Students who gathered in Clemens Hall Wednesday evening were offered a rare look into an often misunderstood person in the community: the American Muslim. The UB Intercultural and Diversity Center, along with the Asian Studies Program, introduced independent filmmaker Mara Ahmed and her documentary The Muslims I Know.

Much of the film is devoted to having Muslims, mostly those living in the Rochester area, share their values and beliefs on America and the Islamic extremists that they say so badly misrepresent them. Ahmed, a former financial analyst, also interviewed non-Muslims who voiced their questions and concerns about the Muslim community. “It was important to have a dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims,” Ahmed said.

According to Ahmed, who financed much of the film, the main purpose of the project was to change the unfair perception Muslims, especially those living in America. She believes much of that perception is due to slanted reporting by the media aiming to garner ratings through fear. “Sometimes I think after the death of communism…we needed this kind of huge monster,” Ahmed said. “We were very confused for a while because for a while there was no monster, and now I feel that it is Islam.”

The beginning of the film examines many of the images Ahmed sees as examples of the media depicting Muslims as one homogenous group of men with rifles parading through the streets, a woman wearing a burqa concealed head to toe except for her eyes, and Osama bin Laden. Many American Muslims who speak in the film are concerned by these images, feeling that the media lumped together all Muslims as terrorists or supporters of terrorism. Ahmed said she was troubled that the media rarely mentioned that most Muslim organizations released statements denouncing the attacks on Sept. 11.

According to Ahmed, the film tries to combat this idea by including Muslims engaging in everyday activities that are often not included in the media. Scenes of a family sitting at a dinner table, a girl on a swingset at a playground, and boys playing football embraced classic slices of Americana to show the audience that these people could be their neighbors, the filmmaker said. Muslims in the film expressed concern that Americans misunderstood the wearing of burqas and other traditional Islamic garb by Muslim women as a notion that the women are repressed. Ahmed interviewed Muslim women who explained that Muslim women differ in what they wear as their own personal interpretation of a provision in the Quran to dress moderately.

The film was followed by a round of applause and a lengthy discussion. “I saw some aspects of Muslim life I wasn’t used to,” said Amanda Kaczmarek, a junior linguistics major. “I definitely agree there should be more dialogue.” Some of those in the audience were critical of parts of the film. “There are Muslims who disagree with U.S. foreign policy who are very religious, but are also not extremists,” said Sam Fleming, a sophomore Asian studies major. “I think [the film] didn’t go into that issue.” Fleming was alluding to the fact that most Muslims interviewed were of high socioeconomic status, spoke fluent English, and wholeheartedly embraced American values.

Ahmed acknowledged that this was deliberate and admitted that not all types of Muslims were represented in the documentary. She sought to use the film as a starting point for Muslims and non-Muslims in America to connect, converse, and better understand each other. Ahmed believes a few things need to happen before the inaccurate portrayal of Muslims can be broken. She said that Americans need to do their own research and go out of their way to seek information from actual Muslims, not TV pundits.

Ahmed also called on Muslims to do their part. “Every Muslim in America should be an ambassador for their religion,” Ahmed said. A list of screenings for The Muslims I Know can be found at www.themuslimsiknow.com.