CAAM’s Summer Workshops for Muslim Youth Voices Project

Muslim Youth Voices Project in New York, August 2014.
Muslim Youth Voices Project in New York, August 2014.

We are excited to announce that Muslm Youth Voices will be playing at CAAMFest this year! More information on ticketing and times here!

This summer, CAAM launched the Muslim Youth Voices Project on both coasts of the U.S., in New York City and Fremont, CA. The three year-long national initiative aims to engage young Muslim Americans through media production and by giving them the tools to tell their stories.

During intensive week-long workshops in New York City and the Bay Area, youth participants worked with instructors to gain media-making skills, build upon their stories to express their own narratives, and also to learn from one another. As the students led the direction of their scripts and stories, they were paired with experienced cinematographers and editors to actualize their vision. What emerged is a diverse collection of short films by young Muslim Americans. The topics included more serious personal reflections about Syrian refugees to Muslim superhero narratives to a comedic horror film about skin bleaching cream. All speak to the creative spirit that the youth brought to the table, behind the lens, and in front of the camera.

When we spoke with Muslim Youth Voices Project Lead Instructor Musa Syeed—a Sundance Award-winning filmmaker—he said that he hopes the youth learn from one another. And that’s exactly what they did. He hopes their stories will reach a wide audience. “I think it’s important for these films be screened in the local communities, and for there to be local impact, but also to find a way to make these films that the youth will produce available for larger audiences. However isolated or lonely you might feel in who you are, you realize that there’s something about you that resonates with other people, that there’s some essential human connection.”  

The youth also supported each other in filmmaking, taking turns with working on each other’s productions. This was another goal of the project—to bring Muslim youth from different backgrounds together. In this way, the stories that emerged aren’t singular, but instead branch out from a network of voices. The work doesn’t seek to tell “the Muslim story,” but rather multiple stories from the perspective Muslim youth living many different experiences across the country. Meet some of our participants:

Two young women make a short about a superhero Muslim teen who defends against bullying.

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Sumaya and Jannah in Fremont, CA. Photo by Momo Chang.

Sumaya and Jannah created a short film about self-empowerment, featuring a young Muslim girl with a mutant side who fights against bullying. Inspired by her lifelong love for superheroes and Marvel Comics, Jannah wanted her Muslim superhero to have both a hijab and a set of wings. “I can personally relate to my main character, Maleeka, because being a young hijabi myself, I have been through some prejudice and singling out. I have experienced all of the name calling, rude and ignorant remarks, and non-stop stares. Maleeka comes out feeling confident and accepts herself the way she is, which is something I still struggle with myself. As a child just starting to wear the head scarf, I was pretty naive and didn’t think it was much more than a garment that I wore because I wanted to be like mommy. I took every rude comment and stare very personally. I didn’t understand that my scarf was more than a piece of fabric on my head. It was later in life that I came to love and appreciate what hijab and being Muslim really meant to me personally. So I definitely feel like my project reflects a little on what it’s like to grow up Muslim in America with all of the preconceived ideas about what Islam is.” – Jannah. Jannah aspires to become a fashion designer, and Sumaya is a student at Ohlone College in Fremont, CA.

Ahmed’s film focuses on a young man’s feelings of loneliness and human connection as he begins college.

Hany Massoud (Production Mentor) reviewing footage with Ahmed on location in NYC. Photo by Riyaz.

Hany Massoud (Production Mentor) reviewing footage with Ahmed on location in NYC. Photo by Riyaz.

“My story is about a freshman at NYU who is in search of a place he can identify as home. The film starts with him praying by himself at home concluding with him enjoying his time after the Friday prayer at the Islamic Center at NYU and having a warm discussion with others. I shared so many great moments with my filming partner Riyaz and I especially enjoyed filming with Hany. He is a very humble, skilled, sociable person and I try to maintain connection with him even after the project has ended. I really appreciate all these special moments we shared because that Muslim Youth Voices Project 7-day intensive was definitely a highlight of my summer. I really appreciate CAAM for affording my peers and I such an opportunity.”

Sidikha from New York creates a storyboard for her short film about an 11 year-old activist who wants to save the world.

Sidikha in New York City. Photo by Kar Yin Tham.

“It went from being a ‘dramedy’ to just comedy. [When asked] why do I want to make this movie, I said, ‘to make people smile’, and apparently my face lit up so we decided to follow that direct path. My film was inspired by my friend Farzana, who I credit in the end of the short. She wants to go into human rights, but her close ones fear that if she goes into such work, she will get hurt. This is really an experience I’m grateful for not only because I want to go into film, but because it really exposed me to a broader view of the world. There are a lot of views and perceptions I don’t get to understand as often, but through the diverse setting and the storytelling outlets provided, I feel a bit smarter and a bit kinder as well.”

Brothers Abdullah and Mohammed interviewed their grandfather for a documentary.

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Abdullah and Mohammed at the Ta’leef Collective in Fremont, CA. Photo by Momo Chang.

Abdullah and Mohammed worked together on a documentary short focused on the internal struggles of learning martial arts. For their film, they interviewed their grandfather, a Vietnam war veteran, to document his wisdom on overcoming adversity and understanding one’s inner strength.

Dalia Khan created a personal narrative based on her own experiences as a Muslimah and a musician.

Dalia participates in the Muslim Youth Voices filmmaking workshop in Fremont, CA. Photo by Hardeep Jandu.

Dalia, an undergraduate at UC Santa Barbara, participates in the Muslim Youth Voices filmmaking workshop in Fremont, CA. Photo by Hardeep Jandu.

Her film shows the pressure of balancing life as a daughter, student, and an artist. Dalia explained her personal reflection behind her storytelling: “I was thinking to myself, is it possible to do both? I wanted to make a narrative about things I’ve actually been through.”

-Hardeep Jandu

Main image: Workshop participants and teachers for Muslim Youth Voices Project come together for a group photo in NY in August 2014. Photo by Ridwan Adhami.

To learn more about MYVP and upcoming workshops, please email youthvoices@caamedia.org. To follow Muslim Youth Voice Project on Facebook, “like” our page here! The Muslim Youth Voices Project is made possible by a grant from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art’s Building Bridges Program.