Ammar Mosque

Thu 20 October 2016

Episode 2

On a quiet, tree-lined street just steps away from Wan Chai Road, Ammar Mosque is home to one of the most bustling halal dim sum restaurants in the city. We listen to the stories of four people who've strengthened their faith in Islam in Hong Kong, by way of France, Indonesia, Pakistan and Tunisia.

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Sometimes, when I start sketching out an episode, what takes up all the mindspace is a list of what not to do. While very much aware of the anti-Islam rhetoric that’s captured the rest of the world, I didn’t want to counter each misinformed point with a listicle of soundbites (“Islam is not violent,” “Not all Muslims are oppressed”), which would force the conversation to take place on a single plane. I didn’t want my interviewees to feel like they had to bear the burden of defending their faith. I didn’t want to present Islam as some faraway other to the tune of harmonic minor scales, nor did I want Islam to be made palatable by solely taking on the vocabulary of faith that other religions might draw upon, that the audience might be more familiar with.

There’s a question underlying it all: at the end of the day, how do you humanize? If providing the facts only goes so far in erasing misconceptions, how do you actually help others see people as fully formed, fully fleshed out human beings? Part of me (the plan-making self, that wishes mindset change could be corralled and implemented through a series of steps) wonders if it can all happen at the same time. It’s impossible to laser blast away all stereotypes in a single episode, in the style of those well-loved Buzzfeed explainer videos. And though these are important in refuting ignorance, there also needs to be space where people are permitted to be people, where they can be seen as people first and foremost - not as defenders, or educators, or even instructors who can help you sound informed during dinners with uninformed relatives. What was fascinating was the chance to delve into specific parts of each person’s turning point with Islam and how that is influenced by their own, very particular circumstance. Everyone had varying degrees of interaction with Islam before they decided to fully commit themselves, and it’s this moment that captivates me the most - the places they had to spend time in, whether internally or externally, before they were spurred on to explore the depths of faith. It was inevitable; it made sense. And with this group - an Indonesian caregiver and volunteer, a Hong Kong-raised university student studying psychology, a French banker coming to terms with capitalism and a Tunisian professor with a love of linguistics - I sought to learn about their contexts, and they were extremely generous with their time and words.


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