Excerpts from interview taken in Paris in January, 2002

Question: What is the main message of your film?

Tareque Masud - If there is any message in the film at all, it's a message against having any strong message or opinion. As you know, there are many references to homeopathy, communism, and Islam in the film. There's nothing wrong with any of them per se. The problem begins when we try to claim that any belief system is t he only solution to every issue and aspect of life. In all religions, there is a danger of extremism, and Islam is no exception. But, like other religions, Islam also has its own diverse schools and interpretations. There has always been a great tradition within Islam of 'bahas' (religions debate). That's why there are 74 sects in Islam, possibly more than any other religion. Unfortunately this culture of questioning and quest has declined dramatically in recent times. It's important to bring back this dialogue between different interpretations of Islam. Islam respects the capability of individual reasoning over the dictates of any priesthood. That's why 'Ilm' (Islamic knowledge) is so much emphasized in Islam, so that individual Muslims can interpret scriptures without going to a Mullah. A Muslim does not need to go to a Mulla or Mufti for confession to relieve their guilt for committing a sin. Also, unlike other faiths Islam believes in prophetic pluralism, decreeing that loyalty to all other prophets including Abraham, Moses and Jesus and others is a must. But at the same time, Islamic creed strongly condemns 'Sherek', the claim that anything or anyone, even a prophet, should be equal to Allah. In Islam, the prophet Mohammed is known as 'Habib', or friend, of Allah, not his son, or a lord in his own right. Even within the orthodox, or 'Shariah' school, there are many debates and divergences. The character of Ibrahim in the film is an example of a more orthodox interpretation, which is at the same time moderate and questioning of extremist views.

Q: How do you see your role as a filmmaker and as a Muslim?

T.M. - Film can be an extension of life. I consider my film not only a journey into the heart of my community and my childhood but also a search inside my own self. 'Matir Moina' is not a film about a community seen from outside, but rather from inside-trying to understand myself, my own community, and my own religion as a fellow Muslim. But at the same time I feel fortunate having known other religions thanks to my inter-religious marriage. That possibly gave me an additional perspective.

I deliberately used the name of Ibrahim in the film because it is in itself a unifying principle between the Judeo-Christian tradition (Abraham) and Islam. Understanding differences between cultures helps you to appreciate their basic commonalities, such as what I can now observe between East and West. We must develop our knowledge about others. Knowledge is like a bridge between differences. If America understood more about Islam and if Muslims understood more about America, it would better for both.

Exposure to other religions and other societies does not only make you more tolerant to others, it makes you feel closer to your own identity. I lived in New York for five years, and that experience made me appreciate my own society more than ever. But I never felt an outsider there. New York is so multi-cultural that it is hard not to feel a sense of belonging. On the other hand, when I live in Bangladesh sometimes I feel I'm an outsider in my own country. A good friend of ours was killed on Sept. 11th in the Twin Towers tragedy. He worked on the 102nd floor. I felt extremely emotional when I heard about it. But when I visited New York again, strangely enough I began to feel an outsider there for the first time. Sometimes I feel like the character of Anu in the film, as Anu always feels like an outsider, both at madrasa and at home.

Q: How does the film relate to your own life experience?

T. M. - The film is based on my childhood experience. I was a madrasa student myself. It was quite unusual for someone with my lower middle class background to be sent to madrasa. The middle class, not to mention the elite, is completely unaware of the subculture of madrasas. These schools are filled with poor children separated from the main stream. As a filmmaker, I feel it is my responsibility to share my experience to bring a wider scope of understanding. The closer my art is to my own experience, the more I know and the better I can convey. Childhood is very important to me. It is a treasure of inspiration. If you are loyal and truthful to it, it can open up many opportunities in your art.

However, 'Matir Moina' is not just a film about childhood or Islam, it's about relationships. Relationships between child and adult, between different belief systems… In particular, I was interested in exploring relationships between people who continue to grow, and people who don't, people who are stuck in some sort of belief system. The film is about those people who are ever-evolving, usually children but sometimes also adults, ordinary people who are still 'children' in the greater sense of the word, because they've retained that essential childlike innocence and curiosity and have the capacity to grow with the day to day experience of life. In contrast to them are people who cling to their beliefs, whether religious, political or whatever, and cannot grow or adapt with the changing world.


Interview with Le Monde >>

Interview in Paris
Interview with Le Monde


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