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Among the Believers

Directed by Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Ali Naqvi

Documentary Feature
USA | 1 hr 23 min | 2015

Charismatic cleric Abdul Aziz Ghazi, an ISIS supporter and Taliban ally, is waging jihad against the Pakistani state. His dream is to impose a strict version of Shariah law throughout the country, as a model for the world. A flashpoint in Aziz’s holy war took place in 2007, when the government leveled his flagship mosque to the ground, killing his mother, brother, only son and 150 students. With unprecedented access, Among the Believers follows Aziz on his very personal quest to create an Islamic utopia, during the bloodiest period in Pakistan’s modern history.

The film also follows the lives of two teenage students who have attended madrassahs (Islamic seminaries) run by Aziz’s Red Mosque network. Throughout the film, their paths diverge: Talha, 12, detaches from his moderate Muslim family and decides to become a jihadi preacher. Zarina, also 12, escapes her madrassah and joins a regular school. Over the next few years, Zarina’s education is threatened by frequent Taliban attacks on schools like her own.

Aziz’s foil is nuclear physicist and leading educational activist Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy. He passionately opposes Aziz through his public appearances, lectures, and the media. Opposition against Aziz comes to a head in December, 2014, when Aziz insults a grieving nation by trying to justify the brutal massacre of 132 school children in Peshawar by the Taliban. The attack ignites a movement to end extremism in Pakistan’s mosques and madrassahs. Led by Hoodbhoy and others, Pakistan’s moderate majority focuses on Aziz and calls for his arrest.

Intimate and shocking, Among the Believers offers rare insights into the ideological battles shaping Pakistan and the Muslim world.

Among the Believers poster

Among the Believers - Hemal TrivediHemal Trivedi
Director / Producer

Hemal is a New York City and Mumbai based documentary filmmaker and editor for over a decade.  Her films have won three Emmys and an Oscar.  She edited Saving Face that premiered on HBO and won an Oscar and two Emmys (including an Emmy for outstanding editing).  She has also edited Outlawed in Pakistan that premiered on PBS-Frontline and won an Emmy, Flying on One Engine (SXSW, IDFA, 70 film festivals worldwide), When the Drum is Beating (PBS, Tribeca), Laughter (BBC).  She has also produced and directed Shabeena’s Quest (Al-Jazeera, Witness) and Beyond Mumbai (Oprah Winfrey Channel).

Director’s Statement: Upon losing a friend in the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008, I sought to understand the root cause of these attacks that were carried out from Pakistan. After careful study, I realized that ordinary Pakistanis are themselves victims rather than perpetrators. The same extremist elements who carried out the attacks in Mumbai are actually terrorizing their own people on a daily basis, and the country’s very survival is at stake. I started filming in Pakistan in 2009. In 2010 I collaborated with producer Jonathan Goodman Levitt and Pakistani filmmaker Mohammed Ali Naqvi, and together we have been filming this ideological conflict that is ripping the country apart and causing it to implode.

Among the Believers - Mohammed Ali NaqviMohammed Ali Naqvi

Emmy-winning filmmaker Mohammed is also a fellow of the National Endowment of the Arts and American Film Institute’s Project 20:20 program. In addition, his work has received numerous awards including the Amnesty Human Rights Award, the United Nations Association Festival Grand Jury Award, and has been showcased at the Museum of Modern Art. Documentary credits include: Shame (Showtime), Pakistan’s Hidden Shame (Channel 4), Shabeena’s Quest (Al-Jazeera), and Terror’s Children (Discovery). Mohammed has produced two narrative feature films, Big River and I Will Avenge You Iago; starring Giancarlo Esposito and Larry Pine, recently directing narrative short Happy Things in Sorrow Times.

Director’s Statement: Growing up in Pakistan, I witnessed the burgeoning influence of militant Islam, one which violently silenced dissenting opinion from progressive Muslims. When I got the opportunity to work on Among The Believers, it was a chance to not only expose the rhetoric of militant Islam, but also highlight the progressive Muslim forces trying desperately to fight militancy. During the course of filming, we gained unprecedented access to Abdul Aziz, the Taliban’s main spokesperson, and documented his growing influence over four years.

Film Information

Directed by: Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Ali Naqvi
Country: USA, Pakistan
Year: 2015
Language: English, Urdu
Runtime: 1 hr 23 min

Cast & Credits

Produced by: Jonathan Goodman Levitt & Hemal Trivedi
Written by: Jonathan Goodman Levitt
Studio / Production Company: Changeworx USA and Manjusha Films
Cinematographers: Haider Ali  & Habib Ur Rehman
Editors: Hemal Trivedi 
Composer: Milind Date

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