Zaynab is not her name. She prefers to remain anonymous, such is the shame she still feels or, at least, believes her parents feel to this day. Zaynab is a second generation Brit; her parents are from Morocco. Zaynab’s sin, the cause of her shame and ostracism from her family and community, is that she chose to fall in love. She chose with whom to fall in love and the man she fell in love with was not Muslim.
“One day my excuses ran out,” she says. “That’s when I got caught. We were in Wembley Market. He bent down to kiss me and I looked up and saw my mum behind him. I stopped breathing. I think I’d rather be taken by the police.”
Zaynab’s story and others like hers, are the subject of a documentary by film maker Zara Afzal. Hidden Heart, currently in post-production and in search of crowd-funding support for its completion, is the culmination of three years of exhaustive research and interviews with women in Zaynab’s predicament; caught between their inherited tradition and the realities of growing up in modern Britain.
“Finding women, getting women to talk about their experience was a challenge,” says Afzal. “You come across so many women who’ve gone through it; they’re out the other end, the dust has settled and they don’t want to revisit that old pain. They’re still carrying it around. And then you’ve got others who are still hiding their relationship. For them it’s just a reminder of what they’re living.”
‘Marrying out,’ for women, she says, is still taboo in Muslim circles. For men it’s a different story. Tradition in conservative circles dictates that Muslim women may only marry Muslim men. For men, however, that’s not the case.
“Most women who marry outside their faith endure a dual life; hiding their relationship and lifestyle from their family. When they’re out, they’re mixing and socialising with other people and boyfriends. Then they’ll go home and they’ll be the good Muslim girl.”
The reception to preview screenings of Hidden Heart, especially within the Muslim community, has been mixed.
“I’ve had a couple of people come up to me and say ‘you’re portraying Islam in a bad light’, and I don’t think I am. And then there are others: they think it’s a fantastic project. In a personal capacity they’d love to endorse it but they’re scared of the reaction of certain groups. So it’s been quite difficult to rally support.”
The project has had enthusiastic support from a number of key organisations including The Christian Muslim Forum and British Muslims for a Secular Democracy. The film also features interviews with Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, described as a pillar of the Muslim community and Usama Hasan of the Quilliam Foundation.
Their endorsement and participation, according to Afzal, although welcome, hasn’t always translated into financial backing, hence the decision to go down the crowd-funding route.
‘The campaign will extend through 20 July. The purpose is to raise the money to complete the edit.’
Despite awaiting final touches, the film has already attracted industry interest.
Afzal and Executive Producer Christo Hird have just returned from a “Works In Progress” screening at the Sheffield Documentary Festival.
“Sheffield has been a tremendous experience for Hidden Heart,” says Afzal. “The film was well received, and amongst the audience we had prominent figures from major festivals and television networks.”
Ultimately she hopes the film can be used to generate debate about the subject of interfaith/intercultural relationships within the Muslim community as well as understanding in the wider community.
“Families like to keep it quiet and I think that that needs to be addressed and understood. We need to acknowledge and understand the trials faced by these women.”
The struggle of those who ‘marry out’ is still palpable in the words and tears of Zaynab, years after her estrangement from her family.
“I could have actually had a better life,’ she says, ‘if they hadn’t made me lie. What I was doing, it was nothing so big. I was crucified for being in love.”
Watch the Hidden Heart trailer here and donate what you can to help complete this powerful film!