Archive for Peshawar

Bollywood King goes back to his Muslim Roots

Posted in Islam, Media, TV/Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 15, 2010 by irydhan

By no means am I a Bollywood (Indian Cinema) fan.  I have only seen a handful in my life and never watched one in a theater – before last night when I went with my wife and a few friends to watch the King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and his new film “My Name is Khan” which is making headlines across the world because of it’s “Pro-Muslim” storyline – which is a rarity in Hindu dominated Indian cinema.

A majority of the film was also shot here in the San Francisco Bay Area and since a few of our friends were extras in the movie, we went to watch it in the theaters.

As most people who have seen Bollywood (the nickname for Indian Cinema based out of “Bombay” now called “Mumbai”) films before knows, the majority of them are extravagant “Musicals” which are usually 3 to 4 hours in length (they have an intermission when they play in the theaters in India and “Desi” theaters in the U.S. and other countries)! Most major hits have the standard format of a young guy and girl who come from different walks of life and go through some kind of struggle to end up together in the end – with a few large dance and song routines in the middle of grass fields and villages in India (or sometimes other parts of the world – to change it up a bit:)).

But, “My Name is Khan” is nothing like that.  It is not a typical Bollywood film at all.  It is pretty serious (of course it has a few light moments sprinkled in between to keep it interesting) and goes head on at some of the world’s toughest issues such as prejudice, stereotypes, religious extremism, terrorism, security concerns, and the commonality of the human condition across the world.


I was actually pretty surprised at how serious and “un-Bollywood like” the film was.  And since it takes place in the U.S. (there is about 30 min in the beginning which takes place in India), a lot of the dialouge is in English (they have subtitles to translate the Hindi-Urdu languages, but no one likes to read them while watching a movie:))!

The other surprising thing about the film was the fact that the star – Shah Rukh Khan (a Muslim in real life), decided to make such a film in the first place.  Shah Rukh Khan (or “SRK” as his name is spelled by bollywood fans online) is the top Bollywood Actor and is more well known and has a larger fan base across the world than any American actor!  He is like Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington and Al Pacino (hey I’m a “Scarface” fan, so I gotta through him in there:)) all rolled up into one.  Most Bollywood films stay away from religion and if they do it is only for comic effect (i.e. a Muslim Mullah or Imam saying something stupid, etc.) or to to show some other stereotypical element.  Since most Indians are Hindu the films reflect the main characters and religious ceremonies from the Hindu perspective (usually). 

Shah Rukh Khan was born in India, but his father was Pakistani (from Peshawar), according to an interview I watched with him here:  

SRK is Muslim, but he is married to a Hindu women (similiar to the story in the film). They teach their two children both religions and do not force one religious view over the other.  SRK has played a “Muslim” character on film before, but his character of “Rizvan Khan” is the first in which his being a Muslim is an integral part of the story.  Thus, it is like he is going back to his Muslim Roots.  Shah Rukh Khan, known as the “King of Bollywood” (for all the awards and allocades he has achieved in the Indian Film Industry) playing a Muslim (a positive one at that), is a major historical event for Indian Cinema.  It’s like when Steven Speilberg decided to make “Schindler’s List” and share his Jewish roots or when Mel Gibson decided to make “Passion of the Christ” and give a voice to his minority Catholic roots in mainstream Hollywood.  Shah Rukh Khan has already received some backlash in India because he publicy supported Pakistani Cricket Players and complained that they should not have been omitted from the IPL (Indian Premiere League) cricket league.  Some Indian Nationalist groups have threaten to ban his latest film “My Name is Khan” from being shown in local theaters in Mumbai in protest.

This is a shame because the film is all about treating all people with respect and dignity, no matter their religion or ethnicity. Shah Rukh Khan plays Rizvan Khan, a Muslim Indian with Asperger’s syndrome (a type of autisim) who comes to America to be close to his brother (after their mother dies in India) and in the process he befriends and falls in love with a Bay Area Indian women named Mandira (who happens to be Hindu).  Rizvan and Mandira marry and live a pretty normal life, but then the attacks of Sept. 11th, 2001 happen and Mandira’s son Sameer is attacked in a hate related incident at school.  Sameer dies from his injuries and  Mandira blames her marriage to a Muslim (SRK’s character) for her son’s death.  Rizvan then goes across country to meet the President of the United States and explain to him that he is a Muslim, but he is not a Terrorist (a Mantra he keeps repeating throughout the film and thus the title of the movie).

Of course the story is at times stretching reality and the ending is far fetched, but the process is believable because it is based on incidents that many people have gone through or experienced themselves in real life: security profiling at airports, racist and prejudiced people who try to stop you from achieving your goals, as well as good people who help you get where you want to go.

But what I really liked about “My Name is Khan” is the way it humanizes Muslims.  Of course they have the extermist Muslim in the film, but they also have the main character, Rizvan (portrayed by Shah Rukh Khan) who is a very spiritual person and is not afraid to pray in front of people – whether it being by reciting verses from the Holy Quran in a middle of a vigil for the victims of the 9/11 attacks, or by making salat (prayers)  outside a truck stop while everyone (including a “normal” Muslim couple) watches him in awe.

On a side note – I was also impressed with the film’s accurate portrayal of Islamic rituals and practices such as praying and what Muslims recite or pray when people die, etc.  Most films, whether Bollywood or Hollywood usually never get it right.  That’s one reason when I got a chance to be a “Muslim consultant” on a local indie film shot in the Bay Area last year, I jumped at the chance to volunteer just so I can make sure they can depict Muslims praying accurately (I ended up showing a cast of about a dozen Non-Muslim actors and extras how to pray according to the Sunni Hanafi Method:))!

In the end “My Name is Khan” is about always having a positive attitude and never giving up on your dreams, no matter the odds stacked against you or who or what is in your way.  It is also about being proud of who you are and not being prejudiced or hateful to other people just because they may come from a different background, culture or religion than you do.  A very important message for both Muslims and Non-Muslims alike. 

I hope people learn this message of peace and understanding after watching this film. And I hope more films like “My Name is Khan” come out of Bollywood (as well as Hollywood), because we definitely need them in these trying times.  I highly recommend everyone to watch the movie and tell all your friends to watch it too!


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 ( 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.