In July, I filmed a YouTube series called A Tale of Valour: Children of Muslim. It’s an educational drama aimed at children to teach them about early Islamic history during the month of Muharram.
I got involved with this project because my friend Zaynah, whom I met in sixth form, brought me on. The series was made for a non-profit community-focused organisation known as Fourteen (named in reference to the Fourteen Infallibles of the Imamiyyah branch of Shia Islam).
Fourteen is based in East London and hold various indoor and outdoor activities such as camps, youth clubs, sports days, online sessions, and even international trips for all cross-sections of the community. By combining Islamic education with fun events and sessions, Fourteen aims to encourage positive social and religious progress and create an environment where Muslim youth can freely discuss their beliefs.
A Tale of Valour follows the story of the children of Muslim ibn Aqeel, Husayn’s (a.s.) emissary to the people of Kufa ahead of the Battle of Karbala. Following the battle, his two sons, Muhammad and Ibrahim, became fugitives on the run from the tyrannical regime of Yazid I, the second Umayyad Caliph.
The character I play is a slave called Fulaih who has fallen in love with a woman called Sulafah, played by Zaynah. Of course, to get married, Fulaih must first buy his freedom and to do that, he needs money (I’m guessing Mahr was also pretty steep back then too). Conveniently, there’s a considerable bounty on the heads of Muhammad and Ibrahim. And so begins, Fulaih’s struggle with a moral dilemma that plays out over the course of the series and brings him into direct conflict with his master Haarith.
As far as I know, I was the only non-Shia person working on the project. Hence, it was eye-opening for me to learn about an Islamic tradition different from mine and parts of Islamic history rarely discussed outside the Shia community. To be perfectly honest, I had never heard of Muslim ibn Aqeel before participating in this project.
For those interested, I consider myself a non-denominational Muslim and do not ascribe to the Sunni, Shia or the oft-forgotten Ibadi branches of Islam. This isn’t to say that I consider these branches to be wrong or heretical. Islam is a vastly intellectually diverse religion, and nobody has a monopoly on the truth regarding what is considered the “correct” form of Islam. Instead, we should celebrate this intellectual diversity and stop limiting Islam into a single rigid doctrine that condemns those who do not ascribe to it.
At the end of the day, no matter which branch of Islam you belong to (or whether you even consider yourself a Muslim at all), we should remember:
إِنَّ ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ وَٱلَّذِينَ هَادُوا۟ وَٱلنَّصَـٰرَىٰ وَٱلصَّـٰبِـِٔينَ مَنْ ءَامَنَ بِٱللَّهِ وَٱلْيَوْمِ ٱلْـَٔاخِرِ وَعَمِلَ صَـٰلِحًا فَلَهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ وَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ
Surely, those who believed in Allah, and those who are Jews, and Christians, and Sabians, -whosoever believes in Allah and in the Last Day, and does good deeds – all such people will have their reward with their Lord, and there will be no reason for them to fear, nor shall they grieve.
The Qur’an [2:62]
In total, I was on set for four days. Three of those days were filmed at Zaynah’s house, where she had put together a beautiful set depicting seventh century Kufa, and one of them was filmed outside at Hollow Pond near Walthamstow.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my time working on A Tale of Valour. Not once did I ever feel out of place, thanks to the amazing people I had the pleasure of working with. In particular, I want to shout out Zaynah’s family for being so hospitable and welcoming me into their home with open arms.