Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Post from a Los Angeles Organizer

Posted as written by Neelam Khoja, organizer of the LA/Claremont Graduate University screening:

It isn’t every day when you meet someone who not only dares to dream, but also dares to make his dream a reality. In November, I met someone who did just that: in high school, Shamir dreamt to make a movie about the Aga Khan and in December he premiered it at the Kennedy School of Government. When I heard about the screening, I asked him if he would consider doing the same here, on the west coast. He agreed, and the very next day I was able to get the President of Claremont Graduate University and the Dean of the School of Religion on board with the California Premiere.

I thought bringing the documentary to Los Angeles, and Claremont specifically, was important because it would allow for an easier articulation of my faith. In my two years at Claremont Graduate University, I was constantly in the spotlight because I was one of first students to enter into and graduate from their MA in Islamic Studies program. I found myself explaining who an Ismaili Muslim was in all of my encounters with people as influential as the Board of Visitors at the President’s house to the camera guy when I was selected as the School of Religion’s “poster girl.” With the exception of a few, most people had never heard of the Ismailis, let alone met one.

After watching the movie, it became evident that this documentary would go beyond simply putting Ismailis on the map because it shows how the Ismailis can be viewed as an example of moderate Muslims who value peace, tolerance, development and most importantly love for humanity. Moreover, it helps to place the Aga Khan among some of the most forward thinking religious leaders, who practices what he preaches and serves as a role model for his followers and anyone else who comes to know him. His dedication to the Ismaili community and humanity at large is well presented, providing a beacon of hope in the tumultuous conditions humankind has faced and continues to struggle with today.

My sincere hope is that more people will find inspiration from both the movie and the person who dreamt to make it. Blazing the trail to resisting against being silenced, Shamir has provided a wonderful opportunity for all of us to learn more about each other, which will hopefully lead to filling the gap of ignorance by continuing the conversation. But it is up to us to do that: first, we must watch the movie, and then encourage others to watch it too. Through this process, hopefully, more people will come to know who the Aga Khan is and who the Ismailis are, thereby alleviating the unawareness of Islam’s rich diversity, interpretations, and expressions.

-Neelam Khoja

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