On Monday evening, September 19, at the Council’s Fall Conference for Community Foundations, a special screening is planned of a documentary film, “Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think.” The film is based on a Gallup poll of Muslim women and men in more than 30 countries across the globe. They were asked their opinions on a wide range of issues, including human rights, the status of women, democracy, peace, war, prejudice, and how they view the United States and Western culture in general. The data, organized by country and gender, offers fascinating insights.
The El-Hibri Charitable Foundation was created in the months before 9/11 with a mission to build a better world through interfaith dialogue and promote the universally shared values of Islam: peace, charity, and civic engagement. In the wake of 9/11 media attention to Islam grew dramatically. Unfortunately, so did misinformation and biased reporting. As a result, we began to think about ways that the foundation might counter these troubling developments and the irrational fear of Islam that ignorance was spreading.
Fortunately, the foundation also was developing a strong relationship with a nonprofit called Unity Productions Foundation (UPF), whose educational films and dialogues focus on creating greater understanding about Muslims and Islam. The foundation provided funding for several UPF films, including “Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet, Prince Among Slaves” and “Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain.” UPF’s films have won widespread praise and many have been shown on PBS.
So when UPF embarked on a media project that engaged Gallup to survey the attitudes of ordinary Muslims around the world and bring this information to a wide public audience through a high-quality documentary film, the El-Hibri Charitable Foundation provided grant funding to ensure that the project would be successfully completed. We did so even though the film was a departure from those we had previously supported through UPF. “Inside Islam” does not tell the story of a particular individual or portray a historical period. What it does do, in a compelling and eye-opening way, is reveal what Muslims themselves around the world think about gender, democracy, terrorism, and other issues. The film is about facts-not fear-and therefore makes a significant contribution to education about Islam.
The screening of “Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Think” on Monday evening will be followed by a panel discussion that will bring together an executive producer of the film, a community foundation practitioner, an imam, and me-a funder-to explore the role that this documentary is playing in deepening understanding and shaping public opinion on a critical topic. If you have not signed up for this free event, I hope you will do so. I look forward to seeing you there.
Rob Buchanan is president of the El-Hibri Charitable Foundation in Washington, D.C.