New documentary The Mosque in Morgantown explores challenges facing Islam
Brittany Huckabee’s documentary The Mosque in Morgantown airs on Tuesday, February 16, 2016, at 8 p.m. on WORLD Channel (check local listings), as part of the fourth season of America Reframed, public media’s newest documentary series hosted by Natasha Del Toro.
The film is part of a trio of films this February on America Reframed that explore the post 9/11 experiences of Muslims in America.The Mosque in Morgantown will be available for free streaming on www.worldchannel.org starting February 17, 2016.
In early December 2015, a dozen American Muslims posted a declaration on the door of the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C. announcing the formation of a group they call the Muslim Reform Movement, intended as a counter to radicalism. One of those present was Asra Nomani, a journalist and activist who in 2005 had posted her own “99 Precepts for Reform in the Muslim World” on the door of her hometown mosque in West Virginia. Then, as now, she attracted the attention of media outlets eager to find a face of progressive Islam, as well as the ire of some within her own community who questioned her methods and her motives.
The Mosque in Morgantown is an observational documentary that follows Nomani’s early activism and the backlash within her West Virginia mosque, telling a story about competing paths to social change, American identity and the nature of religion itself. “In the wake of the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, the call for Islam to moderate and modernize is louder than ever,” says filmmaker Huckabee. “The Mosque in Morgantown shows in vivid detail how thorny that undertaking can be.”
Working in Pakistan after September 11, 2001, Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, faced a double shock. First came a surprise pregnancy and abandonment by the Pakistani man she thought would be her husband, then the murder of close friend and Wall Street Journal colleague Daniel Pearl at the hands of Muslim extremists. Still reeling and with a son to raise, she returned to her hometown in Morgantown, West Virginia and found at her local mosque exclusion of women, intolerance toward nonbelievers and suspicion of the West.
A rare look at the real controversies that can divide a Muslim community, the documentary chronicles what happens when Asra decides to fight back – alienating would-be allies in the mosque and leading many to wonder who most deserves the label of “extremist.”
It isn’t long before members put forward a petition to expel her from the mosque, but Asra is unwavering. She believes intolerance in the mosque is the first step on a potential path to violence, and that Islam cannot afford to handle this problem with half-measures and diplomacy; the stakes require nothing less than a revolution.
The question in Morgantown is one facing mosques across the country: how, when and why do moderates claim an American Muslim identity when doing so is likely to bring censure from “purer” Muslims from overseas?
Some members, many of whom grew up in the United States like Ihtishaam Qazi, believe it is possible to be both fully Muslim and fully American—in Asra’s shorthand, these are the mosque’s “moderates.” There is another group, composed largely of immigrants and visitors in the US, primarily to teach or to study whose take on Islam is informed by the traditions of their home countries. This sometimes clashes with deeply-held American values of tolerance, inclusion and equal rights. In Asra’s view, these men are the mosque’s “extremists.” And it just so happens that they control the mosque.
The Mosque in Morgantown is sometimes raucous and not always politically correct, but it reveals a truth that may surprise many Americans: the view inside this mosque is actually quite familiar. Words like extremism and terrorism are thrown about, but in the end they are beside the point. The arguments over gender, tradition and tactics in the Morgantown mosque also play out in communities across the nation – from churches and synagogues to secular volunteer organizations. And the question of how to effect change is just as difficult.
“In a time of renewed concern about what happens behind the closed doors of American mosques,The Mosque in Morgantown raises questions that are as important now as ever. Is it the duty of moderate Muslims to stand up to extremism, and if so, how should they do it? Where is the line that separates extremism from traditional or conservative practices common to many faiths? And is there danger in conflating the two, particularly in a time of fear and intolerance toward Muslims?” – Filmmaker Brittany Huckabee.
Director/Producer/Editor Brittany Huckabee
Director of Photography Gabriel Goodenough
About America Reframed
America Reframed is a co-production of the WORLD Channel and American Documentary, Inc. and is hosted by journalist Natasha Del Toro.
Season four ofAmerica Reframed curates a diverse selection of films highlighting innovative and artistic approaches to storytelling from emerging to veteran filmmakers alike. Viewers will be immersed in personal stories from the streets of towns big and small to the exurbs and country roads that span the spectrum of American life. The documentaries invite audiences to reflect on topics as varied as culture, healthcare, politics, gun violence, religion and more. Several episodes feature a roundtable discussion moderated by host Natasha Del Toro with special guest commentators and filmmakers.
In 2015,America Reframed won a GRACIE Outstanding Series award, and was nominated for an EMMY award as well as an Independent Documentary Association award for best curated series. In its first season,America Reframed received five 2013 CINE Golden Eagle Awards, and one Imagen Awards nomination.