Abrar Hussain is most notorious in the filmmaking industry for his documentaries on mosques located in holy sites around the world as seen through his previous pieces, ‘One Night in Al-Aqsa’ and ‘One Day in the Haram’ but his most recent venture sees a unique but necessary look into the world of Islamic entertainment through a recollection of historical and modern Muslim figures.
The exploration of transgression – or for some, the lack of – is the main focal of point of The Balance, as Hussain aims to take us through history to re-visit the foundations modern Muslim entertainers have established themselves on. From the notable greats like Mohammed Ali and Ahmed Deedat all the way to the new generation of prominent figures hoping to leave behind a similar legacy, we’re treated to the ins and outs of how such a disregarded minority group have forced an open space to construct a creative industry now worth billions.
Omar Suleiman, Yasir Qadi, Peter Sanders and Ali Official, amongst a plethora of other prominent Muslim voices, come together to give their opinions on TV, film, music and social media and how these formidable art forms have come to influence a generation of talent over the years. “Have we gone too far or not far enough” – a line that holds a lot of weight considering the Ummah seems to be divided in their stance. Where do we stand with the religious limitations on art? Is there one? Or should we have never explored it? It’s no secret that we all hold views that often clash with each other on these subjects, but The Balance aims to bring about some clarity to what can be seen as a tumultuous grey area where faith meets society.
With this in mind, you have to respect Hussain’s approach to the task. It’s pretty difficult to find pieces within the Muslim community that explore ‘taboo’ subjects with the right balance (ironic, I know), due to the fear of backlash. Subjects like music and social media are often looked at through a hyper-religious, almost rigid lens so that we’re forced to shun them from the conversation to prove we’re not deviating from what’s right. But The Balance is not afraid to give space to those Muslim entertainers that have found themselves battling against that fine line often being branded as ‘angels’ or ‘sinners’… it just depends on the rumour that day. Take Rapper Brother Ali and Bengali influencer, Rumena Begum (AKA Rumena_101) for example; they are both public figures that have been riddled with controversy, some for their work, others for their personal lives, but instead of taming them for the public, Hussain opts to give them the freedom to discuss their views on both the positives and negatives of being a Muslim entertainer. And while this might seem like a pretty average display of investigation in the mainstream, it’s still difficult to find within the Muslim community.
And that’s why it matters.
That’s why pieces like this one matter.
Not only did the documentary challenge visual stereotypes (seeing hijab-clad women enjoying a Nasheed concert is one thing I have never seen before), but it also brought to light the unfortunate truths that divide the community, a point that many Muslims tend to skirt over. As Zaid Shakir put it, in this era enemies aren’t carrying swords and shields, instead they hide behind usernames and animated profile pictures because they’re the same guys that approach creatives and “it’s all asalaamualikum and love you” but “this is the same guy [that’s commenting] audhubillah, how can anyone like this guy… this guy is an idiot.”
While we’re all pretty much aware that each community, especially religious ones, come with their fair share of blemishes, The Balance delves into that aspect while also maintaining its distance from mainstream narratives about the community.
Overall, Hussain has done a great job at rounding up this moment in time for Muslim entertainment – a solid 4 stars out of 5.
The Balance hits big screens in the UK from August 1st.
Watch the full trailer by clicking here.