POV Library Board member Sarah Burris tells us how a screening of The Light in Her Eyes inspired a community partnership.
This past December, The Light in Her Eyes by Julia Meltzer and Laura Nix screened at the Bay County Public Library (Panama City, FL). The documentary features a Quran school for girls founded by Houda al-Habash in Damascus, Syria. Filmed right before the conflict in Syria erupted, The Light in Her Eyes offers an extraordinary portrait of a leader who challenges the women of her community to live according to Islam without giving up their dreams. Post-film dialogue sparked a partnership with the Bay County Islamic Society to organize an event at the library in order to provide an inviting space for the public to ask questions, learn about the local Muslim community, and clear up misconceptions about Islam. The “Understanding Your Muslim Neighbor” open house included henna, a “Try on a Hijab” station, art, informative posters, engaging discussion and more. A satellite event took place at local community art organization, Floriopolis, focused on henna designs.
I discussed the film and event with Hiba Rahim (Community Organizer for the Bay County Islamic Society):
SB: What was most memorable to you after watching The Light in Her Eyes?
HR: I loved the depiction of resolute, Syrian women dedicated to teaching positive, Islamic ideals. Many people studying Middle Eastern cultures are misinformed about Islam by a society largely dominated by cultural practices. The teachers highlighted in The Light in Her Eyes portrayed Islam in its raw form, with its emphasis on equal opportunity and on education regardless of gender. They challenged the girls’ thinking and encouraged them toward a beautiful crossroad of spiritual and societal gain.
SB: How did the post-film discussion spark the idea to extend community dialogue in the form of an open house?
HR: I believe it was the powerful impact of the dialogue after the movie that led you to approach me about continuing the momentum. We met and determined that the most effective way to reach the community was to organize an event at the library where everyone is welcome and comfortable. There, people could address any questions or concerns, or simply share stories and connect on levels that otherwise may not be possible.
SB: How did the event go as a whole? Did any conversations stand out to you?
HR: The open house at the library was a huge success. I’d estimate that about 200 people stopped by, the majority of whom expressed extreme gratitude for the organization of such an event and verbalized the dire need for it. What struck me more than the questions and the general education that flowed between hosts and guests were the conversations that were not about clarifying misconceptions. They were neither inquiries about Islam nor questions about culture. Rather, they were the stories people reciprocated…. of kids, of work, of experiences, of life. The narratives that focused on commonalities and had strangers laughing together and connecting on the most deep-rooted grounds of humanity. It reinforced the idea that people can and will love one another, if only they’re given a chance.