So, I finally checked this film out from the library after bypassing it or forgetting about it for months. Some of you have probably seen it. It’s about an unlikely friendship between Rahel (an Orthodox Jew) and Nasira (a Syrian-descent Muslim). They both are teachers at a public school in Brooklyn, both are going through the arranged marriage process and feeling the culture and religious pressures from their families and communities. All in all it was a good film. You have to take the characters exactly as they are and consider their particular circumstances. You have to resist the urge to say, “Hey, it’s not like that for me and I’m Muslim [or Jewish]!” Or maybe it’s just me who has to fight that urge, lol. Anyhow, I enjoyed watching the film. I encourage you to check it out.
Since I’m a nerd and am so used to taking notes during films (a side effect of grad school) I thought I’d share some of the thoughts I jotted down while watching it:
-I’m thinking about women and the burden cultures and communities place on us. Far too often a family’s honor and reputation rests on a daughter’s chastity. (A older daughter can affect the youngest daughter’s reputation). Men do not have such burdens. In many respects it’s okay for them to “sow their wild oats.” Yes, in the end they may be expected to marry a “good Muslim girl” or a “good Jewish girl” but the onus is not on them in the same way. UNFAIR!
-Choosing your own path, finding your own way. This a constant theme throughout the film. Both characters must find their own path in their respective religions and in their quest to get married.
-As human beings we carry so many prejudices, so many biases inside of us. In this film the hostility between Jews and Arabs is clear. Even though it is not directly addressed, you can feel the historical weight of the hostility. As a Black Muslim, where do I fit into the equation? I’ve experienced prejudice from both Jews and Arabs…in many respects Black people are both group’s “untouchables.”
-Could a devout Muslim and a devout Jew be friends? Will the relationship automatically be an antagonistic one? I’m thinking about an orthodox Jewish co-worker I was developing a friendship with. Like Nasira and Rahel, our friendship was centered around our commonalities. We didn’t party, drink, date etc. like our other co-workers. I eventually went to her house to pay my respects after her father died. I was in a predominately Jewish neighborhood in hijab. I was uncomfortable and felt like an interloper. When I was approaching my friend’s house I saw people giving me sideways glances. (Fortunately, no one was rude to me). The irony is that I’m not Arab and do not have the same history with Jews. (And I’m not suggesting that all Arabs have personal beefs against Jews, by the way). But there was no denying that the hijab “marked me” as one of them. Like Nasira and Rahel, I felt bound by a history that did not include the way I saw things or the philosophies I live my life by. Sadly, our friendship didn’t last because she said something offensive to me about Maryam/Mary the mother of Jesus (s.a.w.) Apparently, she didn’t know Mary is revered in Islam…
-This film has me thinking about the difficulties of trying to be a religious woman in an increasingly secular world. It’s complicated when you love your faith and you love your traditions but the world considers them outdated. We’re like an 1800’s throwback to some.
-Which brings me to the question of agency. (The social science dictionary says the term agency is: ‘linked to sociologies which focus on the individual as a subject and view social action as something purposely shaped by individuals within a context to which they have given meaning.’) Basically it is the ability of a person to decide what is best for them; to make their own choices about how they live their lives. Many people do not view Muslim women as having agency. Some say we are contributing to our own oppression and don’t know it, don’t care or don’t have a choice. I say that many of us have agency. (After all, I don’t have the familial or cultural pressure to be Muslim. If anything I have the pressure to not be Muslim). Clearly people have different ways of defining liberation. That’s why I love it when Rahel so eloquently tells her boss as much in the film. I was actually clapping!
MY FINAL THOUGHT:
-I realize how little I know about the Jewish religion.