Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Shahada, Burhan Qurbani, Germany 2009

Named after the Islamic creed, Qurbani's film consists of three, non-overlapping narrative strings, all tackling questions of what it means to be a Muslim in a western society.

Ever since 9/11, Muslims across the – western - world are faced with ever increasing levels of prejudices and hostility, resulting from the wholesale equation of terrorism with Islam. As a consequence, populist right-wing parties, that unashamedly campaign against Islam, are on the rise all across Europe. Following the unprecedented success of Geert Wilder's anti-Muslim party in the Netherlands, Sweden's and Austria's right wing parties have since also seen unexpected gains. While in Austria's case this may not be that surprising, since its far-right Freedom Party entered the government a first time well over ten years ago, both Sweden and the Netherlands have traditionally been very liberal countries. However, the spectacular gains by their far-right parties are based on their anti-Muslim stance, which resonated with substantial parts of the population. Similarly, in Switzerland, the hostility towards Islam led to a highly controversial ban on minarets while across the border in France, it led to a ban on the wearing of burquas. In Germany, on the other hand, fear of Islam has sparked a heated debate on integration and immigration in which, similarly to its European neighbours, Muslims also were at the centre as they were accused of being unwilling to integrate. This hostility towards Islam has been fuelled by – often exaggerated - reports in the media on so-called honour-killings, forced marriages, and the unusually high number of criminals amongst young Muslims. However, particularly criticised was the alleged resistance by some Muslims to learn the language of their adopted country.

Furthermore, in some countries, for instance Germany, hostility by Muslims towards other minorities such as gays, has been observed, which again is seen as an indicator of the unwillingness by Muslims to abide by the laws of a free and democratic western society. Although none of this can be denied, it is a fact that Muslim hostility directed at gays, honour killings or forced marriages are isolated incidents which only concern a small part of the Muslim population. All it takes is to stroll around Berlin's Kreuzberg district or better yet, visit the beautiful Sehetlik Mosque in the Tempelhof neighborhood, to realise that these reports are vastly exaggerated, blown up out of proportion by a media which, rather than rising to the occasion, simply jumps on the bandwagon and tries to cash in on a debate which is about to divide a whole nation. For by and large, the vast majority of the Muslim population can be considered integrated, at least as far as Germany - and notably Berlin - is concerned. The problem is, that ordinary citizens perceive every Muslim woman wearing a veil or headscarf as 'non-integrated' simply because she does nothing but expressing her religious beliefs which, under European law, is the right of every citizen, no matter if they are Christians, Jews, Buddhists – or Muslims. Adding to the problem is the fact that all Muslim women who, because they don't wear a headscarf or because they look Caucasian cannot be identified as such, are perceived as natives, meaning non-immigrants.

As the son of Afghan immigrants who arrived in Germany in the late 1970s, in Shahada Qurbani intends to demonstrate that Islam is just like any other religion which, similarly to Catholicism or Judaism, also struggles with issues like homosexuality or abortion. Needless to say, these issues are not Islam-specific, and it is one of the strengths of Shahada to remind us of that. However, even though Qurbani's film does occasionally come across as slightly laboured, Shahada is nevertheless an important film as it rectifies a picture of Islam which, due to an irresponsible media and even more irresponsible politicians, has been unduly distorted.