being part of a community. Here are a few tasters.
Friday: Bedrock of Brooklyn is a short and intimate 2017 documentary, directed by Aisha Amin telling the true and inspiring story of the Masjid-at-Taqua in Brooklyn, New York and how it grew from an informal gathering in an apartment to become the bedrock of a hundreds strong community. This 10 minute virtual trip takes you to New York where you can hear the history, meet the community and be part of the prayers.
Black American Muslim is another intimate short film featuring Lawrence Coleman, whose family converted to Islam when he was eight years old. He talks about how this affected him as child and how he balances his life and that of his own family through the layered lens of three identities: Black, American and Muslim.
The Black Muslim population in Philadelphia is one of the largest in the US and some estimate it could be almost 15 percent of Philly’s population. This means that there are a lot of beards visible throughout the city. The Sunni Beard is a fun film that presents some very impressive local beards and explores their relationship to their owners and to Islam.
Directed by Mustafa Davis, Redneck Muslim tells the compelling story of Shane Atkinson, a white man born into a Southern Baptist family in Mississippi who had all his cultural biases challenged when he attended a racially mixed school. He converted to Islam as a young adult and formed the Society of Islamic Rednecks to try and bridge cultural gaps between the communities. The film follows him and his observations as he trains to be a hospital chaplain in North Carolina and also as he tries to get the Southern Hospitality Islamic Center off the ground. There is a lot packed into this film. It is an open conversation about intergenerational racism and white supremacy and raises a lot of questions about how and when change is possible.
An American Mosque relates to Redneck Muslim in the sense that it tells a story of the damage caused by hatred and hostility to difference. Using archive footage in conjunction with reflections from members of the community in 2013, when the film was made, it is about the construction and destruction of the Yuba City Mosque in California. The mosque was built on land donated by a famer whose immigrant ancestors had also made their living from the land, but in Pakistan. It was built essentially by farm labourers and volunteers and funded by numerous small donations from members of the Muslim community. When almost complete, it was burned down by arsonists who were never convicted despite an investigation. It is distressing to watch as this community reflect on the events of 1994 and the impact it had on them. However, the unexpected support that then flooded in from outside of the community turned the situation around and a new mosque was able to rise from the ashes. As the rebuilding process unfolds, those involved continue their often extraordinarily moving reflections and distress is slowly transformed into something beautiful.