Claim to fame: Pakistani-born Mara Ahmed wrote, directed, edited and financed a 54-minute documentary, The Muslims I Know.
Other iterations: Pittsford artist, homemaker, former economics analyst, wife to physician Aitezaz from an arranged marriage, mother of Gibran (age 13) and daughter Nermeen (8).
How Sept. 11 coverage inspired the movie: We were watching TV, and I turned to Aitezaz and asked, “Where are Muslims like us?”…There’s huge diversity in the Muslim community. I wanted to make a film as dialogue, showcasing the lives of Pakistani-American immigrants, having them answer questions non-Muslim Americans have asked.
Immediate success: Three hundred people attended the Dryden Theatre premiere.
On Islam: I tell my kids that Islam is a religion of peace, that moderation in all things is what Islam teaches – the opposite of extremism, in fact. I also tell them that charity is a basic tenet of Islam. Without it, we cannot be good Muslims or good human beings. Honesty, justice, equality all are emphasized by Islam.
On Sept. 11: It was so scary, so surreal. Aitezaz was working in a hospital in Brooklyn Heights. We were living right across the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey, and he couldn’t get back when the bridges and tunnels were sealed. He finally rented a car and drove up through upstate New York and then back down. He got home at 3 a.m.
On Sept. 11 hitting home: My son was called a terrorist when he was in the seventh grade. He was peeling off the plastic from a bottle of Snapple and stuffing it inside. [A classmate] asked him, ‘Are you making a bomb? Stop making a bomb. You should go to Saudi Arabia!’
On being a teenager in Pakistan: I was very critical of the Pakistani government. I saw how [military leaders] used Islam to control the people.
First career: Marketing pharmaceuticals for ICI, Imperial Chemical Industries, originally the British East India Co.
On what led to her career change: Art classes at Nazareth. A teacher encouraged me to enter my collages in a student exhibit, and I won first prize. It was a total reaffirmation that [art] was what I was meant to do.
On making choices: I am known to make extremely bold decisions – doing an MBA instead of going to medical school (both my sisters are doctors), deciding to move to Karachi and live on my own, marrying someone I had only known for a few hours, moving to the U.S. after marriage, quitting a great job with lots of potential in finance to go back to school and study art, deciding to make a movie.
Next project: I would like to preserve the personal stories of people who migrated across the border – in both directions – during the partitioning of India in 1947. I want the film to emphasize how Muslims and Hindus were once neighbors, friends and colleagues and lived in peace for many centuries before they became divided.
On what we all can do: Be aware of racial/religious profiling. It can start by stopping people with a certain name at airports, but as we all know from history, profiling is a slippery slope. Everyone’s rights should be equally protected under the law. Go beyond the propaganda and get to know Muslims first-hand.