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Review: Chilling documentary ‘Among the Believers’ goes inside Pakistan’s Red Mosque schools

‘Among the Believers’
Zarina, a former student in one of cleric Abdul Aziz’s madrasas in the documentary “Among the Believers.”
(Adil Sheryar / First Run Features)

The documentary “Among the Believers,” from the directing team of Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Ali Naqvi, takes us inside Pakistan’s notorious network of Red Mosque madrasas, and its soft-voiced, ideologically immovable leader, Abdul Aziz.

A Taliban/Islamic State sympathizer with a distressingly hard-to-resist deal for the country’s vast population of poor parents — free everything for your child, plus a brain hard-wired to be sacrificed for jihad — Aziz is a chillingly resolute figure as he touts the only way forward for Pakistan: Sharia law. As a contrast, we hear from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology-educated scientist/activist professor, Pervez Hoodbhoy, who calls for state control of these extremist hotbeds and for Aziz’s arrest.

The film also follows two children who have attended Aziz’s schools: Talha, a 12-year-old Kashmir boy indoctrinated  to detach from his nonobservant parents, and Zarina, a smiling adolescent girl who escaped (literally jumping a wall). She briefly thrived under a newly built village school designed to bring worldly education to poor children, until the growing tension between the government and the Red Mosque — which led to violent clashes in 2007 — put Zarina’s school under threat from militant madrasa graduates. Her only other option? Early arranged marriage.

There’s little that’s not dispiriting about “Among the Believers” and its measured, direct entrée into a closed world of hopeless boys and girls memorizing the Koran, but forbidden from learning its meanings. As Talha tells the filmmakers, calmly, “All the hard work will pay off when we die.”

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‘Among the Believers’

Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes

Not rated

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Playing: Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino

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