Review: Deaf Sisterhood

First published in the June 2011 issue of the Hearing Times.

Aran Slade is 27, white, and deaf. She’s also – like over 5000 people in the UK each year – considering converting to Islam. Her exploration of the religion and culture she’s thinking about joining forms the basis of this excellent documentary, funded by the BSLBT (British Sign Language Broadcasting Trust).

At the start of the film we find out more about Aran. She’s training to be a teacher of the deaf, and seems open-minded – although she’s been a Christian for 10 years, we learn that she helped fund her studies by organising Ann Summers parties. She seems perfectly normal, likable and intelligent.

Aran has become interested in Islam after meeting her Muslim partner, Saghir, and the most interesting – and touching – scenes in the documentary come when she discusses the possibility of converting with her mother, who is supportive, but concerned that her daughter might fall into something she cannot get out of.

However, when we see Aran meeting deaf Muslims, they seem friendly, warm and approachable, and above all, keen to explain what their religion is really about. We meet a deaf girl who is posting sign language videos about Islam to YouTube – finding a new way of passing on information about her faith.

The highlight of the film is when a group of girls help dress Aran in a headscarf so she can see how she might look if she decided to convert. Aran becomes emotional as she is faced with a new version of herself – and what could be her future.

Aran doesn’t jump in, though. We see how making her mind up is something we wants to be sure about. When she later talks to a friend who is a committed Christian, there is an interesting debate as Aran defends her point of view. This exchange showed how dedicated followers of every faith believe their way to be the ‘right way’, and made me think about how, on a broader level, Muslims are often portrayed in this country as outsiders, the ‘other,’ almost as if there is an assumption that there’s something ‘wrong’ with the religion and those who follow it – a point of view this film helps to counter.

The great achievement of Deaf Sisterhood is how it serves to humanise Islam and Muslims. This documentary helps us see the people, places and beliefs behind the headlines, and ultimately, makes us think again. I’d love to see a catch-up instalment of the documentary in the future, to find out how Aran gets on as she continues her journey.

Credits: Director Bim Ajadi; Researcher/Producer Cathy Heffernan; 2nd Camera Ted Evans; Co-producer: Karen Gilchrist.

Deaf Sisterhood will be broadcast on Film 4 and the Community Channel from Monday 6th June, to find times and dates, go to http://bslbt.co.uk . It will also be available (in full) online at: http://www.bslbt.co.uk/programmes/deaf-sisterhood/

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