Young Canadians Craft Documentaries on Issues Affecting Muslim Women

By Lynne Rogers
Filmmaker Zarqa Nawaz behind a partition in the Jami Mosque in downtown Toronto. Photograph by Jeff

Me and the Mosque
Directed by Zarqa Nawaz
National Film Board of Canada, 2005

Vendetta Song
Directed by Eylem Kaftan
National Film Board of Canada, 2005

Two female Muslim Canadian filmmakers candidly document the gender inequities they find within their own communities in two recent films. Zarqa Nawaz travels across North America in “Me and the Mosque,” examining the growing phenomenon of segregating

women within the mosque behind physical partitions – a significant change from the former practice of women worshiping behind the men, yet within the same physical space. Nawaz interviews Muslims and scholars from both sides of this timely debate. While most scholars in “Me and the Mosque” agree that the Koran does not mandate female seclusion, one woman interviewee says she appreciates the privacy offered by the dividing partition in the mosque. Most of the other women, however, both old and young, complain of now feeling “unwelcome.” Nawaz recounts the historical precedence of separating the women from the men – beginning with the practice of women praying behind the men (so as not to prove a distraction), to being hidden behind a cloth partition, to being relegated to a completely separate location within the mosque and finally to Muslim women revolting against these segregationist policies. Nawaz remains acutely aware of the risks of criticizing her own community in the current political climate, yet feels compelled to bring to light the dangerous loss of community caused by these divisive partitions. Some of her more sophisticated viewers may find the film’s inclusion of original animation distracting, but this film would make a wonderful introduction for any Women’s or Islamic Studies class.

“Vendetta Song” takes viewers from modern-day Canada to the filmmaker’s traditional homeland. Eylem Kaftan returns to her family’s village in a remote Kurdish village in Turkey, close to the Iraqi border, to uncover the truth about her aunt’s honor killing. Given the Western preoccupation with honor killings, Kaftan’s journey surprises both herself and the viewer. While she does encounter the expected chauvinistic men and overbearing mothers, she also reveals the heartbreak suffered by the young men who lose their loves to village hardships and unbending traditions. Villagers still remember Kaftan’s aunt 30 years after her murder, her fatal choice of love over obedience memorialized in song and sung by some of the young, romantic villagers.

At times, Kaftan’s film devolves into a kind of advertisement favoring modernity and assimilation. Within her adopted host family, Kaftan befriends a young girl who is prohibited from attending school and so spends time teaching her some rudimentary writing skills. Before leaving the village, Kaftan donates a computer to the local school providing them access to the internet and the outside world. Kaftan’s “Vendetta Song” begins with a search for the truth and discovers the possibility of reconciliation when two sides of a divided family shake hands.

Both documentaries deal with an upsetting issue honestly and with skill and sensitivity, yet in the end share a hope for a more equitable future. It is well worth keeping an eye on these two promising filmmakers.

 

This review appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 12, nos. 56/57 (2006)
Copyright (c) 2006 by Al Jadid


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