I went to see the film “Shahada” the other day. Set in Germany, it tells the stories of three young Muslim characters, of the intersection of cultural influences in their lives and religion.
The most touching story for me was that of Maryam, the daughter of the imam. She was a party girl who, at the start of the film, took some pills to have an illegal abortion. The pain and severe bleeding combined with the guilt, and she became unwell and a bit psychologically unhinged as the blood loss continued for some time. After repeatedly begging God to make it stop, and promising to quit her sinful life, she self-radicalised, and started offending the liberal mosque community by aggressively quoting apocalyptic Quran verses about God’s impending wrath. She blamed her dad for being too tolerant and giving her too much freedom in the first place.
I think I found it moving because I know how this can happen. I know the feeling of looking around your life and thinking, “this is all wrong”… and being drawn to a religious life that seems so much more safe and happy by contrast. But I also know that that illusory contentment masks a reality that is sterile, inauthentic, and equally full of “wrong”. I know what it’s like to step back into the world and be able to see life in colour again. In all its pain and beauty.
Everyone wants their children to be safe. Some people see safety in freedom and tolerance and responsible choice. Others see safety in the confines of religious rules. But I guess for some sensitive souls who take life too seriously, freedom to learn about life the hard way just hurts, while rules just produce dangerous mindless zeal. Maryam ended the film on the bridge, gazing into the water where her friend had thrown her aborted foetus, and coming to terms with it. Maybe for her there is no safety, but I sense there is potential for growth, for a depth, wisdom and maturity that her party-girl friend and the equally shallow sisters’ circle at the mosque would never have.