Most of us who have grown up in secular, Western society, says filmmaker Laura Nix, “have really only seen two narratives about Muslim women.” There are the women who are being oppressed by Islam, the honor killings for instance, or the women who are rejecting their religion.
But a half dozen years ago, her friend and fellow filmmaker Julia Meltzer was living in Damascus, Syria’s ancient capital city, on a Fulbright fellowship, and had a friend who was studying the Koran at a local mosque. Her teacher was a wife and mother of three named Houda al-Habash, who was teaching young girls the Koran during the summer months in a mosque. Meltzer, says Nix, “was struck by what a special place it was.”
“What we found were women engaged in a complex debate about women’s roles in society,” said Nix. “By ages 10 or 12 the girls are memorizing the entire Koran, but they’re also being taught that they should pursue their secular education. They’re going to regular school throughout the year, studying all the subjects. But in the summer they’re voluntarily going to study Koran, in the way that people here might go to Bible camp or Hebrew school.”