Exploring the Themes of Religion and Romance in ‘Ben and Ara’ • The Muslim Women TImes


Thoughts on ‘Ben and Ara’; the 2015 film directed by Nnegest Likké. Spoilers forward!

I stumbled upon ‘Ben and Ara’ whereas trying to find motion pictures with feminine Muslim lead characters. The cinematography was un-spectacular, the storytelling was easy, the performing was mediocre at finest, however sure themes stood out to me strongly. The film revolves round forbidden love, however not fairly instructed as ordinary. The antagonist pressure between the 2 fundamental characters isn’t household or society, reasonably the principle impediment to their relationship are the variations between their personally held worldviews.

‘Ben and Ara’ tells the story of two PhD candidates on the division of faith who’re from disparate worlds. Ben is the epitome of secular atheism/agnosticism, and even perhaps hedonism. Ara is a practising Muslim, energetic in her local people, and dwelling at residence along with her mom, who pressures her to get married. There is nothing notably spectacular about their relationship — they aren’t star-crossed lovers madly and passionately in love. They are common folks dipping their toes right into a international cultural and romantic expertise.

As PhD college students within the non secular division, their dissertation matters convey them collectively. The debates they’ve across the interplay between philosophy and theology are subtly linked to the dynamics of their relationship. On the floor, Ben’s thesis is what provides him purpose to ask Ara to his home and for them to sleep collectively, however on a extra profound be aware, their discussions are symbolic of the opposing worldviews that form their relationship.

The Hijab

In the primary scene the place Ara took off her scarf in Ben’s bed room, I shut my laptop computer out of sheer exasperation. I agree that the about-to-unfold premarital sexual exercise meant {that a} scarf was misplaced, however the visuals of her eradicating it weren’t what I used to be anticipating. She unravels it with little hesitation or obvious discomfort, which is amusing however barely unimaginable. Given the truth that she expresses intense remorse and guilt within the scene straight afterwards, it appears disjointed that she did it with zero second thought.

I give the scene the good thing about the doubt, concluding that it was an try to painting a heat-of-the-moment resolution, however even with that thought of, the hijab (and its elimination) appears to characterize one thing deeper all through the film. When following Ben to a rock and roll bar, she takes it off her head and places it round her shoulders as quickly as she walks via the door. She takes it off once more in her honeymoon section with Ben, and it appears to be symbolic of her potential to step into Ben’s non-religious world. Returning to her personal values, it’s worn when she is praying, however in any other case, her exploration into secular dwelling calls for that she takes it off. I want there was extra illustration of the feelings and interior dialogue Ara confronted at these junctures.

This isn’t stunning on the planet of ‘hijabi’ motion pictures. The elimination of the hijab carries connotations of liberation and freedom, even when accompanied by guilt and emotions of loss. While Ara’s elimination of the hijab could seem symptomatic of the plague surrounding Western filmmaking in portraying Muslims, the undertones within the movie appear extra constructive relating to her reasoning at these factors. In different movies, the guilt that characters really feel when eradicating the hijab is supposed to make us pity the poor woman upset over an imposed piece of fabric and guilt-tripping ideology. Her emotions are not often extra complicated than concern over her mother and father’ or neighborhood’s response. Though Ara’s relationship with the hijab could be very onerous to know, and her taking it off is much from delicate, it’s fascinating to try to deduce her private relationship with the clothes of her religion.

Ara’s story appears to include extra depth. She is portrayed as somebody who is aware of why she does what she does, and her emotions of guilt need to do along with her betraying her personal values and the results on her relationship with God. It is refreshingly private.

Muslim Representation in ‘Ben and Ara

The illustration in ‘Ben and Ara’ is first rate; all issues thought of. A practising black Muslim girl in academia shouldn’t be the commonest sight on display, in spite of everything. Portrayals of her neighborhood aren’t laden with stereotypes of hidden ladies and oppressive males. It seems that past bare-minimum, analysis was performed on Islam, even when sure Arabic phrases had been pronounced just a little humorous.

The movie’s prayer scenes are awkward and amusing. One specific scene options Ara and three different ladies praying thus far aside that it appears socially distanced. But typically, it appears as if efforts had been made to protect the accuracy of Islamic practices.

The film’s ending saves it, however the plot appears pointless. I might award some factors for getting a black Muslim girl in academia on display, however past this, it appears hole. Her identification appears to be a software, apart from some inventive scenes of a people non secular ritual on a seashore in Cameroon. The point out of her tutorial endeavours was minimal compared to Ben’s. Her hopes and goals post-PhD acquired no point out, and the perform of her character appears to be solely romantic. This is irritating and throws any advantages of illustration again to sq. one. But like I mentioned, the ending might probably be seen as saving this indirectly. It highlights her autonomy and prioritisation of her values and happiness, and it sparks some dialogue on the pressure faith has in societal, private and interpersonal relationships.


‘Ben and Ara’ does a very good job of highlighting totally different non secular realities on the planet. Ben has a tough time understanding the informal non secular plurality that exists in Ara’s Cameroonian background. Ara is seasoned in navigating a world the place respect for varied religions is required, given her upbringing surrounded by folk-religious adherents, Christian, and Muslim family members in her household.

Opposing worldviews are the principle forces that form the course of the connection between Ben and Ara. It is vital to make use of the phrase ‘shape’ reasonably than ‘limit’ right here, as reinforcing the concept faith and private values are secondary selections that shouldn’t have an effect on folks’s life (together with the selection of a romantic accomplice) is reflective of a secular paternalistic worldview, and vastly diminishes the significance that perception holds in folks’s lives.

Ben is somebody who holds this opinion. He approaches faith like mythology. He can respect it, however he can’t perceive it nor does he notably need to. He watches Ara observe her non secular traditions as somebody would watch a toddler enjoying make-believe. He is sort however has little understanding. He additionally implies closely that sure restrictions and pointers are oppressive and are an obstruction to attaining happiness and pleasure in a ‘normal’ secular context. He is staunch within the fact of his worldview and doesn’t see the necessity to discover deeply or give significance to every other religion techniques exterior a tutorial realm. I paint him as an outdoor observer of faith as an arbitrary anthropological phenomenon. He finds faith fascinating however pointless. He is sceptical and doggedly ‘modern’ and liberal. He stays away from it, and it from him, they usually get alongside simply high quality, which appears to work high quality till he falls in love with a girl for whom faith is consequential, at which level we see him as merely unable to undertake the mindset that even considers God as an actual risk.

God is the cornerstone of Ara’s values, and particular person liberty is the inspiration of Ben’s. Both imagine that their happiness lies upon this stuff; each imagine that it’s the most refined larger goal in life. The beginning factors for all the pieces that shapes their lives are essentially opposed.

There is one scene particularly that packed plenty of punches for me. It is a scene the place Ara visits Ben to aim reconciliation after an argument they’ve. Religious variations are laid naked on the desk and Ara takes the chance to name out Ben’s Western imperialist view of faith and the implicit judgment and infantilization of practising non secular folks. He implies that her beliefs are illogical and baseless, and questions her intelligence for main a life-style that locations boundaries on her freedom, which he views as important to happiness. The scene factors to the elephant within the room, and with two PhD college students arguing, it’s no small affair. The lack of a neat conclusion to that argument is pointed and likewise marks the inevitable impending finish to their relationship.


The ending shouldn’t be precisely a fairytale. Things unravel as rapidly as they started, with an abrupt dissolution of their romance and anticipated future collectively.

The ending of the movie reduces all heat romantic emotions that would have existed within the film. I might think about it getting used as a PSA by Muslim mother and father to their daughters: don’t date a non-Muslim boy as a result of he’ll take little interest in your religion; he gained’t cease ingesting for you, he’ll get one other woman pregnant, and you’ll have to abort his unborn baby with out ever letting him know, and also you’ll ultimately find yourself marrying somebody from the identical cultural background as you anyway. Ben’s world is his default — Ara is the fascinating anomaly who bends with the department of secularism. As she slips off her scarf in his settings, she adapts utterly to Ben’s world whereas he can’t even cease partying for her.

Admittedly, it’s a comparatively nice different to the common portrayal of Muslim ladies in movies who change into concerned with non-Muslim (particularly white) males. The story is certainly one of liberation from the oppressive household, tradition and faith the lady belongs to, conveniently discovered within the arms of a white man, his atheism, and his Western tradition. This rinsed and repeated trope is sickeningly harking back to colonial propaganda, with the annoyingly stereotypical illustration of Muslim communities and glorification of ‘modern’ beliefs.

It is nice on this movie that Ara asserts her perception in her religion and seems to study from the errors and unfavorable experiences that got here with compromising her religion. She settles with forgiving herself from her previous and transferring ahead along with her priorities, incomes her doctorate within the ultimate scene of the movie. This ending ties in properly with an earlier scene within the movie when she explains to Ben the easy technique of tawbah; in search of forgiveness and repenting for sins. She seems to behave upon it and in the end finds consolation in it. The movie will get some factors for its refreshing respect for Muslim ladies’s autonomy and intelligence, however this doesn’t say a lot seeing because the bar is pathetically low on common.

There is a lot extra that could possibly be analysed right here: the variations within the compromises made by women and men in relationships, academia, race, tradition, the backstory of Ara’s mom, and an array of different components, together with the truth that a ‘Muslim-girl x non-Muslim guy’ movie was made AGAIN within the first place. But all that’s for an additional day.

My Rating?: 5/10, all issues thought of.

Fadilah Salawu - The Muslim Women Times

Fadilah is a Nigerian-Irish Law scholar and author primarily based at present primarily based in Granada, Spain.


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