Dubai: The recent protests and riots across the Muslim world in response to anti-Islam film, ‘Innocence of Muslims’ in September, sparked one UAE resident into action. University of Sharjah graduate and aspiring film-maker, Abeer Ali, 28, recently put together a short film ‘Now, our turn to speak (Islam is Peace)’, which she uploaded onto Youtube that subsequently went viral.
The film is approximately nine minutes long and is a compilation of a series of interviews with Muslims and non-Muslims living in Dubai about their opinions on the increasingly bad rap surrounding Arabs and Muslims. The video was published on the social networking site at the end of September and had 49,605 views at the time of going to print.
“You never think that it all boils down to me. You think there is someone smarter, more talented, who will speak up. You wait and wait and nothing happens… You never think, ‘Now it’s my turn, I have to do this.’ That is what inspired the title of the video.”
We recently caught up with the three youth behind the UAE’s attempt at dispelling stereotypes of commonly associated with the Arab region and Islam.
Talking about the speed with which the idea became a reality, Ali says, “I have never had an idea that I ran with for a while. I literally did not stop for one second to think too much about it and because of that the video was put together in five days. It was an idea driven by passion and aided by all these young people who wanted to say something.”
“People say we [Muslims] teach young people to kill and be violent and so the video was made to show the world that these are our young people and this is how it is,” she adds.
Abeer was assisted in the making of the video by her sister Ghada Ali, 19, and Dana Kamali, 23, who is Emirati - both of whom study at the American University in Dubai (AUD).
“The message we wanted to put out there is that we [Muslims] are not a stereotype - we all look different, are from different races and colour of skin. Just because someone is Muslim, it doesn’t mean they are a terrorist,” says Dana.
Ghada and Dana initially tapped into their pool of friends at AUD as a favour to Abeer, calling for anyone who wished to speak their minds on camera. Soon enough, word of the initiative spread across the region through social media sites such as Twitter. “We tried to make sure we had people representing every country that was responding vehemently to the anti-Islam video and not just get people from the UAE,” says Dana. The result was a diversity of Muslims from different countries. “For example, one man living in Qatar got in touch with us through Twitter.”
The video caused such a stir that it was reported on in local and international media outlets such as Al Jazeera English and France 24/7.
However, Abeer’s intention was for it to impact the Western world, which she believes has the most distorted views of Arabs and Muslims.
“It didn’t spread in the West like we’d intended it to, despite our efforts, but the video did spread amongst like-minded people, who like us, are not the violent Muslims and among the Westerners who don’t care,” she sasaysid. “The impact of the video, which wasn’t my aim, was that it motivated people from here [the region] to speak up… I even got a message from one person asking for my permission to make his own video.”
Reaching far and wide for positive change
Although the video did not reach Abeer’s intended audience in the Western world, the fact that it has inspired other moderate Muslims on other continents to spread the message that Islam is Peace, may one day have the desired affect, she says. “Mostly the video has made people want to make positive changes and it has shown them they can have an affect on the world and that their voices matter,” says Abeer. “It has been 11 years since Sept 11 and we the youth have been waiting for someone the stand up and defend the moderate Muslims, which no one has. So if we don’t do something, who will?”
For Ghada, the recent protests saw her passivity reach tipping point, the reason why she gladly jumped on the bandwagon to help her elder sister spread her message far and wide.
“I was watching the protests on the TV [against the anti-Islam film] and it annoyed me that people who know nothing about Muslims will assume we are all like the ones burning things and killing people,” she says. “The news never shows the good things Muslims do, only the bad. I’m a Muslim and I’m not a violent person at all.”
However why it has taken so long for Arab and Muslim youths to stand up and defend themselves – peacefully?
“You always think someone else is going to do it,” replies Abeer. “You never think that it all boils down to me. You think there is someone smarter, more talented, who will speak up. You wait and wait and nothing happens… You never think, ‘Now it’s my turn, I have to do this.’ That is what inspired the title of the video.”
-To watch the video search ‘Now, our turn to speak (Islam is Peace)’ on www.youtube.com
Abeer Ali’s video was published on Youtube on September 23 and has received 49,609+ internet hits.
To get her subjects talking, Abeer Ali asked the following four questions:-
1.How do you feel about the riots against the Innocence of Muslims film?
2.How would you react if someone offended you?
3.What religious/moral teachings do you remember from your childhood?
4.What is your message to the world?