by: Amanda Quraishi on August 7th, 2011
In 1982, a seemingly ordinary 17-year-old girl challenged both the violent secular Syrian government and the conservative Muslim elements in her society and founded a Qur’an school for girls in Damascus. Twenty-five years later, filmmakers Julia Meltzer and Laura Nix have traveled to Syria to make a documentary about Houda al-Habash and her school. “The Light in Her Eyes” is an unprecedented look into the rarely seen, independently defined world of Middle Eastern women.
Muslim women, particularly those from the Middle East, are rarely seen in western media as competent, educated and capable–yet Houda al-Habash is all this and more. As Laura Nix explained, “Huda is such a woman who is a very interesting mixture of conservative values and progressive values. Not only had I not seen images like mosques of Huda’s, but I think that as a woman leader she’s a really interesting character because she does not typify a lot of western versions of feminism.”
Julia Meltzer agreed, adding that her reason for making the film was to tell a story that is rarely told in the U.S. “I had never seen any images of women studying Qur’an in a mosque. It struck me that Huda’s school was really organized. She definitely had a mission and agenda, and things function in her space in a way that they don’t usually function in the outside world of Syria.” Laura Nix agrees, “Our media tends to focus on images which concentrate on violence and extremism and poverty in the muslim world and not people like Huda who represent the moderate majority.”
Huda is not teaching anything extreme but she still has to contend with the secular Assad regime. (Filming was completed shortly before the most recent uprising). Many times during the past decades she would arrive at her school and find it shut down by order of the regime. She’s also had to stand up to ultra-conservative voices within the religious community who feel threatened by women in leadership roles. But she teaches that women should prioritize their role as women and mothers first. She doesn’t challenge what women’s core responsibilities are and protects herself from most criticism from the male religious establishment.
The most compelling aspect of Huda’s story, however, may be the unique environment of social networking and community that her students develop during the course of their education. These women are creating a foundation of support that will continue to weave itself like a fabric throughout Syrian society and give women their own space for personal, professional and spiritual development.
Watch the Official Trailer for The Light in Her Eyes on You Tube
Visit the Official The Light in Her Eyes Website
Support the film on Kickstarter