Actor, director, and stand-up comedian Omar Regan’s debut film American Sharia injects a healthy dose of comedy into some heavy subject matter. The film’s many themes include Islamophobia, police violence, and issues pertaining to Muslim identity.
MacEwan’s Muslim Students’ Organization (MSO) brought Regan to Edmonton to screen the film on Jan. 17 at the Garneau Theatre. It was met with a positive response and a packed house. Regan introduced the film, and he took questions following the screening.
After watching the trailer for the film online, MSO president Aminah Elbaalbaki thought it would be the perfect event for the group to pursue.
“Slowly, as you look into it, you realize that it’s more than just an entertaining film,” says Elbaalbaki. “I didn’t realize how great the message would be … It really helps explain the essence of Islam.”
The film, which uses humour to broach and dispel common misconceptions about Islam, also included many painful moments, some of them fragments from Regan’s own life.
In 2009, Regan’s father, Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah, was killed after being shot 20 times in a controversial FBI raid of a warehouse in Dearborn, Michigan — an event represented in the film. The tragic incident was one of the catalysts that drove Regan to create American Sharia.
“When they killed my father, I needed an outlet to be able to express and tell the story,” Regan says. “Film was my experience. That’s what I was drawn to.”
Regan has starred in a number of movies, including a role as Chris Tucker’s double in Rush Hour 2, and has performed stand-up at the Global Peace and Unity Event in London and at MuslimFest in Mississauga, Ontario, among many other venues.
In 2012, after detecting a gap in the market for Muslim-friendly content, Regan created Halalywood Entertainment, a project geared toward producing “halal” films.
“I had my own experiences in Hollywood, and I was looking to find myself in art and Islam, and I’ve just always been inspired by film,” Regan says. “I left Detroit to do film in 1999, but I didn’t have the belief that I could make my own films and have my own production company. That didn’t even register. But after I started doing halal comedy then I was like, ‘Man, we can make our own films,’ and then everything else started happening at the same time.”
American Sharia is Halalywood’s first production, though Regan reassured viewers at the screening that more films are in the works. He says he hopes his film will help turn the tide on ugly misconceptions about Islam, and expose the dangers Muslims face as indiscriminate targets in the “war on terror.”
In addition, he expressed hopes that young Muslims would continue to proudly embrace their religion, rather than distance themselves from it out of fear or shame.
“I want [people] to see what it looks like when Muslims are being harassed — innocent Muslims are being harassed — what it really looks like,” Regan says.
“And to Muslims: be confident in who you are. We don’t have to dumb it down. We can just be who we are. We’re not terrorists. We should not be apologetic for all that stuff. Be confident in who we are.”