Documentary Koran by Heart offers insight into Muslim tradition and values

By Jenn Schanz

August 1st not only marked the first day of Ramadan for practicing Muslims all over the world, it also saw another landmark.

Koran by Heart, a documentary film by Greg Barker which covered the 2009 Koran recital competition in Cairo where children from around the world gather to compete, aired on HBO.

Barker chose to feature 10-year-old reciters Rifdah from the Maldives, Nabiollah from Tajikistan, and Djamil from Senegal, as the documentary’s protagonists.

Expressing the aim of his work to Rediff News, Barker did not solely set out to capture a religious tradition, but also to counteract inaccurate perceptions about Muslims in America. “We cannot change all the perceptions. I wanted to put a human face on Islam and to show, particularly to the American audience, that the religion is beyond the headlines and stereotypes,” the California-based filmmaker said.

With the film opening just over a month before the 10-year anniversary of the tragic event most would argue set flame to widespread Islamophobia in the U.S., Barker’s documentary comes at a precarious time and offers an important opportunity in the efforts to bridge the gap between Muslims and Non-Muslims.

So what is Barker’s most effective tool in helping to change American perceptions?


According to a CAIR-DC poll taken in 2005, only 2% of individuals considered themselves to be very knowledgeable about Islam. That same year, only 6% of individuals said they had a positive first impression of Muslims, compared to the 57% who had a neutral first impression and the 26% who had a negative first impression.

In 77 minutes, American audience members have an opportunity to re-evaluate what they thought they knew, and learn more.

“The competition for me was a narrative device to get into some of these deeper issues. I hope that people will learn a little bit about the Koran and that the film will demystify Islam a bit,” Barker said.

To learn more about the documentary, to see photos of the competition in Cairo, or to contact the director, visit Koran by Heart’s Facebook page.