Interview with the film maker QASIM BASIR
Venue: London Hotel
By; Lauren Booth
In the foyer of a modest London hotel, Qasim Basir, director and writer of the groundbreaking film Moozlum, is, (despite sore muscles from working out), a a study of well groomed, calm. His voice drawls ‘He – ey’ with such smoothness that over in the hotel restaurant, I can hear butter melting.
Qasim Basir has the trappings of an American, media darling, in Usher- style sunglasses and tight t-shirt. But the choice of movies he is making and his impeccable manners, tell a different story.
Danny Glover, incredibly, has taken a starring role in Basir’s latest, coming-of-age, film. About a Muslim college boy struggling with his identity, against a politically charged 9/11 backdrop, ‘Moozlum’ (the mispronunciation of Muslim in the states) has had a limited premier in the UK . This week, during Qasim Basirs UK tour, we talked Hafiz, 9/11 and life for American, Muslim, frat boys.
Lauren: Did you feel you had ‘guidance’ (from Allah) in making this film?
QB; ‘I do not feel that any of this would have been possible without that guidance. What we’ve done is unheard of in a way; a director like myself, kinda unknown, to get these kind of stars to make this kind of movie? It’s absolutely guided, you know.’
The lead character in the film, loosely based on Qasim’s young life, is pressured by his father to attend a Madrasah (Islamic school), where he must become a Hafiz (one who knows the Quran, by heart).
Lauren; Did you memorize the Quran?
QB; I memorized about a fifth of it as a kid, you know. I don’t know as much anymore. Like the character in the film, there were certain things that turned me away from it at that time. But, yeah, I was on the path to becoming a Hafiz.
Lauren. Do you feel like you are part of the Ummah?
QB: I directly identify with the black Muslims because that’s who I am. And I absolutely identify with the worldwide Muslim community because that was the view that was shaped in me my whole life. Thats the perspective I see the world with; with the perspective of Islam, with what it teaches.
Alienation from American youth culture and the conflict between having a faith and needing to ‘fit in’ are the films driving themes. In one scene the lead character is laughed at in the classroom because of his name.
QB: The first time I visited Egypt – there it was! The first time in my life that it felt okay that my name was Mohammed Qasim Basir, you know? I’ve never felt that in the US.
For a lot of young Muslims living in secular nations, the teenage years are the mosting testing time for their faith. Qasim was no different.
QB: When I went to college (like the character in the film), I pulled back a great deal from Islam. I still went to Jum’uah, I was still fasting. I just kind of wanted to do my own thing. I was a football player, I joined the fraternity, I was wa-aay on a whole (laughs) other page. It was the sort of life, I was never necessarily comfortable with. I always sorta knew that.
Lauren; What weren’t you comfortable with?
QB: ‘Well I was dating a lot, I was drinking, I was partying. I wasn’t raised that way. I had never drank before. But you hang around football players and frat guys, its bound to happen. So that’s what happened.
Lauren: How did you get into movies?
QB; It started as a hobby, as a teenager. Although I went on to pre law in college. I actually have a degree in criminal justice. But I had a big life changing moment; a car accident. Then, I decided I wanted to do what I loved.
Lauren; What is the atmosphere like for Muslims in America in 2011?
QB; There was a special on CNN not long ago; ‘Unwelcome. The Muslims next door.’ This town had a trial, funded by a wealthy couple, into whether Islam was really a religion. This really happened! It was insane but it was actually happening. In 12 states in the US they are trying to pass a law to ban Sharia. No one is gonna install Sharia in the States! But making wudhu (ritual cleansing) is part of the Sharia. Will you get arrested for making wudhu in a public rest room? Will you get arrested for praying on the side of the road? Thats the kind of stuff (trying to pass anti Sharia laws) that’s happening.
Lauren; Do you have to compromise any of your Muslim values to make movies?
QB: I haven’t had to compromise anything ( for this film). All of it was independently done. I was able to put what I wanted on screen. I didn’t want to put nudity on screen. There isn’t too much violence. I don’t feel the need to put those type of things in a film, for the sake of it, you know? A lot of films do.
LAUREN; This film takes place around the backdrop of 9/11. Tell me how you felt on that day as a ‘Moozlum’?
QB; ‘I never thought the blame would be placed on Muslims in general. I never thought all of that backlash would take place. Because I knew what Islam represented. It just became a fiasco.
LAUREN; Is the post 9/11 backlash over?
QB; In the past, like, year or so, it is absolutely worse for Muslims. With Obama in office, a lot of people feel they are losing control. That pretty picture of an old, white man, in the Oval Office is gone. All of a sudden this guy who some people are, like, ‘Hey I think he’s muslim!’ is making decisions. Muslims are the main target of that right now.’
Qasim Basir, is far from a product of the movie industry, summed up by his exterior. He is the real deal; An American Muslim for the 21st century. A man who lives his country and his religion, in a confidant way that is going to make all kinds of audiences sit still and watch his films.
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