Among The Believers covers ground that has already been well-documented by news and media outlets all over the world. The film largely focuses on radical Islamic extremists, much of which is tied to ISIS. There is not much to the documentary that any reasonably-informed citizen does not already know. But directors Mohammed Naqvi and Hemal Trivedi, as well as credited writer Jonathan Goodman Levitt, seem aware of this fact. They pay tribute to those big ideas, but tend to bring their focus on the human element behind it. The documentary asks the question, “Who are the people being affected by all of this?” It is in these small, poignant moments where the film really shines and shows the audience something it has rarely seen before – a sympathetic ear to the plight of radical extremists.
Much of the film follows Maulana Aziz, a man both charming and fearful at the same time. Aziz is the leader of the Red Mosque and his quest to create an “Islamic utopia” is the driving force behind the film. It would have been easy to portray Aziz as a villain, but Naqvi and Trivedi seem to go out of their way to show that he is a real person. When Aziz discusses the high death count of his students, he seems genuinely mournful. He is devoted enough to his cause to continue doing what he believes, but there is a pause and a hesitation to his words that shade the man in fascinating ways.
The film’s opening moments are its strongest, as it introduces us to this world that many Americans know very little about. Among The Believers is at its best when it turns its focus to the children being taught by the Red Mosque. To them, this is the only world they know. A young boy delivers a sermon early in the film, declaring hatred and screaming “Death to America” with a fiery passion that is, frankly, terrifying. The documentary digs deep into the children of the Red Mosque, and how the organization essentially brainwashes them into
Among the Believers is a frank, arresting documentary that tries to do the impossible, and often succeeds. It allows us a glimpse into the world of radical Islam, and dares to ask us to sympathize with them. That’s a daunting task, but the filmmakers find plenty of material to explore to allow them to do it. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s an important look at one of the most controversial organizations in recent world history.
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