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Commentary

Faith, football and fasting in a Dearborn suburb

At the recent Summer Olympics opening ceremony in London, the world celebrated the Olympic athletes joining together for a global event. Among them were Muslim athletes, who have participated in physically intense athletic competition during the month of Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from eating and drinking – even water.

This intermingling between religious commitment and sports has been captured in the documentary “Fordson: Faith, Football, Fasting and the American Dream.” As entertaining as it is thought-provoking, the film provides a new angle on what it means to be a Muslim American through the all-American lens of football.

Director Rashid Ghazi’s award-winning documentary is about a varsity football team, the Tractors, at Fordson High School. It is a public school attended by many Arab Muslims in a working class suburb of Dearborn, Michigan, which has one of the highest Arab populations in the United States. Shot during the last 10 days of Ramadan, the documentary provides fresh insights into what it means to be Muslim and American.

In the 10 years since 9/11, many Muslim Americans have been challenged about their “Americanness.” The documentary, which elicited standing ovations, successfully portrayed the dual identity of Muslim Americans and the intersection of the players’ Muslim faith with their undeniable “Americanness.”

The documentary, released in several mainstream theaters in 2011 to coincide with the 10th anniversary of 9/11, is a study of post-9/11 America. It reflects the current attitudes of many Muslims and non-Muslims in the United States – including mutual suspicion.

One of Fordson’s most important games was on a Sept. 11. They played against Dearborn High School, a more affluent school. The two teams had long had a football rivalry, but as the film shows, in the post-9/11 environment the rivalry was about more than football. For the Fordson Tractors it was a way to reaffirm their American identity.

In 11 days, the filmmakers shot enough footage of the students, their community and the daily schedule of training and games in a way that audiences cared about these teens and their football rivalry. During the filming, the film crew, as well as the students and coaches, were also observing Ramadan. This combination of fasting and competing was challenging but the Tractor’s motto, “No Excuses,” prevailed.

A visually stunning documentary, Fordson won accolades at international film festivals and kudos from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. An educational DVD for high schools and universities has been created so that young people globally can engage with its messages.

Muslim and non-Muslim reviewers and audiences have emphasized how necessary and significant the film is. “It opens your eyes a little so you see another side,” said one review, referring to the Muslim perspectives on post-9/11 America that are rarely covered in media.

It was the kind of reaction that Ghazi had hoped for. He had first read of the Fordson Tractors in a 2003 newspaper article and was fascinated by the story of its players who competed even while fasting through Ramadan. It took six years to get the high school to agree to film its students and to secure rights to the story. The last time that football season coincided with Ramadan was in 2009, when the school finally agreed to the filming.

“This was a project we did to tell a story, to shift perceptions about Muslims,” says Ghazi. “We knew we had a great story which is why I pursued it for so many years.” The documentary has been a labor of love for the producers, husband-wife team Basma Babara-Quraishi and Ash-Har Quraishi. Rashid presented the idea to the Quraishis, both of whom are television journalists, and the couple agreed that the story had to be told in its entirety.

The movie has changed producer Ash-Har Quraishi’s own outlook on Muslim Americans. “You look at this community and see how well they’ve been able to meld culture and patriotism. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, they were even more resilient. They didn’t want to be presented in a pitiful light. They [see] themselves as Muslims and Arabs and American,” says Quraishi.

For Quraishi, the Fordson film is an ice-breaker. When viewed by Americans and global audiences alike, the film makes clear the extent to which Muslims are part and parcel of the American fabric. Films like this, according to Quraishi, are integral to initiating dialogue and furthering conversations about American Muslims, especially in post-9/11 America.

Naazish YarKhan is a content and PR strategist in the Chicago area. You can view a trailer of the film at www.fordsonthemovie.com and can follow YarKhan on Twitter @yarkhan. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with the Common Ground News Service (www.commongroundnews.org).

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 10, 2012, on page 7.
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