Among The Believers : A must-watch story of extremism and its human casualties in Pakistan

“Deewaar se chhalaang lagayi aur aa gayi bhaag ke.” -Zarina

Some 12 minutes into the film Among the Believers, Zarina, a 12 year old Pakistani girl, tells us about how she escaped a radical Madrasa, by jumping off its wall, and leaving her burqa behind, where they were only taught Quran, beaten if they wanted to go out, and had to always cover their face in front of men. The glee, triumph, defiance, hope and excitement in her eyes and voice is there to see. She narrates this while she was studying in a proper school which teaches Math, English, Social Sciences, Urdu and Crafts, and which was started by a man named Tariq, a man who donated his own land to start this school, even though he could never go to a school himself. What eventually happens to Zarina’s dreams of living a fulfilling life following the December 2014 attack in Peshawar which took away lives of over 100 children, is why Among the Believers makes one introspect hard and realise what happens when we let ourselves be driven by hate and vengeance.

We also meet another 12 year old, Talha, whose father who is just moderately religious himself but since he couldn’t afford to get his son a proper education, leaves him at another Red Mosque Madrasa, so that Talha can be fed and get some education. However how the teachings in the Madrasa affects Talha is not what his father had signed up for, as Talha is completely brainwashed into the cause of religious extremism. When you see a 12 year old passionately speaking a language of extremism, it doesn’t make you loathe him, but feel a sense of extreme concern even for what it is doing to him, that he isn’t even dreaming of leading a happy life, in promise of an afterlife.

Talha

While watching the film it never occurred that the film has been made by an Indian Hindu woman, Hemal Trivedi, who had lost a closed one in Mumbai Terror Attacks which was led by Pakistani Islamist extremists, and co-directed by a Pakistani Shia, Mohammed Ali Naqvi, who as a Shia in Pakistan belongs to a community who are among the most vulnerable to the kind of extremism which the country faces. What they are telling is a powerfully affecting narrative by itself, that doesn’t leave any scope and need for interpretation and influence of biases. The narrative is so self-assured that it also lets the man at the centre of extremism, Red Mosque cleric Abdul Aziz, whose obsession with his beliefs is such that it doesn’t even let him regret losing his only son for those beliefs, express what all he has to, without the need to consciously cast him only in a single dimension.

The film does provide historical and global context of these happenings in Pakistan, but it’s the real individuals it tells us the story of, that makes one connect to it deeply, and feel empathy for. The filmmakers being a Hindu and a Shia, had to conceal their identities and put themselves at great risk to get to the roots of extremism, for which they do not leave any stone unturned. It makes you realise that the passion and conviction for telling an important story with extreme integrity, can also give one courage to do so. I do hope that this film reaches out to lot many people, specially in Pakistan (where it is currently banned) but also in India because it’s not really just a story about Pakistan and Islamic extremism, it is a story about how victimhood driven righteousness can blind us and lead to even our own destruction.

The film is available on Netflix. For public screenings and other updates do follow its Facebook page.