Faith, football, fasting and the American Dream
At the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in London on Friday, the world celebrated the Olympic athletes joining together for a truly global event. Amongst them were a number of Muslim athletes, who are facing the intersection of physically intense athletic competition and the month of Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from eating and drinking – even water. This inter-mingling between religious commitment and sports has been evocatively captured in the documentary Fordson: Faith, Football, Fasting and the American Dream. As entertaining as it is thought-provoking, the film provides a new angle on what it means to be a Muslim American through the all-American lens of football.
Director Rashid Ghazi’s award-winning documentary is about a varsity football team, the Tractors, at Fordson High School, a public school attended by many Arab Muslims in a working class suburb of Dearborn, Michigan, which has one of the highest Arab populations in the United States. Shot over the last 10 days of Ramadan, the documentary provides fresh insights into what it means to be Muslim and American.
In the 10 years since 9/11, many Muslim Americans have been challenged about their “Americanness”. The documentary, which elicited standing ovations, successfully portrayed the dual identity of Muslim-Americans and the intersection of the players’ Muslim faith with their undeniable “Americanness”.
The documentary, released in several mainstream theatres in 2011 to coincide with the 10th anniversary of 9/11, is a study of post 9-11 America. It reflects the current attitudes of many Muslims and non-Muslims in the United States – including mutual suspicion.
One of Fordson’s most important games was on 11 September. They played against Dearborn High School, a more affluent school. The two teams had long had a football rivalry, but as the film shows, in the post-9/11 environment, the rivalry was about more than football. For the Fordson Tractors it was a way to reaffirm their American identity.
In 11 days, the filmmakers shot enough footage of the students, their community and the daily schedule of training and games in a way that audiences cared about these teens and their football rivalry. During the filming, the film crew, as well as the students and coaches, were also observing Ramadan. This combination of fasting and competing was challenging but the Tractor’s motto, “No Excuses”, prevailed.
A visually stunning documentary, Fordson won accolades at international film festivals and kudos from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And an educational DVD for high school and university students has been created so that young people globally can engage with its messages.
Muslim and non-Muslim reviewers and audiences have emphasised how necessary and significant the film is. “It opens your eyes a little so you see another side”, said one review, referring to the Muslim perspectives on post-9/11 America that are rarely covered in media.
It was the kind of reaction that Ghazi had hoped for. He had first read of the Fordson Tractors in a 2003 newspaper article and was fascinated by the story of its players who competed even while fasting through Ramadan. It took six years to get the high school to agree to film its students and to secure rights to the story. The last time that football season coincided with Ramadan was in 2009, when the school finally agreed to the filming.