Film shows spread of conservative Islam in secular Syria

Mon Dec 19, 2011 1:36pm EST
 
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By Andrew Hammond

DUBAI (Reuters) - A film about one of thousands of Koranic schools for girls in Syria has shocked some Syrians but impressed others with the implication that one of the bastions of Arab secularism has become a deeply religious society.

In "The Light In Her Eyes," Houda al-Habash opens up the mosque and school she runs where hundreds of teenage girls, sent there by their parents, spend the summer learning to memorize the Koran and take religious study classes that conclude with most of them taking to the hijab, or Muslim headscarf.

The documentary's directors, Julia Meltzer and Laura Nix, said they wanted to show that the conservatism depicted in the film reflects the mainstream in Syria today and should be seen as progressive in many respects.

"My experience was Syria and there is this religious population that's growing and that's a story that needs to be told about moderate Islam and it's a story we don't see, especially in the West," said Meltzer, who taught journalism at Damascus University in 2005 and 2006.

Speaking to Reuters at the Dubai International Film Festival which ended this weekend, she said that this Islamist community is more organized in many respects than state institutions.

"What I saw in that educational environment (university) was that people did not arrive on time, teachers didn't really seem to take things seriously," Meltzer said. "In contrast to that world, going to Houda's mosque was a really eye-opening, and complex, experience for me where girls were encouraged to read."

Houda lectures the girls that the veil is an Islamic duty -- a view that many Muslims would dispute -- that God intended as protection and which for Houda is part of a process of empowering girls to play an active role in society as Muslims.

"The flag is the symbol of the state, but the hijab is the symbol of Islam ... you have not been faithful to the symbol," she tells the girls in one of her group pep talks. "God made the hijab an obligation to protect women from inappropriate looks and preserve her for her husband."   Continued...