Conversation with the President (a poem for Big Tent Poetry)
Pluralism, prayer, and Women of the Wall

Learning about A Land Called Paradise

I've always come to tears more easily than I think most people do, and since I became a mother, that's even more true. I don't know if it's a lingering effect of last year's postpartum depression (though the tears now aren't always sad ones), or if it's because my whole emotional and spiritual self is more open now to both joy and pain. Who knows: it's just something in who I am. I try to consider it a feature rather than a bug, a gift rather than something to hide away.

The thing that made me cry this morning is a video for a country song. Well, actually: it's more like a vid than a video per se; it's a short film set to music, and the lyrics of the song act to highlight and accentuate the visuals (as well as the other way around.) Here it is:

A Land Called Paradise, a 3-minute short film by Lena Khan, set to Kareem Salama's song of the same name.

The song is by Kareem Salama, an Egyptian-American country singer. (If you can't see the embed, you can go directly to it here on YouTube -- and oh, please do; it's really something!) I found it via Emily Hauser's post on Muslim American Heroes.

The technique of featuring people holding up signs originates (I think) in the "film clip" released with Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues; plenty of other bands have used it since (here's a partial list.) But none of those instances have moved me the way this one did.

The short film was made by Lena Khan, who was 23 at the time when it was made. This won the grand prize in the One Nation, Many Voices short film contest a few years ago. As this USA Today story explains:

Muslim Americans say they often feel like strangers in their own country, and the struggle to overcome stereotypes became more complicated after 9/11.

So when given the chance to tell their stories, more than 100 young Muslim American filmmakers poured their creative energies into producing four- to five-minute films about Islam and its followers for an online competition...

Frustrated with the myths and stereotypes surrounding Muslims in the media, Khan wanted to help viewers relate to Muslims in America. "The idea was, 'I really wish everyone knew this about Muslims,' " says Khan, a USC film school graduate. So she collected more than 2,000 comments from Muslim Americans, many of which she put into a music video set to Kareem Salama's song A Land Called Paradise.

And here's another article about Khan, slightly more recent: Muslim Filmmaker Looks at Social Issues with Humor, Warmth. The contest was in 2007; this film is a few years old, but holy wow, it still speaks today. All of the winning films can be seen at, and here's a link to a short news piece about / interview with winner Lena Khan.

One of the things I found most valuable about the Retreat for Emerging Jewish and Muslim Religious Leaders which I attended late in the summer when I was pregnant with Drew was the experience of connecting with the Muslims who were part of the group and beginning to collectively shatter the stereotypes that we held about them and that they held about us. Khan's video for "A Land Called Paradise" goes a long way toward shattering some of the stereotypes I think many Americans hold about the Muslims in our communities. Plus, it's a beautiful short film, and it brought tears to my eyes. Thanks, Lena.