American Muslim filmmaker, Michael Wolfe, warns against discrimination in Islam
by Zurairi Ar
Amid a crackdown on Shiah Muslims in Malaysia, American film producer and poet Michael Wolfe warned yesterday against elevating one school of Islam over another.
Wolfe, who embraced Islam over 20 years ago while travelling between North and West Africa, claimed that it is only natural for a global religion such as Islam to have different expressions.
“Islam has been compared many times to clear water running over different coloured rocks in a stream,” Wolfe told The Malay Mail Online in an exclusive interview here.
“Sometimes it looks red, sometimes it looks green, sometimes it looks yellow. But it is all water. It is all Islam.”
But Wolfe conceded to subscribing to religious pluralism, a result of coming from a country where people of different colours, languages, and beliefs can find ways to co-exist with each other.
To that end, Wolfe founded Unity Productions Foundation (UPF) in 1999, a non-profit organisation which aims to foster interfaith and intercultural understanding.
UPF has since produced nine award-winning documentaries on Muslim themes, with its first full-length film called “Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet”, a two-hour television documentary.
Over the past year, Putrajaya, which sanctions the Sunni school of Islamic jurispudence, has stepped up its campaign against Shiah teachings and followers in Malaysia.
Shiah is Islam’s second-largest branch and practised by an estimated 15 per cent of the 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, but is regarded as deviant by Malaysia, which strictly endorses and follows the Sunni school.
Malaysia is also currently grappling with an intractable religious conflict between Muslims and Christians over “Allah”, the Arabic word for God.
Noting that religious pluralism is derided in Malaysia, Wolfe expressed his disapproval of claims that Islam must be put on a pedestal higher than other religions.
“I think we need to accept the differences that Allah has created on Earth and be patient,” reminded Wolfe.
“If we want to prove that one way is better than another, then show me the good. Show me how much more good you can do than the other groups, that is what the Quran asks.”
In a private screening yesterday, Wolfe showed his 2008 film “Talking Through Walls” about an interfaith coalition that fought on behalf of a planned mosque in Voorhees, New Jersey following resistance from locals.
His Malaysian tour continues until February 16, which will include dialogue sessions, talks and screenings of his films.
Wolfe, 68, started off as a publisher of poetry and prose, and his first book on Islam was “The Hadj”, a first-person travel account of the pilgrimage.
He first made his name among the American Muslim community through a 1997 televised account of hajj — the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca—- aired in “Nightline”, a late-night news programme in US channel ABC.
Besides his work with UPF, Wolfe is also a co-director of MOST Resources, which provides Hollywood creative community with resources and information on global Muslims.
Source: The Malay Mail Online