The stereotypical image of the Muslim woman has become a convenient vehicle for popular, ill-informed anti-Muslim hate speech in the American media from Bill O’Reilly to Bill Maher. While women in full burqas, being stoned and disfigured become newsworthy, the great strides women are making within the vastly diverse Islamic world are rarely seen.
Enter a mystical world that will take you into the heart of Islamic principles, reveal mystical teachings of the great sages of the Muslim tradition and dispel your misconceptions about one of the worlds largest spiritual traditions.
The film follows the the journeys of three female Sufi leaders. The characters are "globally interconnected" women who are striving for social transformation in diverse areas of the globe, from a mosque in Tribeca to rural Senegal to Istanbul. These women have devoted followers ranging from a few hundred to thousands.
In predominantly Sufi Senegal, we meet Shaykha Oumou Malick, a businesswoman who is one of the first women in her country to guide a mixed gender congregation. Quietly building her following, she plans to break ground on her own mosque, the first female-led mosque in Senegal. Although Oumou’s work is controversial, her humanitarian efforts and strong spiritual guidance are being lauded by men and women alike.
In New York City, we meet Shaykha Fariha Friedrich, the first Western woman in her Turkish lineage to be crowned Shaykha. She guides a diverse group of male and female American converts and Muslim born immigrants in her Tribeca Mosque, and oversees a wide-network of communities across the United States and abroad.
In Istanbul, Turkey, Cemalnur Sargut is a Shaykha to thousands who come from all over the world for her wisdom and guidance. She has a radio show and weekly television broadcast, transforming people's lives through her incredible oratory skills. The successor to a long line of Sufi teachers, she is a serious Quranic scholar who addresses a modern Muslim audience as she unravels the deeper meanings of the tradition's sacred texts. She has founded institutes for Sufi scholarship in China, the United States and Istanbul.
SHAYKHA focuses on women within the Muslim world who are seizing the power of interpretation in order to generate social and spiritual change. Giving voice to women transcending the misogyny of dogma to lead communities in spiritual growth “beyond gender,” this film explores the role of religion as self understanding. Jihad, these shaykhas explain, is not a physical external battle but an internal, spiritual conflict. As Cemalnur puts it: To be a man or a woman is not our first problem, [but to] be a human being is our first problem.
In the wake of media coverage around ISIS, various attacks on international cities and the consistent attention focused on female oppression in Muslim communities, many of our brains have been wired with a deep prejudice toward Muslim communities. Our experience of this tradition through the media is one reason we set out to make this project and share it with those who want to better understand the diversity of the Muslim world.
With $25,000 we can wrap production on this film. The footage shot will be used to create a rough cut of the film. From there, we’re that much closer to getting this film out into the world and to generating important conversation around religious diversity and female leadership. Your donation, large or small, will help make this happen.
**Please note we have not paid ourselves a dime through this entire process. This is a labor of love!
Are you wondering, why do you need my money? Getting the funds to make a film is incredibly difficult. Even with the experience of the production team, the importance of the subject matter, there are just very few funds out there that will support a project like this. Kickstarter is paving the way for documentary films to be made! We love it!
The mystical dimension of Islam, Sufism teaches a path of love, often through dreams, ritual and meditation, with the goal of complete immersion in God. Sufi communities are organized as orders formed around a founding Saint; knowledge is transmitted from teacher to disciple. Since the time of the prophet Muhammad, many of the most influential Muslims were Sufis including the poet Rumi, the metaphysician Ibn’Arabi, the theologian al-Ghazali, and the Saint Rabi’a al-Basri. It is through the teachings and practices of Sufism that Islam spread to many corners of the earth. Today, there are millions of Sufi practitioners across the world and most continue to perform the weekly ritual known as zikr or “remembrance of God.” The film will exhibit the richness of this tradition by profiling the unique zikrs of each community we follow. Throughout history, Sufism is a place where women have seen a great level of influence and authority.
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We are proud to be partnering with a number of organizations promoting dialogue and understanding between communities of faith including the American Islamic Congress (AIC), WISE Muslim Women and Fons Vitae along with a number of scholars dedicated to this important subject. We are also honored to have the support of the Hartley Film Foundation, Massachusetts Cultural Council and The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation whose backing has allowed us to come this far with the project.
Risks and challenges
The complexity of this subject matter is by far one of the greatest challenges we are facing in the making of this film. To journey into the heart and attempt to capture just a hint of this incredible mystical world is something that we don’t take lightly. With your help though, we can translate just a taste of the wisdom that these women impart to their students and that has transformed the communities around them.
But our biggest challenge is TIME. We feel this film and the dialogue it will generate is needed now more than ever. Your support will help us to get these stories on film and out to the public as soon as possible.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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