CAIRO: During a session on Islam to non-Muslims, Sheikh Ahmed Saad met one man who, living beside a mosque for 15 years, thought Muslims were drug-dealers because he saw them suspiciously meet in the late hours of the night. The man only discovered through the information session that the Muslims were not drug dealers but had been congregating right before fajr (dawn) prayers every day.
This, Saad says, is an example of how little Muslims are doing to explain their religion and its traditions.
Hoping to narrow the divide of understanding, the Bridges Foundation, of which Saad is the executive manager, is producing a four-part documentary series entitled The Fog is Lifting.
The series will be directed toward non-Muslims and attempt to address their most common and controversial concerns and stereotypes about Islam. He says what is unique to the documentary is that it deals with Islam holistically and from a modern perspective, rather than focusing on the Prophet s life or Islamic civilization as other documentaries have done.
It will be translated into 14 languages.
The first part is a basic overview of Islam, the second deals with the Quran, the third addresses the question: Islam: A Religion of War or a Religion of Peace? and the final episode will deal with women in Islam.
Although the production has been a challenge, Saad says they took on the task because of their experience in teaching Islam to non-Muslims. The films, in fact, are based on the foundation s courses. Bridges has two such training programs: one oriented toward informing non-Muslims, and one in which Muslims are taught to be presenters of Islam, addressing all the misconceptions and difficult questions Muslims are persistently asked.
He says the two most frequent questions Muslims are asked are: Does Islam support 9/11? and Why do Muslim women have to wear hijab? as well as other issues of Muslim treatment of women.
Perhaps one reason Saad is well suited to introduce Islam to Westerners is his respect for Western values.
He extols freedoms in the West, which are still far better than in the Middle East, as well as the strong education system.
He thinks that Muslims in the West are not doing their job, which is to let others know who they are. He says just as a Christian can greet a neighbor with a Christmas treat, so should Muslims reciprocate during their holidays. He also thinks Muslims have long been neglecting important areas such as media and politics, in which they should be greater participants.
But Saad criticized the West s reliance on second-hand information about Islam, If I want to know about Buddhism, I shouldn t go to a Hindu.
So far funding for the documentary has come completely from Fadel Soliman, the director of Bridges Foundation and ex-imam at the American University in Cairo and in Washington DC.
The total cost for the four parts is approximately $200,000 and funds are still needed for the remaining films as well for original music and footage.
Saad admits it has been difficult to receive sponsorship and the foundation can only raise money through ticket sales for their courses – either for personal attendance or through the purchase of tickets for others who cannot afford the LE 250 fee for the three-day course.
Upon completion, the documentary will be distributed to Western journalists, educators, politicians, and tourists.
A rough draft of the first volume, featuring 40 of the 60 minutes, and without the final touches, which need more funds to complete, will be playing at El-Sawy Cultural Wheel on Sunday at 7 pm.