Idol Chatter

Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, is now over. But Naeem Randhawa’s revealing new documentary, “American Ramadan,” (released this month) continues to chug its way around the world. Its been picked up by local PBS channels, Link TV, and international satellite stations such as Pakistan’s GEO TV and Al-Jazeera.

First-time director Randhawa takes a look at five American Muslim families in the Dallas and Los Angeles areas during Ramadan in 2005. His interview subjects showcase the diversity of the American Muslim population: There’s the interracial couple, the divorced dad, the super-busy, overachieving, hijab-wearing college student, and the Indonesian wife and her Caucasian-convert husband.

Their stories have a raw quality that gets at the heart of what an American Ramadan is all about: Physically fasting and trying to reach a higher spiritual plane while struggling to manage the craziness of daily American life.

This point is especially telling in a scene when the college student requests a 15 minute break at her mall job, then dashes to her car to quickly break fast before heading back in. “Not very glamorous,” she wryly says to the camera. And that’s the challenge of fasting in this country.

“American Ramadan” plainly shows that though that “Ramadan feeling” (of communal spirituality) can be found at Friday prayers at a local mosque or in the evenings at taraweeh prayers, most often it’s a singular effort hampered by work, school, and family commitments.

When I spoke with Randhawa about the film, he described numerous obstacles he had in shooting the documentary. One of the participants started wearing a hijab midway through filming. Randhawa was faced with the possibility of losing hours of film he shot of her sans hijab. But after consulting a local imam, the woman agreed to let Randhawa use the earlier footage of her.

The documentary was definitely a learning experience and labor of love, Randhawa told me. His passion shows, but his filmmaking inexperience also is evident in the unsatisfying segues and repetitive images. Still, Randhawa (who is not a filmmaker by profession or study) produces a very viewable Ramadan experience for an American audience.

I’ve always thought fasting for Ramadan in a non-Muslim country is harder, and therefore my efforts (which are probably less than those fasting in a Muslim country) are hopefully recognized with much love by Allah. “American Ramadan” certainly hammers this point home.

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