Muriid is a moving and poetic tale about a young man committing to change and growth by taking the spiritual path. It is a Muslim antidote to all the New Year commercial noise and social pressure to make grand changes to the way you live. A great little film to start 2022 with.
by Sarah Khurshid
Happy New Year! I’m not sure about you, but January feels like an awkward month to me. As the previous year comes to a close and the clock hits 00:00, social expectations of change seem to mount up overnight. I constantly see social media posts pressuring individuals to change with New Year resolutions, and everywhere is awash with advertisements for gym memberships, diet plans and five-year goals. The commercial and social pressure to make grand changes to the way individuals live seems to explode in January! There’s nothing wrong with planning your future or making informed changes to your life, but are social expectations and a noisy annual reminder really sustainable motivators for change?
Pondering these things on a crisp January morning when scrolling through the Alchemiya website, I discovered the visually stunning, and very soothing 2021 short film, Muriid. Muriid is an Arabic term literally meaning ‘seeker’ and refers to the seeker or the student on the spiritual path. Just reading the summary – ‘…this film follows one such Muriid on his path to a spiritual opening as he tries to shed his attachment to the world’ – immediately cut through. We can choose to take care of ourselves in another way. We have the right to attain our unique goals, unchain ourselves from societal pressures, preserve our souls, and distance ourselves from our ego. Muriid reminded me that my primary motivator for growth will always be Allah.
Muriid’s director, Jamal Mehmood, is a London-based writer who has mastered poetry and short fiction. In June 2021, Mehmood published The Leaf of the Neem Tree, an anthology that explores similar themes to Muriid, like loss, longing, identity and spirituality.
This five-minute feature revolves around a ‘Muriid’, a seeker who has chosen to commit himself to spiritual enlightenment. Set during sunrise on a tranquil beach, the Muriid enters the ocean and allows the waves to cascade past him as he symbolically and lyrically declares his submission.
Muriid is an epic poem visioned into a breath-taking film. The images of the clean, fresh beach and the sound of the gentle waves are gently captivating. Every shot looks like an abstract painting. As a BBC Arts Production with funding support from Arts Council England, this is also film-making quality at its highest.
The poetry recited as the Muriid steps towards the water is another striking and important feature. Universal themes about coming of age and the intensity of social pressures are deeply expressed in the recitation. On further research, I found out that Mehmood has previously explored such themes in his work including his 2018 short film All My Heroes Were Peacocks, about the coming of age of a South Asian boy.
However, Muriid is a work that relates to an audience of all ages because it’s about an individual freeing himself from worldly desires in order to follow a spiritual path. It is a perfect bite-sized watch, that reminds viewers to re-evaluate their goals and renew their intentions as Muslims.
Zia Ahmed’s performance as the Muriid is very moving. As he paces towards the camera and divests himself of his luxuries he communicates that sense of comfort and release that comes with choosing the divine path. Classical Qawwali fills the air connecting the audience to the experience of that sublime religious culture.
This film is extremely poignant as it declares that individuals have a level of choice over their destiny. The Muriid strips himself of worldly desires and cleanses himself in water. By choosing the spiritual path, he accepts himself as a single, pure soul dedicated to changing himself by serving Allah.
I finished the film feeling at peace and I appreciated how it reminded me of what is important. Surrounded by all the commercial noise of a new year, Muriid is a great film to kick-off 2022 with. The fact that I also had the pleasure of interviewing Jamal has made the start of 2022 even more special. Happy New Year indeed!
Firstly, please can you tell me a bit more about yourself as a poet, writer and filmmaker?
I have been writing poetry for over a decade, and my second book The Leaf of the Neem Tree came out in June. I began to write longform a few years ago, mostly essays/articles and then short fiction. I put out my first independent film in 2018, and Muriid came out last year on BBC4, supported by the ICA and the BBC. I love all these mediums in different ways but I find fiction the most difficult! I’ve not had formal education in writing, but have benefitted from some excellent teachers through the Writing Room by Apples and Snakes, and the UniSlam scheme for emerging poets. I’ve performed poetry too – mostly around London but also at the Edinburgh Fringe, and taught workshops on the theme of Urdu poetry in translation.
What challenges did you face when you filmed Muriid?
The major overall challenge was Covid – trying to organise everything in a pandemic was difficult, and being able to work with people in person would have been useful but we made it work in the end thank God! Other than that was the weather, and the location. I researched for a while to find a beach in the UK that you were allowed to drive on, and the one we filmed on in the end was the best fit in terms of affordability and hassle. It just so happened that it was in North Wales, so it was very long (but beautiful) drive from London. We went twice, once to check out the location and the other to film on. We had one day to film, so we had to get everything right. We intended to film at sunrise due to the content of the poem, but it ended up raining at sunrise, so we shot the film once in the cold and the rain, which had some beautiful shots – but a lot of the footage wasn’t usable due to how wet it was. On top of that we had to make sure the car didn’t get stuck in the high tide!
Why was it important to you to showcase your poetry through film?
I wouldn’t say it was particularly important as I had the broad idea for the film for a while, but decided I would only try and make it if I got funding. It wasn’t a pressing thing for me, more a longshot idea in the back of my mind. I actually told Maaria (who shot the film) about the idea quite some time before it was made – and said I would let her know if I got funding. Alhamdulillah I got funding in the end through the ICA New Creatives scheme and I got back in touch with her about it then. I think in general the medium of film is great for poetry – it allows for an extra layer of meaning and lets you stretch the work further and experiment artistically.
Change, identity, spirituality and themes of coming of age seem to be prevalent in your work. What draws you to these types of themes?
I guess those three have been present themes in my mind over the past few years. The Leaf of the Neem Tree also deals with these issues and recent times have made me even more introspective about them. I think the term coming-of-age tends to hint at a certain age group but that’s not really what I’m exploring. Its more the idea of maturing in general, and that can happen at different times for different people. It could be from realising your elders are passing away more frequently, to friendships that drift apart almost without you noticing until one day you do. I guess that makes my writing quite inward, but I hope I’ve been able to speak about the world through these frames as well.
Why was it important for you to explore the spiritual commitments made by a Muriid through film?
This is a layer I was able to add later – I wasn’t thinking about this when writing the poem. I think my fascination with the Muriid-Murshid relationship came mostly from reading Michael Sugich’s Signs on the Horizon and probably also from Imam al-Haddad’s biography, Sufi Sage of Arabia. Though not directly, the film pays homage loosely to one of the most famous Muriid-Murshid relationships – of Mawlana Rumi and Shams of Tabriz. The Murshid’s car in the film was supposed to have a number plate that said Tabriz, but I realised the night before filming that the number plate sticker I’d ordered was the wrong size completely and so I couldn’t use that. That sticker is now on my laptop instead. Everyone got a good laugh out of that one.
Do you have any future projects that you’re working on and that you’re happy to share with us?
My main project at the moment is learning to be a good father! I had my first child in May last year by the grace of God, so its been difficult to think about creative projects since then as the book has also kept me busy. I plan to try and promote the book more this year and take it easy on the writing side and read more. I do have an idea for a story and hopefully will get some words down soon – I’m just not sure whether to write it as a play or a novella. So you might hear something about that towards the end of the year!