You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Mon, Apr 5, 2010 : 6:12 a.m.

"They call me Muslim" documentary film at U of M's Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies Monday

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

In 2004, the French government instituted a ban on all obvious religious symbols and apparel in public schools, including Muslim headscarves, Sikh turbans, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses. However, most of the controversy and impact of the law focused on the banning of Muslim headscarves or hijab. I often wondered how French teenagers felt about not being allowed to wear hijab to school, if they really felt more free as the government asserted, or less free as their parents insisted. At issue is more than dress, but also cultural, religious and personal identity and expression.

The University of Michigan Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies (CMENAS) will be presenting the documentary film, They Call Me Muslim, that answers that question and more, on Monday, April 5 from noon to 12:40 p.m. at the International Institute or School of Social Work Building, Room 1636, 1080 South University, Ann Arbor. From a CMENAS email:

In popular Western imagination, a Muslim woman in a veil - or hijab - is a symbol of Islamic oppression. But what does it mean for women’s freedom when a democratic country forbids the wearing of the veil? In this provocative documentary, filmmaker Diana Ferrero portrays the struggle of two women - one in France and one in Iran - to express themselves freely.

In 2004, the French government instituted an "anti-veil law," forbidding Muslim girls from wearing the hijab to school. Samah, a teenager in Paris who, at 14 decided to wear the veil, explains how the law attacks her sense of identity - and does not make her feel liberated. “Who says that freedom is not wearing anything on your head?” she asks. Half a world away in Tehran, “K,” forced to wear the hijab by the Islamic regime, defiantly wears it her own way - and her translucent scarf loosely draped over her hair puts her at risk of arrest. When Ferrero films her at home, K, comfortable in a tank top and shorts, says, “They call me Muslim... But do you see me as a Muslim? What do you have in your mind for a Muslim person?” Beautifully shot and finely crafted, "They Call Me Muslim" highlights how women still must struggle for the right to control their own bodies - not only under theocratic regimes, but also in secular, democratic countries where increasing discrimination against Muslims and sexism intersect.

Co-sponsored by the Islamic Studies Program at the University of Michigan.

Contact Information:

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is editor of Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for, and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her Web site at, her blog at, and she can be reached at


Pam Stout

Tue, Apr 6, 2010 : 10:30 a.m.

Sounds fascinating. I'll have to look for this film.