Prior to the release of Mooz-Lum (2011) directed by Qasim Basir, the experiences of Muslim Americans following the events 9/11 have received faint theatrical attention. The film is a powerful image of many sub-stories and centers on Tariq (played by Evan Ross), a college freshman entering his first year of secular life. Mix in other issues, including an unrelentingly strict Muslim father (Roger Guenveur Smith), a traumatizing experience at an Islamic boarding school, and typical adolescent angst, and we begin to feel Tariq's confusion and uneasiness.
What makes Mooz-Lum appealing is the unique story-telling employed by Basir which he achieves primarily through flashbacks to Tariq's middle school life. Throughout the film, there is a consistent level of balkanization among various groups in the film. While the conflicts in the film are several, they achieve a clear purpose in setting up the chaotic first year of college Tariq experiences.
Different audiences will relate to the film through different characters and situations that arise. Nia Long's vivid portrayal of Tariq's mother early on in the film provides a catalyst for understanding the contradictions Tariq is surrounded by. His father insists that Tariq will be a Hafiz of the Holy Qur'an and will memorize the Holy Quran, and that this can only be achieved through enrolling him in an Islamic school. However, the audience is aware that Tariq and his sister are singled out at school for being Muslims and are picked on. Eventually growing tired of her husband's narrow and self-centered conservative inclinations, Tariq's mom asks for a divorce, and Tariq lives with his father.
The film alternates between scenes of Tariq in college and his horrible experiences at the Islamic boarding school he attended. Without revealing too much of the plot, it becomes clear to the audience, but not those around Tariq, why he has so much indecision and uneasiness towards being openly Muslim. His experiences in his teen years with Islam and those who claim to practice it have alienated him from the religion.
His college roommate Hamzah is actively involved in the Muslim Students Association (MSA), a commonly found organization on many college campuses. He urges Tariq, who at this point has taken to having his college peers refer to him as "T", to attend MSA meetings and events. Tariq attempts to stay away from MSA and affiliation with other Muslims on campus. Although many of his actions are influenced by his past, his choice to not openly be Muslim on his college campus keeps him for the most part safe from the anti-Muslim bigotry that erupts in the country and the attacks that take place on his campus.
Several critics have asserted that that film's ending leaves the audience asking more questions and does not resolve all the contentious issues in the film. However, the film's purpose is not to solve all the problems and conflicts presented within. That would be a task neighboring the impossible, considering the experiences of the Muslims in the film are not unique to them only. In fact, the film achieves a greater and far more revolutionary purpose in that for the first time since 9/11 we are witnessing a thought provoking and meaningful portrayal of Muslims in the United States.
Mooz-Lum claims another incredible feat in its resounding portrayal of Muslim women in the United States. For far too long, the media has painted Muslim women as docile and apathetic in regards to their surroundings and communities. Mooz-Lum vividly challenges these stereotypes through the profound performances of Summer Bishil (Iman), Kimberley Drummond (Taqua), and Nia Long (Safiyah). Mooz-Lum is a sincere and powerful independent film with a message that all audiences regardless of background or religion can relate to. It is loaded with heartfelt scenes that left this writer reaching for a tissue too often in the one hour and 35 minute run of the film.
Mooz-Lum is now out on DVD and is available through most retailers.