Fondant or buttercream? How many flowers? Will the venue fit everyone? And of course, the age old question-which dress?
This is just a short list of dilemmas that circle the minds of brides as they plan for that magical day they have been dreaming of. The meticulous planning and mental breakdowns have been recorded on television and movies countless times for the entertainment purposes of the general audience. But this time, filmmaker Zara Afzal seeks to portray a very different dilemma of secret meetings and incredible heartache in her newest documentary, Hidden Heart.
It is not an easy task to bring home a significant other to receive the approval or disapproval of family members. For Zaynab (name has been changed in the documentary) and many other women in the Muslim community, it would be preferable to be “taken by the police.” Director of the film, Afzal explains in her interview with Women News Network, “by not respecting the taboo against interfaith and inter-cultural relationships, parents from a certain social standing may feel they have failed in their duty to raise their children within the faith and community. No child wants to be responsible for their parents’ failures, or be the failure.” Hence, living dual lives is a common occurrence as these women take careful measures to hide their relationships and lifestyles from their families–a large part due to their own sense of filial duty.
In many conservative Muslim communities, it is frowned upon for a woman to marry a non-Muslim man, also known as “marrying out.” Inspired by her personal experiences, Afzal spent three years researching interfaith/intercultural relationships within the Muslim community. Using her ten year history of filmmaking, she chronicles Zaynab, a second generation Muslim woman living in Britain, and others like her in their struggles of “marrying out”, highlighting the ostracism, shame, and pain they must endure because of the love they have for a person of a different, or “wrong” religion. “In making this film, the women I spoke with in inter-cultural and inter-faith relationships felt intense shame and guilt, and were quite fearful of being ostracized by their families or put in a position where they had to choose between their lover or their parents and siblings.”
The response has been mixed to say the least, especially within the Muslim community. Some hold that the documentary paints Islam in a negative light–contributing to the media portrayal of honor killings, forced marriages, and violence. Fanning to flame the stereotypic views that it claims to try to eliminate. Yet some organizations such as the Christian Muslim Forum and British Muslims for a Secular Democracy, have expressed their support for the film. However, at the end of the day, all Afzal wants to do is to spark an open dialogue and understanding of the trials these women face as well as to connect their experiences to the audience on a human level using love as the common denominator. “I believe the only way we can tackle issues of religious discrimination is by working on ourselves. When we can respect one another for who we are regardless of faith, race, gender and sexual orientation, the battle can be won.”