MOOZ-LUM

Qasim Basir’s MOOZ-LUM is an autobiographical piece that highlights the ills of religious intolerance and extremism through an intimate look at the life of Tariq Mahdi (Evan Ross), a Black American Muslim. Through Tariq’s journey, Basir confronts commonly accepted stereotypes about Muslims and shows the vicious consequences of such false biases. The tale is not told through rose-colored glasses. As Basir dispels rumors about Islam and its followers, he simultaneously denounces religious extremism. The film exposes the gray area that exists within any religion and cautions viewers to not allow the actions of a minority to skew their perception of Islam. 

MOOZ-LUM begins with a college-bound Tariq Mahdi and father (Roger Guenveur Smith) exchanging farewells before Tariq’s trek to a neighboring university. For the Madhi men, the milestone holds the emotional tension of a father seeing his son off to war and foreshadows the tumultuous battle awaiting Tariq on campus.

In college, Tariq tries to walk the fence between two separate worlds. The world of Islam, a world that Tariq both loves and fears, is personified by Hamza (Kunal Sharma), Tariq’s devoutly Muslim roommate who shyly yet persistently beckons Tariq back into the brotherhood. The mainstream American society that Tariq’s strict Muslim roots forbade him from joining is represented by a middle school bully turned college classmate (Vladimi Versailles), who eagerly lures Tariq into the wonderful world of women and partying.

As he haphazardly navigates both worlds, the audience glimpses into Tariq’s troubled past and begins to piece together the source of his confusion. Flashbacks expose the alienation and ridicule Tariq experienced growing up amid non-Muslim peers and the traumatic abuse he suffered at the hands of an Islamic extremist. 

 

The flashbacks also reveal Tariq’s parents dissenting notions of Muslim parenthood. Tariq’s father believes his son must be immersed in the world of Islam by attending an Islamic boarding school. Tariq’s mother (Nia Long) believes her son must have as normal a childhood as possible by remaining in public school. The result splits the Mahdi family and leaves Tariq with physical and emotional scars. These scars come to light after news of the 9-11 attacks makes all Muslims targets of acts of violence and forces Tariq to confront the ghosts of his past once and for all.

Basim’s courageous depiction of Muslim women as strong, independent and personable must be noted. In MOOZ-LUM, Tariq’s mother, sister (Kimberley Drummond) and classmate (Summer Bishil) are vibrant rays of sunshine that guide Tariq on his journey to self-discovery. Such images readily challenge the widespread assumption that head-wraps and other clothing restrictions render Muslim women oppressed and overly-submissive.

The film’s name itself wittily symbolizes the mass’ mis-education on Muslims. MOOZ-LUM is the phonetic spelling of one of the many circulating mispronunciations of the term: The unrealized butchering of the group’s name mirrors the ignorance many unknowingly spread as they repeat or naively accept unfounded stereotypes and biases. 

Through MOOZ-LUM, Basir hammers away at these misconceptions and exposes them for what they are—a thinly-veiled excuse for intolerance. It is a gem of a movie—The first American feature film depicting American-born Muslims.

MOOZ-LUM premiered February 11 and is now showing at AMC Grapevine Mills 30. AMC Grapevine is currently the only theater showing the film in Texas and one of only 10 theaters displaying the film nationwide. Based on demand and ticket sales, the movie may expand to more theaters. 

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