WITH TAREQUE MASUD/
Excerpts from interview taken in Paris in January, 2002
Question: What is the main message of your film?
- 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
Q: How do you see your role as a filmmaker and as a Muslim?
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
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 >>