Reviews

The Light in Her Eyes is a must see for anyone seeking to understand the cultural context of the Syrian uprising. Islamist militias are the strongest on the ground and Islamist politicians will be powerful in tomorrow’s Syria. To understand what Islam means to many middle class Syrians, see this film.

– Professor Josh Landis, Director of Center for Middle East Studies, University of Oklahoma
Founded and blogs at Syria Comment

 

“So many questions are answered by “The Light in Her Eyes.” The struggle of moderate Muslims, especially women, with the march toward radicalism is beautifully and humanely told, and it is a credit to the filmmakers that many questions still linger – the deeper and more interesting challenges that profound religious beliefs impose on traditional societies that struggle with modernity. One sees in this movie a finely-wrought portrait of Syria before its catastrophic descent into civil war; one can also glimpse in the graceful relationship of Houda al-Habash and her pupils the hopeful salvation of this deeply oppressed country. Otherwise the loss is too great to bear.”

– Lawrence Wright, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Looming Tower
Playwright and Staff Writer for the New Yorker

 

“Syria is in flames, currently engaged in horrific civil strife. Our intrepid filmmakers never imagined the irenic society they were filming was on the verge of collapse. Given unprecedented access to a world even Syrian men are not privy to, two American women have allowed us to enter an inviolable sanctuary of female devotional space. Important in and of itself, the film now takes on a relevance and urgency far more than its makers could have anticipated. Watch and weep as a group of devout and independent Syrian women try to maintain and transmit dignity within the confines of a beautiful tradition whose male adherents too often fail to do so.”

– Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Islamic scholar and co-founder of Zaytuna College

 

“There are few films that have ever captured the sense of dignity and devotion of pious Muslim women as powerfully as The Light in her Eyes.  Shot over a period of 3 years in a Syrian mosque school, this film brings us close to the lives of these young women as they learn the fundamentals of Islamic piety and Quranic recitation.  Playfully and inventively, these remarkable women talk freely about what it means to live their faith and to balance the religious and secular demands of their urban existence.  A rare insight into the informal Islamicization of pre-revolutionary Syria whose force will likely outlast the Assad regime.  A must see!”

– Saba Mahmood, Associate Professor of Anthropology, UC Berkeley
Author of The Politics of Piety; The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject

 

The ideas, values, and motivations of the conservative women who teach or attend lessons in mosques are often misunderstood outside of the Middle East.  The Light in Her Eyes provides viewers with unparalleled insight into the activities of Syrian mosque instructor Houda al-Habash.  It allows the voices of al-Habash and her followers to be heard with unprecedented clarity, highlighting their aspirations, opinions, and concerns. The film succeeds in presenting the complexity of the viewpoints and motivations of these women, making it an invaluable resource for any who want to broaden their understanding of the Middle East and Islam. It is also of particular interest to high school and university instructors who want to challenge student perceptions of Muslim women and their religious practices.  Beautifully shot, the film shows the vibrant rhythms and colours of daily life in Damascus immediately before Syria’s descent into civil war.

– Hilary Kalmbach, University of Oxford

 

“The Light in Her Eyes is required viewing for anyone who wants to learn more about Islam, the Middle East, and the surprising ways in which girls and women in Syria are taking hold of their futures and their destinies. Houda al-Habash and the Quranic school for girls that she leads show us a completely different version of women in Islam than that of the headlines: a world in which women are independent, are free to disagree, and are challenged to become leaders in their societies. Yet just as importantly, this film, perhaps more than any before it, helps a general audience to grasp the complexity of the Quran and how it effects the lives of Muslims around the world. They’ll witness how it is memorized, recited, debated, internalized…. Finally, an often difficult text can come alive for teachers and students alike. I cannot recommend this film highly enough.”

– Stephanie Saldaña, Author of The Bread of Angels: A Journey to Love and Faith
Instructor of Literature, Director of the Core Curriculum at Bard/Al-Quds University

 

“It can be extremely difficult for interfaith encounters to move beyond affirmations of commonalities to discuss the deeper issues and internal struggles in our faith communities and spiritual lives.  The Light in Her Eyes provides an extraordinary catalyst for conversations about the tensions that all people of faith experience.  The film invites us to witness how one community balances tradition and modernity and opens the audience to reflect on that question for themselves.  How am I balancing tradition and modernity?  What are the implications of that decision for who I am in society-at-large?  The Light In Her Eyes enables audiences to tap into these deeper questions and opens the space to explore these fundamental questions with people of other faith communities.”

– Rabbi Sarah Bassin
Executive Director, NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change

 

This exceptional documentary highlights the perils of ignorance and misuse of power found in many parts of the Islamic world today. Filmed in prerevolutionary Syria (2010), the production embarks on a journey with young women and girls who seek to learn to recite the Holy Qur’an. Thirty years ago, Houda al-Habash established a summer-only religious school where girls could enroll in Qur’anic immersion classes once their secular classes were completed for the year. al-Habash leads lectures focusing on such issues as education, public life, and employment, whose resolutions are determined according to Qur’anic law. Women’s roles based in tradition and culture are discouraged but for the strict adherence to Islamic scripture. al-Habash states that it isn’t Islam that oppresses women but rather “Muslims themselves deprive women of the right to learn, teach, and enter a mosque.” This exploration of women’s rights and roles may appear foreign to Westerners, but they are rights and roles as defined by Muslim women themselves. VERDICT Highly recommended for women’s studies, Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, and anthropological discussion.

—Cheryl Abdullah
Director, Dover Town Lib., MA