Islam and the Future of Tolerance is a feature-length documentary that tells the story of an unlikely conversation on a topic of grave importance, and how it changed two foes into friends. This film chronicles the initial clash and ultimate collaboration between the prominent atheist author and neuroscientist Sam Harris and the former Islamist Maajid Nawaz. Together they immortalised their dialogue in the critically acclaimed Islam and the Future of Tolerance, published by Harvard University Press in 2016. Their collaboration has galvanised a movement in which courageous voices speak up (and speak louder) about the need for reform to correct Islam’s incompatibilities with 21st-century liberal values. This film will expand that conversation globally.
Why we’re making this film
In 2016, Think Inc., a premier intellectual events company, introduced the story of Islam and the Future of Tolerance in Australia with the controversial and highly anticipated tour of Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz. Audiences quickly realised that the conversation needed to be broader—to look at facts, discuss ideas, and collaborate toward a future of hope and achievement. Out of a desire to challenge intellectual comfort and a thirst for democratising the dialogue between society’s innovators and the people who benefit from them, Think Inc. has teamed up with the award-winning filmmaker Jay Shapiro to bring you Islam and the Future of Tolerance: The Movie.
What is this documentary about?
On September 10, 2001, Sam Harris was studying neuroscience in California, and Maajid Nawaz was in Egypt working as a top recruiter for one of the biggest Islamist organisations in the world, pushing for an Islamic caliphate. The next day sent them down paths that would converge 15 years later in an unlikely collaboration.
Harris entered life as a public intellectual after 9/11 and soon found himself regarded as a leading voice of the “New Atheist” movement, along with Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett. He spent much of the next decade writing books such as The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, and The Moral Landscape and publicly engaging religious scholars and apologists in highly contentious conversations.
Meanwhile, Nawaz was arrested and thrown into an Egyptian prison, where he spent four years before beginning his slow journey out of radical Islamism. By the time he emerged, he had decided to dedicate his life’s work to reforming Islam from within. He started Quilliam, a counter-terrorism think tank.
The two men clashed for the first time in 2010, at a restaurant in Manhattan, after Nawaz had participated in a debate where he argued that “Islam is a religion of peace.” The conversation broke down before it began. Harris and Nawaz butted heads and walked away.
Five years later, Harris reached out to Nawaz, unsure of the outcome. They began to engage in a conversation about the viability of prospects for reforming Islam. Their conversation proved so fruitful that they published the dialogue as a short book.
Facing death threats, boycotts, and criticism from the conservative right and the regressive left, the two decided to take the conversation public in a series of joint appearances across Australia.
The film will not only explore the contents of their crucial conversation but also reflect on the very nature of conversation itself—and on how this crucial one succeeded.
Featuring footage of the public events; the original, never-before-heard phone conversations; licensed footage of debates and news appearances; animation; and in-depth filming with both Harris and Nawaz, this documentary will weave together their biographies in an engaging format as it illustrates nuanced arguments that expose both the religious right’s ideology and the regressive left’s roadblocks to progress.
Ultimately, the film offers hope that conversation can succeed. It will serve as an inspiration—that two people starting out so far apart could find common cause—and a call to action. If the choice is always between conversation and violence, this film is a plea for the former.
Our vision for the movie
Fans of Harris and Nawaz are accustomed to seeing the two men onstage or on TV. This film will present a unique view, deploying cinematic and stylized aesthetics to intimately engage the audience through interviews with both men while illustrating and punctuating key moments with animation, archival footage, and recreations. It will end with a flourish as new and important voices enter the conversation.
Suzi Jamil and Desh Amila are the founders of Think Inc., a young Australian-based initiative dedicated to the promotion of intellectual discourse through world-class events.
Suzi holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from the University of Technology, Sydney and a Juris Doctor from the University of New South Wales. She has more than five years’ experience as a professional communicator.
Desh has more than 11 years’ experience as an event producer and holds a degree in Film Production from Deakin University.
Launched in 2013, Think Inc. has become a platform for promoting big ideas; stimulating and engaging independent, rational thinking; and celebrating scientific discovery. Think Inc. has hosted Neil deGrasse Tyson, Steve Wozniak, Edward Snowden, Brian Greene, and other eminent thinkers.
Jay Shapiro is an award-winning documentary filmmaker based in New York. While earning his degree at Clark University, he was awarded a fellowship to produce a documentary in West Africa titled Like Me, I Am Here. Over the next decade, his work enjoyed success at prestigious film festivals such as Toronto, Tribeca, RiverRun, and DOC NYC. His major directorial debut, Opposite Field, followed the journey of the first African team to play in the Little League World Series. It was bought by Netflix for digital distribution and has been shown in television markets around the world. It was featured in the New York Times and on ABC, ESPN, and CNN International. Shapiro recently directed All Rise, a feature-length documentary about the complexities of international law, which was filmed in 11 countries and privately screened at the United Nations.
Susan MacKinnon is a passionate advocate for the documentary industry. She has worked as an independent producer for more than 26 years, winning numerous international awards and much critical acclaim for her documentaries.
Sonya Pemberton is one of Australia’s leading television producers, specialising in science. She has written and directed more than 60 hours of broadcast documentary and executive produced dozens of award-winning factual series and one-off programs.
Dr Meredith Doig
Rationalist Society of Australia President Meredith Doig, PhD is a professional company director and consultant who focuses on governance and executive team effectiveness (board reviews, potential assessment, executive coaching). She is a facilitator of the Company Directors Course for the Australian Institute of Company Directors and a moderator with the Cranlana Programme on Ethics and the Good Society.
We are using cutting-edge technology to make the film: the new RED WEAPON 8K camera with HELIUM CMOS for breathtaking b-roll and stunning 4K-quality RED cameras.
- Filming of the speaking tour, Think Inc. presents An Evening with Sam Harris, featuring Maajid Nawaz—completed
- October 2016 Filming with Sam Harris—completed
- Filming with Dave Rubin—completed
- Filming with Ayaan Hirsi Ali—completed
- Filming with Maajid Nawaz—completed
- Filming with Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz—TBC
- Filming with additional guests—TBC
- Official trailer
- Editing begins
- Theatrical trailer
- Submission to film festivals
- First cut of the movie
- Test screening in NYC, LA, London, Sydney, and Melbourne (limited audience)
- Second draft edit
Why we need you
This vital project arose out of an unlikely conversation between Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz. We believe that the fruits of their collaboration should be shared as widely as possible. Every person involved in this project is passionate about this cause. We have managed to accomplish a lot on a tiny budget, but much work remains to be done. The $100,000 we hope to raise through Kickstarter will go toward the sound production and final editing of the film in Australia.
Breakdown of the cost
Risks and challenges
We are a small company based in Australia, so the logistics are very tricky for us—not least because our two stars live on different continents. Think Inc. is an events company, and this is a project outside our usual tasks. We are working tirelessly to get it up and running.
In a world where 72 hours’ worth of content is created every minute on YouTube alone, we are entering a competitive and saturated market. Our goal is to get our film in front of people and hold their attention for the full 90 minutes in order to truly have an impact.
We are first-time filmmakers, and though we have no doubt about our ability, we don’t yet have a reputation.
The topic of this documentary is highly controversial, and we understand that we may end up being targets. That’s a risk we are willing to take.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)