Among the Believers is shocking for its kindness. This documentary, which depicts ISIS supporter Abdul Aziz Ghazi’s efforts to bring Sharia law into public practice in Pakistan, refuses stereotypes, easy conclusions and pandering to Western viewers. Instead, it insists on seeing its subjects’ humanity — something rare in the Western press, particularly when reporting on Islam, and especially fundamentalism. Directors Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Ali Naqvi make an anti-fundamentalist practice of asking, listening and witnessing; the result is urgent and unsettling.
Allied with the Taliban and eager to overthrow the Pakistani government, Abdul Aziz Ghazi is best known for his Red Mosque network, which runs madrassas that teach fundamentalist Islam. Despite the destruction Aziz preaches, the filmmakers consider his trauma too; in 2007, the government destroyed his mosque, killing his wife, son and brother in addition to more than 100 students. Among the Believers also follows two of his students: a boy planning to wage Jihad and a girl who leaves the Red Mosque for a mainstream school routinely threatened by the Taliban.
What power or salvation would Talha receive from the promise of blowing himself up? What power or grounding or hope would make Zarina risking her life just to go to class worth it? The film allows complicated people to speak for themselves, listening closely in interviews and panning over crowds joined in movement and sorrow. It’s so clear: Each person’s actions here are not theirs alone, but part of a network of complicated needs and conflicting ideologies that make up contemporary Pakistan. Some of the stories are difficult to hear, but they must be listened to.
Among the Believers
Directed by Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Ali Naqvi
Distributed by Changeworx and Manjusha Films
Opens September 30, Cinema Village