“Among the Believers”
Children and Radical Islam
Mohammed Naqvi and Hemal Trivedi’s “Among the Believers” is an unsettling and eye opening exploration into the spread of the radical Islamic school Red Mosque in Pakistan where legions of children to devote their lives to jihad, or holy war.
The film largely focuses on radical Islamic extremists, much of which is tied to ISIS. While there is not much to the documentary that any reasonably-informed citizen does not already know, the directors seem to know that well and as they look at these ideas, they bring in the human element behind it asking the question who are those that are being affected by this and this is what makes this film so unique. We see what has rarely been seen before and we see it the plight of radical extremists through sympathetic eyes and ears to the plight of radical extremists.
Much of the film follows Maulana Aziz, a man is filled with charm and causes fear. Aziz is the leader of the Red Mosque and his quest to create an “Islamic utopia”. We see him not just as a villain but as a real person as well. When Aziz discusses the high death count of his students, he seems genuinely mournful. He is devoted enough to his cause to continue doing what he believes, but there is a pause and a hesitation to his words that color him in fascinating ways
Children at the DIL charter school in northern Punjab.
Photographer: Mohammed Ali Naqvi
In the film’s opening moments (which are quite strong), we are introduced to Aziz and a world that most of us know nothing about. To the children that we see here, this is the only world that they know. We see a young boy delivering a sermon early in the film that declares hatred as he screams, “Death to America” with fiery and terrifying passion. The documentary digs deep into the children of the Red Mosque, and how the organization brainwashes them.
We get a glimpse into the world of radical Islam in a documentary that dares to ask us to sympathize with it. That’s a daunting task, but the filmmakers find plenty of material to explore to allow them to do it. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s an important look at one of the most controversial organizations in recent world history.
The Pakistani children in the film are real, and at the center of the War on Terrorism. Aziz’s seminary and others modeled on it are proponents of fundamentalist Islamic Shariah law, advocating no tolerance for outsiders. Former students are in the Taliban. Aziz’s advisory activist, Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, is an equally strong presence; during a lecture, his presentation includes images from a Red Mosque kindergarten-level primer. One slide is of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers. We are presented with the multifaceted conflicts that we have not been familiar with and that means emphasizing that Pakistanis, regardless of religious practice, have indeed suffered. A 2007 government-sanctioned attack on the Red Mosque killed 150 students and members of Aziz’s family, and in 2014, the Taliban murdered 132 children in the Public Army School in Peshawar. Aziz’s comments defending the attack led to his house arrest.
The film follows two teenagers, Talha, a student at the Red Mosque seminary and Zarina, who now attends a regular school, having broken away. Talha’s father regrets the decision enrolling him. The sound is sensitively muted during their conversation, but Talha’s hard stare reveals he will never return home. Zarina now loves school and it is a happy escape from her parents’ talk of arranging her marriage. At here new school, there is close supervision for religious and safety reasons. Yet they are encouraged to play, which is in sharp contrast to the militancy of extremism at the seminary.
Talha and Zarina’s stories will continue after the closing credits. Through the film, they will be known outside their communities for their part in and conflict with these sharp ideological battles and we see the sadness of their own and so many other Pakistani childhoods.
9/11 certainly changed the world. Because there is fear and ignorance we quickly label but never rush to understand. “Among the Believers” is a riveting documentary that takes the audience inside the infamous Red Mosques and into the mind of Abdul Aziz Ghazi, ISIS supporter, Taliban ally, and teacher of the jihadist movement. Acting as “dean” Aziz takes children from poor Pakistani families under the guise that he will house, clothe and educate their children for them. What’s really going on is the indoctrination of young members of a society that doesn’t know any better. These children “study” the Quran from sunrise until 9pm everyday. Not until they are deemed worthy do they even understand the verses they are forced to memorize and chant. Religion does funny things to people and, no matter which religion, extremists are out there.
This documentary is balanced with open-minded Muslims living in the surrounding neighborhoods of the Islamic seminaries. Advocates like Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, speak out in public platforms, such as mass media outlets and lectures. The majority of Pakistan’s population is vehemently against the imposition of Shariah law throughout the country and the question is how fight religion.
“Among The Believers” is, as I have already said, sometimes difficult to watch, but it is an important film. Aziz’s His weapon is his expanding network of Islamic seminaries for children as young as four. The film makes us angry while we watch this remarkable piece of work.