American Muslims made it to the big screen in 2010 and 2011 with the introduction of the movie Mooz-lum and the documentary Fordson: Faith, Fasting, Football. Both these movies showcase American Muslims trying to find their place in society by struggling to define themselves through their faith and American culture, especially in the academic institutions they attend. But, while Fordson gives an informative view of American Muslims in direct connection with football, Mooz-lum tends to portray stereotypical images and actions that go unexplained and may be confused by the audience as a valid general representation of the whole American Muslim community.
Both movies are set in academic institutions. Fordson High is in Dearborn, Michigan, a predominantly working class Arab American and Muslim community. As we are getting introduced to the school and its football team, we zoom in to one classroom and we listen in on a lesson in remembrance of 9/11.
“People judge a whole religion on the actions of a few people,” says the teacher. This becomes the main refrain for the rest of the movie. The message is: these are hard working Americans who should not be judged based on the actions of a few extremist individuals.
In Mooz-lum the focus is not on a community, but on one individual: Tariq, a freshman in college who has been forced to practice Islam by his religiously overbearing father. The movie starts out with Tariq’s father sending his son off to college. He is conducting a “du’ua” or a prayer to God for his son’s success. The father makes this prayer, on the behalf of an unconvinced looking Tariq. “[T]o serve and honor you to the best of his ability,” prays the father. Tariq, who has no say in whether he agrees with this prayer or belief in God, goes to college confused about his Muslim identity.
Tariq’s father can be labeled as a religious zealot because of his attitude and orders. He even looks the part by his traditional dress, and his accent. He drives Tariq away from him, and is the main source of pain to Tariq because of his forceful religious views. At one point, the camera zoomed in on the father’s face captured him saying “my boy’s going to be a hafiz [a person who memorizes] of the Quran” with a crazed, eye-popping expression.
When we compare Tariq’s father to “Big Joe” in Fordson, we see a difference in what it means for a Muslim man to be an Arab, a Muslim, an American, and a father. Big Joe can be labeled as your “average Joe.” He is big, funny, and he seems comfortable with his identity. He is also a grandfather who watched his grandchild being named “Joseph” instead of the Arabic equivalent, “Yusef” because his parents feared that the child might be bullied if he had a Muslim name.
Discipline in religion is present in Fordson, but it is not forced onto anyone. During the Islamic holy month of fasting, Ramadan, the Fordson High football players fast from sunrise to sunset while still participating in hours of football practice during the day. The football players were also seen making a group prayer before game time. Abiding by the laws of separation of church and state, the football coach says that he cannot condone or stop these prayers—these players are acting of their own accord.
Tariq’s father’s version of discipline in religion ranged from commanding orders to sexism. Tariq’s father is critical with his wife, ordering her to change the type of clothes she wears. “Your pants are tight and your shirts a little tight,” he says. This type of male dominance is not expressed in Fordson, since we are shown many young Muslim American females in the crowd at football games, wearing all different types of clothes and cheering on the team just like everyone else.
Both movies have one message: to represent the lives of Muslim Americans and to show the negative impact of 9/11 on that community. Both movies express truths about the Muslim community, but Fordson is a more encompassing representation of everyday American Muslims.
In the youthful search for identity, Tariq is able to become a stronger Muslim American by overcoming pressure. The Fordson High football players are also able to understand that “no excuses,” discipline, and hard work can lead to the ultimate American Dream.