The camera pans in to a close-up of a man with a long beard and a serious look on his face that almost depicts anger. The azan, or Islamic call to prayer, is heard in the background. Seconds later the man erupts into laughter and begins to talk about how proud he is of being British and Muslim.
The man featured is British Boxer Imran Naeem, an avid community volunteer who carried the Olympic torch through Darlington and is considered a role model by many in Britain.
This scene is from the trailer of a short educational film calledCombinations which will be shown within the next two months at British schools, colleges and other institutions to challenge common misperceptions about Muslims as well as tackle the broader problems of xenophobia and discrimination.
The decision of Amjid Khazir, director of this film and founder of Media Cultured, to leave a successful career in PR and digital marketing to establish Media Cultured and dedicate all his time to community work was triggered in 2011 by the tragic death of his uncle, Mohammed Zabir. Zabir was a taxi driver, who died a month after he was viciously attacked by an 18-year old drunken passenger. While devastated by the loss of his uncle who was an outstanding member of his community and like a father to him, Khazir decided to dedicate his life to eradicating racism and intolerance.
Combinations, which was produced in conjunction with Thousand Yard Films, is just one of the initiatives of Media Cultured, a community interest company based in the UK that provides an excellent example of how education and film can be used to challenge stereotypes so ubiquitously held. Established with a bursary from Teesside University’s DigitalCity project, the company aims to “tackle issues of misrepresentation through the use of positive role models and clear messages about integration and identity within an increasingly multi-cultural society”.
For Khazir, it’s important to engage with non-Muslims through various platforms, namely education, film and social media, in order to dispel negative stereotypes and misconceptions such as those associated with men with long beards. He adopts a three-step approach when showing the film’s trailer to students – the “three P’s”. The students are asked how they initially perceived Imran, then how he was portrayed and what prejudices they may have held about him. They are then asked to determine whether what they saw was misinformation, misinterpretation or misrepresentation. This approach of self-exploration creates an effective and permanent change in one’s mind-set.
Media is an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to disseminating information and it is often selective and sometimes biased. Utilising an approach that encourages an educated and analytical evaluation of the information presented by the media encourages individuals to derive their own inferences rather than blindly accepting the information as truth or fact.
The approach works, Khazir argues, because it encourages students to think for themselves and reach their own conclusions rather than telling them what to think. Working with schools and colleges to integrate these teachings into lesson plans allows for the development of contemporary lessons based on teaching tolerance and integration rather than propagating any particular faith or ideology.
A proud and practicing Muslim, Khazir is adamant about tackling the broader issues of racism and discrimination rather than focusing solely on the negative stereotypes pertaining to Muslims. “I am proud of my faith and of my country,” Khazir stressed. “What we are trying to do through research and study is articulate the information from a Muslim viewpoint and engage with non-Muslim audiences. It really all comes down to communication,” he added.
Media Cultured has set an example in how educational media can be used to dispel stereotypes and misinformation. It is also an example of how Muslims can proactively and positively contribute to wider society to resolve the issues that impact the lives of all British citizens. After all, as Naeem states in the closing scene of the trailer, “being a Muslim is all about being part of the community”.