Film puts lives of Detroit-area Muslims in spotlight

HBO-doc-still'The Education of Mohammad Hussein' delves into the lives of young Muslim students.

Julie Hinds, Detroit Free Press

Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady captured the economic crisis in Detroit with their acclaimed 2012 documentary "Detropia."

Tonight, HBO will debut another made-in-Detroit documentary from the two women. "The Education of Mohammad Hussein" is a 38-minute film that delves into the lives of young students at the Al-Ikhlas Training Academy, described as one of more than a dozen traditional Islamic schools in metro Detroit.

In the film, which overlapped time-wise with Ewing and Grady's work on "Detropia," viewers get to meet tweens and teens, like 10-year-old Mohammad, who face discrimination because of their Muslim faith.

Some scenes show the students just being kids. There are mentions of Facebook and Justin Bieber, and one girl drops a pop-culture reference to "The Brady Bunch" when discussing a large family.

But other moments speak to the particular challenges of growing up Muslim in post-9/11 America. In one scene, Mohammad talks about feeling bad that some people in his Detroit community don't accept Muslims.

"They say Muslims are dirty and terrorists," he explains. ...

The film covers the tensions stirred by Quran-burning Florida pastor Terry Jones, who has made trips to metro Detroit to hold rallies against Islam. He is shown speaking in June 2011 outside City Hall in Dearborn, which has one of the largest Arab-American populations in the country, and inciting a crowd that showed up to protest against him. ...

Muslim rights activist Dawud Walid, who is featured in the HBO documentary, says he likes the film's approach.

"I think the documentary did a wonderful job of showing how the metro Detroit community did not allow itself to be divided by Pastor Terry Jones," says Walid, the executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. (Read more)


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