What’s the most effective way to spread the message of Islam? Lectures? They’ll probably be ignored. Pamphlets? They’re usually tossed away. Movies? Now those are watched. Constantly.
No one understands this better than Muhammad Bayazid, an award-winning Syrian filmmaker who studied filmmaking in London Film School and screenwriting in BBC. His incredible journey to cinematography all began when he was just 9 years old.
“I grew up in a religious family,” he shares. “I was taught early that as Muslims one of our greatest achievements in life is spreading Islam. I used to go to the mosque every week to learn more about my religion, and I always used to ask my mom, ‘Do other people have weekly lessons (Dars) such as I have?’ I never got a satisfying answer.
“But one day I decided to go into a film theater by myself. As a 9-year-old kid I barely reached the window and the lady at the ticket box asked me where I wanted to sit. Knowing nothing about film theaters I picked the first line. The lady asked me if I was sure about this and I said, ‘Of course!’
“When the film started I quickly realized that I was sitting in the worst seat ever. So instead of watching the film I decided to watch the people who were watching the film! What I saw then was unforgettable, hundreds of glowing eyes locked at the big screen. Complete silence and concentration, this is when I found out that this is the weekly lesson that everyone goes to. And I knew then, that if you want to be heard around the globe, you need to make a film.”
Now 32-years-old, Muhammad has achieved an impressive deal at a young age. He is known for directing outstanding TV commercials and programs, public service announcements, documentaries and more. He’s done work for the industry’s best, including singer Maher Zain and Egyptian public figure Amr Khaled. On April 4, 2011, Muhammad even received an honor award for the best film in the world for his creative short film in a film festival in New York.
Lately, he has been known for directing Inspiration, a short, high quality, 12-episode online series starring Imam Omar Suleiman and activist Mohammed Zeyara that discusses important Islamic topics in a relevant manner.
What inspired the creation of this series? “When many Muslim Youth listen to the seera (biography) of our beloved prophet (saw) they say ‘Hey, he is a nice guy and everything, but his life is completely irrelevant. Today we have totally different challenges’,” Muhammad explains.
“So we created this series to show everyone that we are facing very similar challenges to what the prophet (saw) has faced, only appearances have changed.”
Episodes are only a few minutes long and generally go like this: Omar narrates the episode while Mohammed acts out the scenes, showing relevant struggles the youth face today, such as racism, terrorism, theft, and injustice. He demonstrates how the Prophet Muhammad has provided timeless solutions to the struggles.
“Zeyara represents each one of us, his challenges are ours,” Muhammad says, “and he always finds inspiration and answers in the life of the prophet (saw).”
Inspiration became an enormous hit, much to the surprise of Muhammad.
“I only expected a local response, national at the best,” he states. “But having global reach was beyond our expectations… and wishes!
Inspiration has been aired in more than 120 countries around the world, it has been released on YouTube in 6 different languages so far. It has also been published on Facebook and Vimeo, since YouTube is blocked in some countries. It is very hard to sum up the views in all these different platforms into one precise number, but we think that the series had more than 10 million views overall.”
Massive outreach is not the only thing that Muhammad’s Inspiration series has achieved. It’s also led to at least 21 conversions to Islam.
“We believe there are many more people who converted to Islam but they haven’t contacted us. Or, maybe Inspiration played a role in breaking their stereotype of Islam. What we are doing is planting a seed and you never know what happens later.”
Muhammad says the most rewarding experience of creating the series was watching a video of a woman named Sunny who embraced Islam after watching the fifth episode of Inspiration. As a filmmaker, “the huge, positive impact on people around the world” inspires Muhammad to deliver more.
Now, due to the success of the first season of Inspiration, season two is about to be aired. “Many fans wrote us letters asking for a second season. And our subject, the Prophet (saw), has endless beautiful stories to talk about,” Muhammad explains. Bayyinah will be releasing the dates for the first episode of Inspiration season two soon.
What makes this season different? “In the first season we had many long contemplation scenes where Zeyara is reading and walking with almost no dramatic elements,” Muhammad states. “In season two we don’t have this at all, it is all drama packed action with more daring subjects … we think it will be more entertaining than ever, and there are many unexpected events, I wish I could say more!”
All in all, there’s no doubt that media and film are exceptionally powerful platforms where millions can be reached and many minds can be molded. It just might be the best way to spread the peaceful message of Islam in today’s technologically crazed world. While few Muslims have harnessed the power of these outlets for this purpose, Muhammad is paving the way for others to do so one high production video at a time.