Eddie Murphy, a romantic comedy, and Islam are a highly improbable combination. Nonetheless, Boomerang, the 1992 Paramount Pictures release which features Murphy as Marcus, an advertising executive who happens to be an indecisive playboy, does offer a well-acted, powerful scene from which we might glean a few insights. As we approach the denouement of what, until that point, had been a legitimately funny albeit hopelessly predictable film, Marcus and Angela—played by Murphy’s co-star Halle Berry—have a memorable exchange.
I often find that the extent to which I can enjoy or be inspired by a film depends on my ability to work through any cynicism I might feel toward its producers. Braveheart, the 1995 epic war thriller starring—then less embattled—actor Mel Gibson is quite possibly one of the most historically inaccurate films ever made. The kind of exaggeration that paints real-life Scottish war hero Sir William Wallace as a kind of primus inter pares, nationalist guerilla that seduces English queen consort Isabella while fighting for his country’s independence would be laughable if it weren’t so over-used. A historically revised European hero whose exploits are overblown; hmm, where have we seen this before? Nonetheless, be the lack of historicity and exaggerated claims of heroism what they may, midway through Braveheart there is an unforgettable scene:
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“Mish mumkin li wāhid amrīkī an ya’īsha bidūn al-aflām!”
The quotation above, transliterated from semi-colloquial Egyptian Arabic, reads “It’s impossible for an American to live without movies!” Offered by a professor at al-Azhar University in response to an American student’s question about the permissibility of watching movies; the statement was at once facetious and insightful. Although the professor was clearly poking fun at the American obsession with Hollywood, he was also offering a lesson in legal realism or fiqh al-wāqi’. In other words, he was saying, is there really any consequence to how I respond to this question; no matter what I say you’re going to watch movies!