‘The Balance’ depicts rapid rise of billion-dollar Islamic entertainment industry

‘The Balance’ depicts rapid rise of billion-dollar Islamic entertainment industry
Filmmaker Abrar Hussain and film director Mo Ali behind the scenes of filming “The Balance”. (Supplied)
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Updated 24 August 2022

‘The Balance’ depicts rapid rise of billion-dollar Islamic entertainment industry

‘The Balance’ depicts rapid rise of billion-dollar Islamic entertainment industry
  • Viewers transcend from behind the screen to “behind the scenes”, as the story told through the eyes of some of the most prominent Muslim figures

LONDON: Filmmaker Abrar Hussain, best known for producing “One Day in the Haram” and “One Night in Al Aqsa,” is breaking barriers with his latest film.

“The Balance” delves into the untold story behind the rise and success of the billion-dollar Islamic entertainment industry.

The fascinating film tracks the historical evolution of Islamic entertainment, tracing its influences throughout society.

From politics to pop culture, from comedy to music, the film assesses the impact of these developments on Islam.

Hussain and intellectual leader Imam Zaid Shakur behind the scenes of filming “The Balance”. (Supplied)

The story is told through the eyes of some of the most prominent Muslim figures, including Outlandish, Imam Omar Sulaiman, Brother Ali and Mariah Idrissi.

Viewers transcend from behind the screen and experience the industry “behind the scenes” as the film’s contributors get personal with the ups and downs of entertainment.

The film highlights the key historical moments in the development of this scene, placing Ahmed Deedat, Mohammad Ali, and 1976 film “The Message” center stage.

Hussain told Arab News that this selection was influenced in part by extensive research, but more importantly by his personal experiences.

“I distinctly remember my parents having Ahmed Deedat on VHS, I think I was around 5 at the time, and the sense of pride he instilled in that generation."

Hussain recalled how watching “The Message” as a child inspired him to become a filmmaker after seeing how Islam could be represented in that format.

“The way we grew up, there were so few influences, so all the influences were the same. So I thought, if this was my lived experience then there would be many Muslims around the West who felt the same”

The film captures this collective consciousness beautifully as the contributors share similar childhood anecdotes, demonstrating how closely connected the global Muslim community is.

Nasheed artist Zain Bhika performing at a huge Islamic event in Sierra Leone in March 2020. (Supplied)

Using a variety of archival footage to track the progression of time, the film captures the parallelisms of past and present, from VHS to mobile screens, from iconic boxer Mohammad Ali to Egyptian footballer Mohammad Salah.

The most striking parallelism at the heart of the film is that of storytelling in the Qur’an and storytelling in entertainment. The segment on the film industry best reflected this, with one contributor describing “the use of (a) visual aid to teach as sunnah.”

Although the film largely focuses on the Islamic entertainment industry in the West, its discussion of contemporary issues is far from limited.

While captivating art as a teaching mechanism for the modern mind, the film emphasizes the importance of Islamic entertainment as a vehicle for cultural self-expression and combating the virulent anti-Islam narrative that spread following 9/11.

Comedy has proven to be most successful in allowing entertainers to tackle social issues in a more palatable way.

The contributors certainly appreciate the significance of their role, which raises the ethical question: do Muslim entertainers have a responsibility to use their platform for the good of their community?

“In my personal view, I do think we have this innate responsibility. We want to entertain but we also want to educate,” Hussain told Arab News.

The filmmaker added: “It’s nice to people at the top of their field and still speaking about Islamic issues,” citing Bella Hadid as a prime example.

“I hope the people who have that power, have the integrity to speak up against injustice and not be afraid of the consequences,” he noted.

Equally, the film looks inward and examines how conflicting views on Islamic issues have forged significant divisions between traditional, moderate and liberal Muslims.

The dialogue is relatable and raw, with one contributor saying “the traditional Muslim community didn’t invite me or my heroes.”

While collectively fighting external hostility, Muslims are reminded that tolerance, forgiveness and a sense of unity are required to consolidate internally.

In an increasingly digital and globalized world, Islamic entertainers are breaking through to the mainstream, with comedians Mo Amer and Ramy Yousef’s upcoming Netflix series being the most recent confirmation of this.

Although “The Balance” advocates for the expansion of Islam’s commercialization, racking up that “Muslim money”, it is equally conscious of the trappings of success, fame and fortune that entertainers will face along away.

How can Muslim entertainers crossover into the mainstream without compromising their Islamic ethos?

How do they push the boundaries within their own set of circumstances and parameters?

Shifting between the collective and the personal, this film addresses critical questions for Muslims and non-Muslims of all ages, demonstrating how they can apply this balance in their own lives.

Audience members at the premiere of “The Balance”. (Supplied)

“The Balance” has been in theaters in the UK since Aug. 1.

“I thought it was amazing, I thought it was groundbreaking, I loved the diversity in the film with different Muslims from different countries which is what Islam is about,” one viewer shared on Tiktok.

“People always think Muslims are boring, but they don’t know exactly how exciting we are and how much we have to give. This is just the start of it, they haven’t seen nothing yet” he added.

“Whether you are Muslim, non-Muslim, somebody who is not practicing their deen, this film is for everybody,” another viewer said.

Hussain is the creative director of Red Face Films, a film production company specializing in culturally diverse and faith-based entertainment.

As for what’s next, Hussain told Arab News that they were scaling up the company to get more people involved and get more content out there.

His latest documentary “Madina,” is set to be released in September, completing his trilogy of films about Islam’s holiest sites.