Among the Believers film – a journey to the heart of extremism – review by Tom Smalley
“Allah says that killing one person is like killing all of humanity” narrates Tariq, a rural schoolmaster and one of the many contrasting voices surveyed in the Among the Believers film. It is a new documentary from directors Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Naqvi that explores the emergence of the Red Mosque, a powerful confederation of Madrassahs (Islamic schools).
The Red Mosque’s links to and open endorsement of terrorist atrocities have placed it firmly at the heart of the debate as Pakistan struggles to quell the rising tide of Islamic extremism.
Trivedi and Naqvi reveal an organisation that is unashamedly vocal about its fundamentalist principles. Namely, that Sharia law should be implemented worldwide and by Jihad if necessary. It is steadfast in its support for violent acts of terrorism. A striking example being the 2014 Peshawar School Massacre, in which Taliban gunmen shot dead 132 school children. With an unprecedented level of access, the filmmakers are guided through the ideologies, dogma and practices of the Red Mosque by its head cleric, Abdul Aziz. His candour and continual eagerness to justify his organisation and its mission provide us with a unique insight into the inner mechanisations and motivations of an entity which might otherwise seem impenetrable.
Elsewhere, Among the Believers film draws on the intimate disclosures of a small but varied cast of characters who have all, in some way, been involved with the Red Mosque. Whether the younger students of the Madrassahs themselves, who are instructed to memorise verses from the Quran without being taught their meaning. The activists campaigning against the Red Mosque’s use of indoctrination and its promotion of extremist ideology. The destitute parents grappling with the decision of whether to send their child to a Madrassah for many of the poorest. This is the only way to guarantee their child the food, shelter and access to medicine which they, themselves cannot provide. It is through these personal accounts that the film deftly paints a broader picture. In spite of it’s open ties to and active endorsement of extremist militancy. The Red Mosque and its Madrassahs are, for many families living in extreme poverty. The only place they can turn to for help.
The Among the believers film offers us a glimpse not only into the heart of extremism, but also an opportunity to hear the other voices in the room. As activists, educators and regular citizens battle for the soul of Islam in 21st century Pakistan. By turns stirring and horrifying, this fascinating film should be seen by all.
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Among the Believers film review – a journey to the heart of extremism – review by Tom Smalley