Directed by Julia Meltzer and Laura Nix
2011, 87 or 58 minutes
Purchase: $295 | Classroom rental: $95
* A 2013 "Notable Video for Adults" as selected by the American Library Association
Click here to download the free POV discussion guide.
Shot on the eve of the Syrian uprising, The Light in Her Eyes
is a portrait of a remarkable woman, Houda al-Habash, a conservative Muslim preacher who 30 years ago founded one of the first religious schools for girls in Syria. It provides unique insight into the women’s mosque movement, a piety movement that calls for greater freedom for women and encourages them to claim space within the mosque, a space historically dominated by men, while considering the changing roles of girls, women, and Islam in the Middle East.
Every summer, hundreds of girls and teenagers in Houda’s mosque immerse themselves in a rigorous study of Islam, in addition to their secular schooling. They attend intensive Qur’an classes where they learn to memorize the holy book with perfect enunciation. At the end of the summer, the program ends with two joyful ceremonies: while the young girls who are old enough to wear the hijab, the Muslim headscarf, are veiled for the first time by Houda, the older students who have succeeded in memorizing the holy book in its entirety proudly graduate from the program.
Through lectures and one-on-one dialogue, Houda teaches a complex mix of progressive and conservative values. Challenging tradition, Houda insists education for women is a form of worship that can challenge extremism. It is not Islam that has deprived women, rather “Muslims themselves have deprived women of everything”. While she encourages her students to pursue higher education, jobs, and public lives, she remains strongly committed to an interpretation of Islam which prioritizes women’s roles as wives and mothers.
Houda represents the new face of women's leadership in Islam. Women like her are an indication that, if and when political freedom comes to places like Syria, the local definition of freedom will likely differ dramatically from its definition in the West.
* Official Selection, International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam
* Official Selection, Dubai International Film Festival
* Official Selection, POV 2012 Season
* Islamic Society of North America Film Festival
* Middle East Studies Association Film Festival
CNN's Suzanne Malveaux interviews filmmaker Laura Nix. Watch the segment here
" [An] exceptional documentary...Highly recommended
for women’s studies, Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, and anthropological discussion." - Library Journal
. A multilayered depiction of Muslim women’s roles in modern-day Syria. This film is suitable for discussions of religious studies and women’s roles by showing how women’s opportunities are developed within a cultural framework, and presenting a case in which a single text, the Qur’an, is used by various interpreters to support differing roles for women. Its focus on high school and college-aged girls and women can provoke reflection and discussion about educational opportunity and religious observance. It is appropriate for high school, college, and public library collections." - Educational Media Reviews Online
"[An] enlightening documentary...The film's lyrical cinematography nicely captures the beauty of the country and its people, providing a contrast to the heavier themes, and an end note offers an update on Houda in the wake of Syria's 2011 uprising. Recommended
." - Video Librarian
" A rare close-up view of how women are engaging with the tradition of Qur’anic memorization and recitation in order to broach
questions of feminism, Islam, and the “women’s mosque movement,” or da’wa movement, in the Middle East today.” - Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies
"A remarkable documentary… The Light In Her Eyes
provides an inside look into the Islamic revival from the women's perspective.” - The Huffington Post
" A remarkable documentary... A rare, and much needed, glimpse at the world through the eyes of modern Muslim women". - Foreign Policy in Focus
"The Light in Her Eyes
is unique in that it is a documentary that allows for an unprecedented look into the rarely seen and seldom independently defined world of Muslim women. A must-see documentary that can open up an array of conversations on gender, politics and religion
, and is also a film that introduces the viewer to the stories of real people, outside of the lens of judgment.” - Islamic Horizons
"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 Saldańa, Author, The Bread of Angels: A Journey to Love and Faith
Instructor of Literature, Director of the Core Curriculum at Bard/Al-Quds University, Jerusalem
“Nuanced, surprising and, ultimately, intriguing” - Amy DePaul, Women's Media Center
“An unembellished glimpse into the actual intricacies and contradictions of Muslim society” - Joumane Chahine, Film Comment
" The Light in her Eyes
is simply the best educational film available on Islam, women, religious hermeneutics, and pious devotion
. By documenting the lives of a group of young women in a Quranic school in urban Syria, the film gives us a rare insight into their religious and secular lives, challenging us to think beyond the stereotypes with which Muslim women are seen in the West. The fact that The Light in her Eyes
captures this complexity without being didactic is an artistic achievement. I do not know of any other film that invites students to take a step back and virtually travel through the lives of an extraordinary group of Muslim women. A truly inspiring work." - Saba Mahmood, University of California Berkeley, author of 'Politics of Piety'
" 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 LandisDirector, Center for Middle East Studies
Founded and blogs at Syria Comment, University of Oklahoma
" 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
"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