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They Call Me Muslim: Two Women, Two Choices About Wearing the Hijab

Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by Diana Ferrero
Directed by Diana Ferrero
DVD, color, 27 min.
Jr. High - Adult
Human Rights, Religious Studies, European Studies, Women's Studies

Reviewed by Caron Knauer, La Guardia Community College, Long Island City, New York

Date Entered: 6/27/2007

They Call Me Muslim is a short and dexterously made documentary that focuses on interviews with two young Muslim women: Samah, an eighteen-year-old Syrian girl living in Paris with her family, and K., a 20-something college graduate in Tehran. Samah decided to wear a head scarf when she was fourteen, not because she was pressured by her Muslim family or duty to her religion, but because it makes her feel more confident, and more protected from men’s gazes. Samah, who wants to become a pharmacologist, says that Muslim men complain that they’ve been fighting for women to have the same freedoms men have, to not have to cover up. But, she says, “Who ever said that freedom means wearing nothing on your head?”

Night scenes of the City of Lights are the background as foregrounded text informs us that in March 2004, a new law decrees “conspicuous religious symbols, like Islamic headscarves, are banned from public schools.” Ferraro cuts to a demonstration and a sign that says the hijab is a symbol of religious freedom. The new law, we learn, updates the concept of “laicite,” the separation of church and state. As a consequence, forty-seven veiled girls are expelled from school, but there are no expulsions related to crosses and skullcaps.

A journalist and former ambassador to the Middle East, Eric Rouleau, says that there’s a kind of Islamaphobia in France, a place where, he believes, multiculturalism doesn’t exist. Patrick Weil, a political scientist and member of the Headscarf Law Commission, discusses dissension among the ranks of Muslims, how some girls who do not wear headscarves are judged by other girls as being “bad Muslims.”

The series of still photographs, which provides the bridge to the second part of the film, are subversively funny and contrapuntal. First, we see an old photograph of two women with headscarves, but the next several images pejoratively depict a headscarf as representing domestic servitude, for example, a headscarf over a broom standing in for a woman’s face; and an iron in a headscarf in place of a woman’s face. But then there’s a photo of a covered girl militantly holding a boom box above her head, and another one posing on a bicycle with a helmet over her scarf.

The camera fixates on K., in the kitchen of her beautiful apartment in Tehran. There are alluring shots of the city, its beautiful architecture, a mosque, streets, and traffic. K. is a modern young mother who smokes, a freedom, it seems, of which she is proud. She says, “They call me Muslim because my parents are Muslim,” but she implies that they are secular. Again, Ferraro richly contextualizes the film by providing text conveying a short history of Iran, a theocracy, and the changing laws regarding the wearing of headscarves. In 1991, the punishment of “rejecting the principle of wearing of a hajib” was death.

K. wears a headscarf “her way,” loosely, and says, “They are not always watching you.” She knows a young mother who didn’t leave her house for three years for fear of being caught, but people have private parties and dance the night way with uncovered and liberated heads. She says that there is a “revolution for women” now, that 65% of university students are women. Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel prize-winning human rights activist, who doesn’t wear her headscarf when she’s outside of Iran, provocatively asks, “Is there any law telling men to shave or to grow their beards?”

We never see the interviewer, which is reminiscent of the great feminist documentarian Kim Longinotto’s work. The soundtrack includes evocatively pulsating Middle Eastern music, and it imbues flavor and enhances the film’s ambience. This video is an important addition to the discourse of religious discrimination and feminist issues, and should be in all school libraries.


  • Winner of Premio Avanti, Bellaria Film Festival