Archive for Muslim

The Agha, The Architect and The Mosque

Posted in Architecture, Art, Islam with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 7, 2011 by irydhan

I originally wrote this interview for ILLUME magazine here.  Below is the full and un-edited version of my interview with Maryam.

Maryam Eskandari, an architect at the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard and MIT, currently has a traveling exhibit on American Mosques. Her exhibit, Sacred Space: (Re) Constructing the Place of Gender in the Space of Religion is touring the nation.  ILLUME recently conducted an exclusive interview with Maryam  to get her views on the design of American Mosques and why she believes Art and Architecture are important fields for the Muslim American Community to be involved with.

How did you become interested in Architecture and why is it important to you personally?

Maryam: I was introduced to architecture through my paternal grandfather. Each summer I would spend time with him in Iran, and got acquainted with the world of construction and architecture. I loved spending time on the construction site watching him actually build something that he had designed. However, I didn’t quite understand what all the thought processes that went into the design. One summer though, I sat down with him so he could teach me how to draw in perspective. He started off with a few lessons of drawing the living room, gradually we moved towards outdoors and by the end of the summer, when he was renovating his house, he had be designing and help him redo the interior. That summer I was 15 years old. That was when I knew I wanted to be an architect.

However, I didn’t realize how important architecture and the role of architects are until a decade later when I was practicing professionally. I started to realize that we respond to the cultural demands and the needs of today’s society. We create new spaces, yet we have to be so educated in order to be able to create those new spaces. But what do we educate ourselves in? One project after another, I often find myself in many roles, the educator, the mediator, the historian, the psychologist and then the architect. As architect we listen to the needs and demands of our clients, we have to be able to absorb them and then imagine there words and needs into a physical space. In the words of Le Corbusier “I felt quite strongly that the singular and noble task of the architect is to open the soul to poetic realms, by using materials, integrity so as to make them useful”. We start to create a new language through that space, and often times we start illustrating those spaces and through refinement and execution of design, we actually start to create a new culture. However, in my case, understanding the religion of Islam, I decided to bring in the theological aspect as well, and start to revaluate the notion of religion that is ingrained in our American culture and make sure that there is analogous with the needs and demands of the future generation. I personally believe that its architecture that leaves an everlasting impression on this earth.

You recently did a study on American Mosque architecture. In your professional opinion as an Architect, what do you see are the 3 major problems with mosques in America and do you have any suggestions on how to improve them architecturally?

Maryam: Well, currently we know that there are number of issues that reside with the whole American Mosque architecture. The first one is that, through the whole “Islamaphobia” thrive that is being ignited here in the US, everyone has become so anti-mosque. So the first problem is to resolve the issue of the mosque architecture. We need to ask ourselves, what are we investing in? Is it just the mosque as a building, the community or the next generation? If it is just the mosque, then we have to reflect back and remind ourselves that the Prophet Mohammad once said that the whole world is a mosque, hence meaning that we should take care of the earth, be responsible towards it, practice sustainability, and secondly that we are able to pray anywhere as long as we are facing towards Mecca. So I am still trying to understand what is our obsession with domes and minarets, when the even the Prophets first mosque didn’t have a dome or minaret and was made out of rammed earth. Clearly later it was added all the other elements, but why? We should start creating mosques and Islamic centers that are architecturally responsible and meeting the demands and the needs of the American community. We should invest the money in creating a space that is sustainable, using local materials, creating a place that reaches out to the whole community – perhaps there are gardens that help feed the needy families. Or a soup kitchen that reaches out to the less fortunate. We should invest in pushing the boundaries and using our advance technological abilities to create a place that gives back to the earth. I remember last year at a conference when presenting, someone asked me; in Islam is it best to practice modesty, why isn’t it practiced in the architecture then? It got me thinking, they are absolutely right. A mosque needs to simple, yet beautiful. Simplicity is beautiful And as architects we know that it is easy to have an eclectic design solution just to meet the needs, but simplicity comes with discipline and refinement, it is not easy, it is what all architects strive for, and it is something that we work towards mastering. Hence, the legendary architect Louis Kahn talked about this in his “sense and simplicity” exhibit: Design is not making beauty; beauty emerges from selection, affinities, integration, and love. So let’s start disciplining ourselves to some of these elements when it comes to building and designing our community mosques.

The other thing that we should start investing is creating flexible spaces that can be converted into multi-faceted “programmatically” functions as well as creating an equal space for the women who pray. Currently as we watch the interfaith dialogues happening, the Muslim communities needs to be able to create a space so that the next generation would be able to invite their friends of various faiths to come and have a place for dialogue. We have to start creating a pluralistic architecture and enriching that in our future generations. On the interfaith notion, well currently we see that there is a protest between the genders. Women are now demanding to have adequate space in the mosque, where they are on the same main prayers space as the men. We should start rethinking of creating spaces other than balconies, basements or separate rooms. We have to remind ourselves, that it is the women of the Muslim community who are raising the next generation. They need to have access to the Muslim community, mosque, and the imam and be involved in the Islamic education if the Muslim community plans on enriching and have future generations of Muslim.

Please tell us a little about the Agha Khan award you received and why do you think it is important for Muslims in America to be involved in the arts in general and architecture in specific.

Maryam: Established in 1979 through an endowment from His Highness the Aga Khan, The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture is dedicated to the study of Islamic architecture, urbanism, environmental and landscape design, and conservation. It prepares students for careers in research, design, and teaching and aims to enhance the understanding of Islamic architecture and urbanism in light of contemporary issues and to increase the visibility of Islamic cultural heritage in the modern world.

It is crucial for Muslims to get involved in the arts and architecture, because it is a medium that is common for all culture. Art has no political side, it isn’t determined by ethnicity, art itself is a religion on its own. And is common language that can be reached out to various people, and groups. Architecture is a type of art and just like art it is constantly changing with time. Architecture has the ability to be a symbol or an identity of our time. Just like art that is an expression, it is bounded by rules and theory that is modified and expressed to resonate in the landscape and accommodate the present and the future generation. Art becomes architecture, when a space is created in a void. Hence, in the current traveling exhibit, I took the art of photography, and laid it out through the space that was created. We took the notion of the Ka’aba, a place where the expression of equality is highlighted—deconstructed and shifted it off to create an exterior and interior space.

This generation of Muslims is at the fore front of the arts, however, we need to educate ourselves more in the humanities and understand the historical aspects of why and how certain influences happened. We need to be able to understand the notion of purity and the spirituality of the religion and start implementing them into our architecture. There is something so pure and holy with the notion of light and shadow, and often times in the Quran there are references to it, such as surah Noor, however, I believe as architects, we should be able to design is such a way that the building not only resonates in the landscape, but rather heightens our senses in order to allow and feel nature, and experience a Zen moment. Often times through the creation of THAT particular space is where we feel the connection with the Divine, where the architecture creates a space that is so sublime that we lose ourselves to the spirit.

Any final comments?

Maryam: The great Sufi Poet Hafiz, has a few verses which I try to live by.  They embody the notion that architecture and art can bring people of different faiths into one space and can help to start a dialogue of pluralism and tolerance.  He writes:

“I am in love with every church

And mosque and temple

And any kind of shrine

Because I know it is there

That people say the different names

Of the One Divine.” – 14th century Sufi Poet Hafiz Shirazi

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Rizwan Manji: Taking Jobs From White America

Posted in Books/Magazines, Islam, Media, TV/Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 18, 2010 by irydhan

I interviewed actor Rizwan Manji from NBC’s “Outsourced” for ILLUME Magazine (www.IllumeMag.com).
He talked about what its like to be Muslim in Hollywood and the importance of  ‘good Muslim’ roles.

How did you get the part of Rajiv Gidwani on NBC’s “Outsourced” ?

I was sent the script for the Pilot and thought it was hilarious.  As an Indian, I could relate to some of the characters who share the same culture as me, and this was the first time that I have heard of a major TV sitcom about South Asian culture.  I initially was called in to audition for the role of Gupta (played by Parvesh Cheena) and did not get the role, but after the producers could not find a suitable actor for the role of Rajiv, they called me in again and I got the part.

Many people who watched the pilot episode, felt the show was filled with too many stereotypes and was not really a funny show.  How do you respond?

The pilot episode was basically a quick introduction to all the eight main characters.  We basically have 22 minutes to introduce each person and you don’t really have much time to go into that much detail of each character.  It is a pretty standard set-up as most TV sitcoms and if you have seen other shows such as Friends, etc. you will see that in the beginning they quickly introduce each character and you see how each character is on the surface (i.e. so and so is the dumb character, etc.).  The main goal of any sitcom is to entertain and establish an audience who is willing to come back to watch again.

Will the TV show go into the different religions of the characters or stay focused on the culture of India?

Currently there is one call center worker, Samina, who is a Muslim women who wears Hijab (played by a Non-Muslim) and she does interact with my character (my character is Hindu) in a future episode, but at this point in time the TV series is not focusing on religion and when references are made it is mostly the Hindu religion.

As a Muslim of South Asian descent, you are familiar with the tradition of parents limiting their children’s field of study to medicine or engineering.  How did your parents react to your decision to get into acting and were they supportive of you?

I was pretty lucky, because my family was very supportive of me.  At first my parents did not really understand why I wanted to be an actor and also how I would be able to make a living out of it, since they came from a background, like most South Asian parents, of leaving their homeland (Tanzania), going to another country (Canada) and working hard to allow their children to go to a good university so they can become a doctor or lawyer, etc.  My parents never told me no for acting, but they did encourage me to go to school and get a degree as a back-up plan.  I did go to school in Alberta for one year, but afterwards decided that I want to study acting at the “American Musical and Dramatic Academy” in the United States.  It was difficult to get in and also I didn’t have any money to pay for tuition, so I obviously had to ask my parents for help.  I thank my sister, who really was able to sit down with my parents and convince them that this is what I really wanted to do.  Now, my father is really excited about the whole acting thing and whenever he spots an opportunity for a South Asian role, he tells me to apply for it and kinda acts like my manager!

As a Muslim, do you think it is important for more Muslims to get involved with acting in TV and Films?

Definitely.  Muslims need to be involved and active.  TV is watched all over the world, especially TV which is produced here in America.  It is the most visible platform we have now.  If majority of the world sees only evil Muslim characters and roles on TV, that is detrimental to everyone, not just Muslims.  There needs to be a greater presence of Muslims on TV.

Were you offered any negative roles in terms of portrayal of Muslims and how did you respond?

Yes, I received many offers which portrayed Muslims in the stereotypical manner of just killing someone and yelling something in Arabic.  I turned down many of these roles.   But some of them I did debate whether to take them or not.  For example, I was offered several roles to be a terrorist  on the series “24”, which I turned down, but in the last season, they had several characters who were “good guy” Muslims (such as Anil Kapoor’s character).  So when I was offered a job to play a small role of a bad guy, I accepted it, since I saw that a major character was portraying a “good brown Muslim person”, so it wasn’t a one sided thing, where all the muslim characters are bad.  But I do struggle with these roles and turn down something if it makes me feel uncomfortable.

What advice do you have for young Muslims who are interested in becoming actors?

If it’s your passion, then go for it.  But don’t think that you will become rich quick.  It’s a struggle and is not easy work.  I have been working in this business for 15 years now, and had to do a lot of side jobs along the way.  There is very little money in the beginning.  But if you like it and have a passion for it, then do it!

My Top 5 Halal (Zabihah) Restaurants in the Bay Area

Posted in Food, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2009 by irydhan

 Currently I have nearly 200 reviews on Zabihah.com – a website created by a friend of mine, Shahed Amanullah, about 10 years ago which is a user generated review site for Zabihah Halal restaurants across the world!

Zabihah is an arabic word which means an animal is slaughtered according to Islamic dietary laws (similiar to Kosher for Jews) and it is Halal (permissible in Islam) for Muslims to consume.

Since many people see my reviews online, I got the nickname of “Mr. Zabihah.com” from some of my friends and always get asked about my favorite Halal places or if I have come across any new Halal places in the Bay Area.

I decided to post my top 5 Halal restaurants (as of now:)) here on my blog!  So here they are (not in any particular order):

Top Deck Deli in Santa Clara, CA

Top Deck Deli in Santa Clara, CA

1. Top Deck Deli in Santa Clara, CA (located about a mile away from the MCA masjid).  This is an Old-fashioned American Deli which serves all the traditional favorites such as Reubens, Cheese Burgers, Philly Cheesesteaks, Grilled Chicken Sandwiches as well as specialty items such as wings, salads, burrittos, tacos, steaks and soups.  They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. For breakfast try the chopped steak and eggs or the Denver Omelet (Halal turkey bacon, veggies and cheese). My favorite lunch item is the Hot Pastrami sandwich on a sourdough roll.  They also have low-carb wraps which you can get for most of the sandwiches and is a good alternative if you are trying to cut down on your carbs like I am these days:).  An important note is that the owner, Don Brown recently converted to Islam (during the month of Shabaan this year) and is a very down to earth and friendly man (as is his wife, Emma, who runs the deli with him).  He is dedicated to providing high quality Halal American food for the Muslim community, and although his prices are a bit more than the usual places (Subway, Quiznos, etc.), his food is much better quality and has bigger portions – last but not least it is completely 100% Halal:)! Go to www.topdeckdeli.com for more info.

Cafe Grillades in San Bruno, CA

Cafe Grillades in San Bruno, CA

2. Cafe Grillades in San Bruno, CA (located close to the SFO airport).  This is a nice French Algerian place which serves some of the best crepes in the Bay Area.  When most people think of crepes, they think “IHOP”, but these are REAL crepes, both savory and sweet crepes.  The owner, Br. Samy Fars has gone through alot of trouble to provide all halal meat, even though most of his customers are not Muslim.  The restaurant is small, but very classy and a nice change compared to most Halal restaurants which have little or no interior decor or concept of friendly service.  My favorite items are the chicken poulet crepe, the cafe grillades burger (one of the best burgers I have had) and for dessert you can’t beat the banana crepe with caramel!  I highly recommend this place to bring your guests as it will be a very unique Halal experience that you can’t find anywhere else in the Bay Area (and perhaps in the country:))! Go to www.cafegrillades.com for more info.

Gulzaar Bakery and Restaurant

Gulzaar Bakery and Restaurant

3. Gulzaar Halal in San Jose, CA (located a couple miles away from Valley Fair Mall).  This use to be a Lebanese bakery (Called “Just Laziz”) which served Manakesh and other similiar items, but was bought by Imam Omar Farooq Desai who use to own Hala-B’s sandwich spot in Sunnyvale a few years back.  He has brought back his famous Beef Kabab and Shredded chicken sandwiches to Gulzaar.  The french bread roll is one of the best sandwich bread I have ever had, and I still don’t know where he get’s it from!  Imam Farooq still has the Lebanese items on the menu, but has added some Indian-Pakistani favorites such as biriyani and samosas.  Try the Beef Kabab Sandwich (medium spicy) and you will not be disappointed! The chicken biriyani is good too:) Go to www.gulzaar.net for more info.

New Yorkers Buffalo Wings in San Francisco, CA

New Yorkers Buffalo Wings in San Francisco, CA

4. New Yorkers Buffalo Wings in San Francisco, CA (in the Mission District).  Although the parking is difficult and it may not be in the best of areas, this place is worth trying out when you are in SF, especially if it’s late at night and most Halal places are closed, this place is open till 3am on Friday and Saturday nights!  The wings are excellent.   My favorite wing sauce is the Spicy one, although BBQ and Teriyaki are very good as well.  I usually get the Supreme Philly Cheesesteak, which is excellent since it’s very cheesy and has alot of meat!  The interior decor of the place is clean and spacious and they have a large TV in the corner where you can watch movies or sports. Go to www.nywings.com for more info.

Sala Thai 2 in Fremont, CA

Sala Thai 2 in Fremont, CA

5. Sala Thai II in Fremont, CA (Located in an industrial office park).  I like Thai food, because it’s a mix of Chinese and Indian food and spicier than both!  The interior decor of this restaurant is very nice with polished wood tables, shiny black seats and colorful yet elegant tiles on the walls.  Our family usually celebrates some kind of birthday, anniversary or special occassion at this restaurant, as everyone enjoys the food.  Get the Hot soup with prawns (or chicken) and Yellow Curry Chicken.  The sati is good, as well as the BBQ chicken or beef.  I liked the garlic wings for appettizer and Drunken Noodles for main course.  Try the Thai Iced Tea as well the fresh coconut milk.  For dessert try the “Roti” (tiny pieces of bread with condensed milk and sugar on top).  Note that there are two locations, but only Sala Thai II serves Halal meat.  Go to www.salathai-restaurant.com for more info.

You can see these as well as the rest of my reviews on Zabihah.com.  If you have an iPhone, download the Zabihah application from iTunes, so that you can quickly find your local halal restaurants, grocery and meat stores, masjids and Muslim owned businesses while on the go!

Irfan “Mr. Zabihah.com” Rydhan

First Pakistani Starship Captain in latest “Star Trek” Film

Posted in TV/Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2009 by irydhan

I watched the latest “Star Trek” film in IMAX this past weekend and was pleasantly surprised to see Faran Tahir, a Pakistani-American who played the lead villian in “Iron Man” last year, as Captain Robau of the Starship U.S.S. Kelvin.

According to an article on scifiwire.com, Tahir was cast by Director J.J. Abrams specifically because of his ethnicity, which is a tradition of the “Star Trek” series since the 60’s when Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry had a mutli-ethnic cast depicting the future in a “color-blind” and “racism-free” society (of course are still not at that level yet, although we do have a Black President).

Although Tahir is not the first South Asian actor to play a Starship Captain in a Star Trek film (Vijay Amritraj played the first south asian captain in Star Trek IV), he is definitely the first Pakistani (and Muslim) to play one!

This is a big step forward, because normally Pakistanis (and Muslims) are only depicted as terrorists and bad guys (i.e. Like Tahir’s character in the “Iron Man” film) and it was nice to see him as a good guy who is also an intelligent and brave leader.

My only criticism (WARNING SPOILER ALERT) is:

Why did they have to kill Tahir’s character off in the first 15 minutes of the movie?!  I know in the past, minority characters were typically the first ones to get killed off (i.e. the black guy who is usually the first to get killed by the monster in a horror film, etc.), but come on now!

A friend of mine commented that “he (Tahir’s character) died valiantly” in the film….well this may be true, but at least they could have had him fight back against Nero (Eric Bana) and not just get killed instantly!!!  Do you think Captain Kirk would have just stood there and let a Romulan come at him like that without even throwing a punch?  I don’t think so!

Also I find it interesting that Captain Kirk’s father, George Kirk (who takes over as Captain of the U.S.S. Kelvin once Tahir’s character Robau leaves the ship to meet with Nero), is considered a hero because he pulls a Kamikaze suicide mission and rams his ship straight into the Romulan ship to allow his crew to escape to safety. 

Don’t get me wrong – it was definitely a Heroic act – but let’s be realistic here: Would they call the “Pakistani Muslim/Middle-Eastern” Captain Robau a “Hero” if he was the one flying the ship on a suicide mission?!  I don’t think so!  More likely they would report it as Terrorist Act:)!

Just Some Food for Thought:)

Overall I thought the latest “Star Trek” film was well done.  It was much more action oriented, than past Star Trek films and thus many “Trekkies” are not very happy with it.  But since I’m not really a Star Trek Geek (I’m more of a “Star Wars” Freak:)), it was an enjoyable film to watch fore me!  Check it out on IMAX if you get the chance.

Maybe in the near future, we will see more positive Pakistani (and Muslim) characters not only in Science Fiction films, but in other types of movies as well!

Faran Tahir

Faran TahirU.S.S. Kelvin

My Interview on KGO-TV (Ch. 7) news about U.S. Aid to Pakistan

Posted in Activism, Islam, Media, TV/Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2009 by irydhan

I was recently interviewed by KGO-TV (ABC Ch. 7) news about U.S. Aid to Pakistan, the flogging of a young women in the SWAT valley and Illume magazine’s coverage of Greg Mortenson’s work of building schools in the mountain areas of Pakistan.

I stated that this type of treatment of women is not based on Islam, but ancient cultural and tribal practices that go back hundreds of years.  It also has to do with a lack of education, not only in general, but also a lack of understanding of Islam.  Sharia law (I am no expert) has built-in protections for the innocent, such as the requirement for there to be 4 eye witnesses to an accusation of adultery.  Obviously, the Taliban, and other groups like them, are extremely conservative and think that they know what is correct and what is not.  They need to be educated, and the best way that can happen is if their fellow Muslims who are familiar with Islamic law can sit down and educate them.

When the reporter asked me about U.S. aid to Pakistan for Civil Infrastructure and the corruption in Pakistani government – I stated that the U.S. cannot just throw money at the problem and expect things to get done.  The U.S. needs to put a little effort in making sure that things are done properly and they weed out the corruption.  They need to have some strict guidelines on how the money should be used and also have some follow-up to see where the money has been spent and what the results are.  I gave the example of Greg Mortenson, who is an average American, who did not have billions of dollars behind him, but because he spent the time and effort to make sure things got done properly, he was able, with the help of good Pakistanis, to get alot of positive results (see my post below about Greg Mortenson’s work).  It’s not an easy task, but some hard work, effort and patience on both sides (American and Pakistani) are needed to make a change for the better!

I happened to mention to the reporter that I am the Public Relations Director for the American Muslim magazine, Illume (www.illumemagazine.org), and the copy which I gave him, happened to have a story about Greg Mortenson.  Because it went with the story, he included a bit about the magazine and showed the cover of the magazine in the story.

So overall the story came out pretty well, even though my interview was cut down to about 10-15 seconds sound-byte about Greg Mortenson.  

Check out the video here: http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/video?id=6755267

Three Cups of Tea

Posted in Activism, Islam, Media with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2009 by irydhan

3cupstea1I recently finished reading “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.  My first reaction after reading the story of Mortenson’s 15 + year story of building schools for the impoverished children of Pakistan and eventually Afghanistan’s mountain villages was – why do the Non-Muslims do Allah’s work without making any excuses, but we Muslims just argue, cheat and fight amongst ourselves?! 

For those who don’t know Mortenson’s story – he was a mountain climber who in 1993 after a failed attempt to climb K2 (the world’s second largest mountain), came across an impoverished Pakistani village who nurtured and helped him find his way after he got lost and stuck in the middle of the Karakoram mountains. In return for the villager’s kindness, he promised to build them a school for their children, after seeing them sitting in an open-air “classroom” of dirt and using sticks in the sand for their lessons. 

What makes the story an interesting read (I’m sure a documentary or feature film will be made eventually) is the fact that Mortenson, who worked as a medical assistant in Berkeley at the time, had no prior knowledge of the construction business (especially in Pakistan), and was not too familiar with Pakistani culture, the faith of Islam (which majority of Pakistanis follow) and did not speak Urdu or any of the other Pakistani languages!  Besides all of this, he had no organizational help, funding or contacts when he first began this mission of peace.  He had to sleep in his car, struggle and scrape to save every little penny and his girlfriend at the time even left him before he got the first school built.

Of course in reality, Mortenson did have many Muslim people who helped him along the way, such as Mouzafer Ali, the renowned Balti porter who led Mortenson safely off the Baltoro Glacier, Haji Ali, the head of Korphe village and Mortenson’s mentor and Syed Abbas, supreme leader of northern Pakistan’s Shia community, who vouched for Mortenson after he received two fatwas against him.

Not only did he have to deal with having two fatwas issued against him which eventually got overturned by higher authorities (yes, there are some intelligent “Mullahs” in Pakistan), but he was also kidnapped by some North West Frontier Tribal villagers who held by for eight days (they released him after they realized who he was). But his most difficult trial, in my opinion, was  right after the attacks of Sept. 11th, 2001 (Mortenson was in Pakistan – near the Afghanistan border at the time), when he  had to deal with the CIA questioning him and trying to use him as an “informant”, which he declined to do. Not because he was trying to protect his friends, but because he was doing the right thing by keeping the trust he had gained over the 7+ years of working in the remote tribal areas of Pakistan, which he knew had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks, but also would still be in need of schools being built, after the U.S. government and military got involved with the “War on Terror.” Mortenson knew (and still preaches the same today) that the real way to end Terrorism is to provide education (especially for girls), basic needs of people (access to clean water, etc.), and the ability to provide for their families (vocational training, etc.).

Mortenson also had to deal with many hate letters and emails from his fellow Americans shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11th, because they thought he was helping the enemies of the United States.  This really got him depressed and down, but at the same time, it forced him to go out into the public and make slideshow presentations about his work.  In the beginning, at these presentations he had only 1 or 2 people in the audience.  Eventually when his name became more well known (after being featured in several prominent media outlets in 2002 such as the Washington Post, the New York Times and National Geographic) he had large audiences at his speaking appearances.  With the help of positive media coverage and the support of his fellow mountaineers, Mortenson was able to help educate the general American public about the work he is doing in Pakistan and Afghanistan and also raise much needed funds for his Central Asia Institute to build more schools.

It’s amazing to read the real life story of a regular American guy, who not only stuck to his word of building a school for the children of Korphe (the village in Pakistan whose members assisted Mortenson during his hiking ordeal), but went above and beyond what he promised to do and as of 2008 has built over 78 schools in some of the most remote and dangerous areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Over 28,000 children, including 18,000 girls have benefited from the education they have received at the schools that Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute (www.ikat.org) have built over the past 16 years.

“Three Cups of Tea” is an inspiring story, which I highly recommend everyone to read, especially those of you who are trying to do some good work in your own community and are sometimes discouraged by the obstacles in your way.  After reading Greg Mortenson’s story, no one can make any more excuses or say that one person can’t really make a difference in the world today – because he has proven that without a shadow of a doubt you can! 

You don’t have to be a wealthy person, a popular politician or a well connected businessman – anyone can help those less fortunate than themselves.  You can start right here in your own backyard, since there are many poor and needy people in the United States.  Giving in Charity (“Sadaqa” in Arabic) is a teaching of the Prophet Muhammad (S) and it is even better to help build a mosque, school or water well, since they are considered “Sadaqa Jariyah” (continuous charity), as they continue to help the people and their families who use them for many years to come.  But if we cannot help to build a school or a bridge in a poor area of the world ourselves then at the very least we should show our support for people like Greg Mortenson, whether they are Muslim or not, because helping humanity is not limited to people of one religion or cultural group.  It is what makes us all human.

“Slumdog Millionaire” wins Best Picture and 6 other Oscars, including two for A.R. Rahman, for Best Original Song and Best Original Score.

Posted in Media, TV/Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2009 by irydhan

I found out recently that A.R. Rahman, the Academy award winning composer of “Slumdog Millionaire” as well as many other Bollywood films, was inspired by Sufism and converted from Hinduism to Islam in 1989.  His full name is Allah Rakkha Rahman.  He comes from a Tamil background and said “God is Great” in Tamil after he won the first Oscar.  Congratulations to A.R. Rahman as well as to the other Muslim actors in the film including Irrfan Ali Khan, who plays the police inspector, Rubina Ali who plays the young Latika character, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail who plays the young Salim character and Mozhim Shakim Sheikh Qureshi who played the crippled slum kid.  Both Rubina and Azharuddin are real life “slum dwellers” in Mumbai.

“Slumdog Millionaire” was definitely a great film, and deserved to win Best Picture, as well as Best Director, Danny Boyle.

The film is about a young Muslim kid, Jamal Malik (played by Dev Patel) growing up in the streets of Mumbai and how his life experiences help him answer random quiz show questions on the Indian version of “Who wants to be a Millionaire?”

The story is very moving and the young child actors are amazing in their portrayal of the difficult life in the slums of India.  Some Hindus were critical of the film because they did not like how Hindus were portrayed in the film (A Hindu mob attacks the Muslims in Mumbai and kill Jamal’s mother).  To that I say, “Don’t Complain – because you always portray Muslims as evil and backward in most Bollywood films, so chill out and just enjoy the fact that India and some of its actors, musicians and filmmakers are getting praised and honored on the World Stage!”

The film was raw, yet elegant at the same time.  It didn’t pull any punches and the story was fully engaging throughout the whole film.  Credit goes to the screenplay, cinematography, editing and sound mixing – all of which won Oscars in their respective categories.

I was not surprised with Slumdog’s success because it was an excellent movie, but I was surprised that “Waltz with Bashir”, the Israeli animation about the 1982 Invasion of Lebanon, which was nominated for Best Foreign Film, did not win!

Normally any film for and about Jews, especially about the Holocaust win some type of award from Hollywood.

But of course, “Waltz with Bashir” is no Holocaust film.  It is a unique animation which takes a documentary-type look at  Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and critically examines at how the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces), led by Ariel Sharon at the time, allowed the Lebanese Christian Militia to attack and massacre the Palestinian Refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila.

I guess the Academy, still does not want to give any type of credence to any film which may seem to criticize the state of Israel.  Just as “Paradise Now” the 2005 film by Hany Abu-Assad about two Palestinians who are preparing for a suicide attack in Israel, was also nominated for Best Foreign Film but did not win the Oscar either.

One day, Insha’Allah (God Willing) we will get there – but for now, all the Muslim TV and Film producers, musicians, actors, actresses, and artists need to keep working hard and telling our stories – because we can no longer afford to wait for others to speak on our behalf!