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A Holy Month in Maine

By Paul Chaffee


The shadow-side of media is steady fare these days. Take YouTube, for instance. Provide a gigantic platform for anyone with a computer and a videocamera, and the disastrous possibilities emerge. Last month, YouTube posted a 14-minute clip from Innocence of Muslims, a“preposterously amateurish, nearly unwatchable hack-job of a film responsible for sparking a firestorm of violence and anti-U.S. protests in the Middle East,” according to Discovery News.

Instead of demonizing YouTube, though, consider the upside. Put “interfaith” into YouTube’s search window and 25,500 videos are noted, no doubt more by the time you try this. With a couple of clicks you can listen, for free, to Karen Armstrong, Wayne Teasdale, the Dalai Lama, Howard Thurman, Desmond Tutu, Hamza Yusuf, Diana Eck, and hundreds of other luminaries sharing their rich interfaith experience and wisdom. The 25,500 videos are organized by subject, not for their quality, so buyer beware. That said, we have been given access to a huge, growing video library that opens doors to interfaith resources in unprecedented ways.

Two Muslims in Maine at Ramadan

Sayid Hassan standing behind his cash register.

Sayid Hassan standing behind his cash register.

YouTube’s A Holy Month in Maine tells of two Muslims who find themselves living in a small town in Maine during Ramadan. Sayid Hassan, a Somali refugee, runs a bookstall in Lewiston. Living far away from his wife and daughter makes celebrating Ramadan difficult. Reza Jalali, an Iranian, writes a beautiful children's book about what it means to remember his homeland while observing Ramadan in Maine. The two meet.

It is a simple, brief story, eight and a half minutes long, a compelling, poignant tale about homesickness, community, faith and practice, and the ups and downs of interfaith relationship building. It was created by Camille Coleman and Murat Gügnör. It was broadcast in August, near the end of Ramadan, on Maine’s PBS station, MPBN.

A Holy Month in Maine is not liable to go viral; its first two months of availability evoked 1,698 views. Then again, the 14-minute clip from Innocence of Muslims sat largely unobserved on YouTube for two months. Then an Arabic-language version was posted, which was downloaded millions of times, and violence erupted in much of the Muslim world.

No one knows how to predict which videos will go viral. Maybe KidSpirit will review A Holy Month in Maine as a wonderful antidote to Innocence. That might get picked up in Huffington Post, which likes KidSpirit, and millions might click in and watch.

More to the point, you have the opportunity now to see it for yourself. Enjoy!