Next Story

Holiday movies for Muslims

Asad Butt, a Muslim-American filmmaker has created the first-ever Muslim holiday film, Ramadan America.

By Fouzia Nasir Ahmad |
facebook whatsup linkded
PUBLISHED April 07, 2024

When Hollywood rolls out sappy Christmas movies during the festive season, we love watching them, even though a lot of us don’t relate to Christmas trees, Santa and mistletoe. But have you ever wondered why there are no Eid and Ramazan movies that we could truly relate to, especially those of us who live as immigrants in non-Muslim countries.

Well, there’s news for you. A man called Asad Butt thought the same and set out to produce Ramadan America, the first-of-its-kind feature film in the US that will pin Ramazan and Eid on the world map on festive holidays.

Here’s his incredible story …

Ramadan America, produced by Rifelion, Asad Butt’s company, is a first-of-its-kind, English- language, feature-length film about the American-Muslim holiday experience in 2024. It is written and directed by and stars American Muslims.

“The five stories in Ramadan America are a unique snapshot slice of life for different American-Muslim communities because we are so uniquely different in the US with so many different cultures and we represent both American and immigrant cultures,” says Asad Butt, who launched Rifelion in 2020, a production company based in Portland, Oregon, US. Its goal is to elevate diverse voices through media content.

The scripts for Ramadan America were originally acquired as part of a writing competition, Rifelion conducted in conjunction with the Islamic Scholarship Fund. The five scripts were selected from over 50 submissions from American Muslim writers.


“There has never been a holiday movie for American Muslims about Ramadan and Eid in the English language and I set out to do the first ever one,” explains Butt. “The inspiration behind it was simply growing up in the US as a Muslim. As we were doing our research on what stories we should do in Ramadan America, one of the things that we realised is that the American Muslims in the entertainment world, whether they’re writers, directors, actors or camera people, they don't get a lot of chances to perfect their craft in the industry because the industry doesn't hire them for a variety of reasons. Hence, we wanted to create this production in a way in which we employed dozens and dozens of American Muslims to tell these stories. Ramadan America had close to maybe over a hundred American Muslims working on it, which I don't think has ever happened before as far as I know.

Butt may have not seen any English language feature-length content about American Muslims celebrating Ramdan, but he wants to make sure that when his one-year-old daughter Isha grows up, she has the content and entertainment that he didn't have growing up in the US. “Content that tells stories that are accurately reflective of her experience as an American Muslim or as a Muslim in the West, and going beyond the negative stereotypes and negative tropes that we see typically of Muslims in the West,” he explains.

Mapping the Muslim holiday season

Butt thinks it's essential to emphasise Ramazan and Eid in American society, much like Thanksgiving or Easter, for various important reasons. “Just like any other community, the huge American-Muslim community in the US deserves stories that are reflective of our experience,” he explains. “The fact that we don't have these stories in the media is a shame and a missed opportunity for us. Like a lot of other people in our community, I would love to see more stories of American Muslims on TV, and them being represented. Secondly, highlighting these stories is such an easy gateway for our American friends and allies to get to know us a little bit better and a bit more.

Butt elaborates that there are different types of Americans out there. Those that understand the American- Muslim community are all in and get it but these are just a minority. “The vast majority of people, maybe 80 to 90 percent of Americans may just have an interest in American-Muslim culture, but they have no easy gateway to learn more or easily consume entertainment about this culture,” he says. “Of course there will always be like the five or 10 percent that always look at us in a certain negative way. “My wife Erica is an American from Arizona. She is amazing and loves the Pakistani culture. Her family loves me and always asks questions. This year, as I was doing this project, they were asking me more detailed questions about Ramazan and Eid, even though they’ve known me for some years. And that was because of the film.”

Butt talked about how his wife's grandmother who watched the film, found it informative. “She began googling and learned more and came up with additional questions,” he says. “People realise that American Muslims celebrate at the end of the day, just like everyone else and have amazing family parties and get-togethers.”

While the film highlights the Muslim holiday experience quite a bit, the focus isn't just religion. “Stories of culture, tradition and love are universal and it is really important to have these kinds of stories on the big screen,” says Butt.

Navigating identity

Butt had a typical American-Musim childhood. “My parents, both Pakistani immigrants, came to the US in the late 60s, early 70s and I grew up in a small town, north of Boston, a very white, Christian town, with may be three or four other Pakistani and Muslim families in town,” he reminisces. “Monday through Friday was school and then we would go to the mosque on Sundays. My parents were heavily involved in the mosque and the community here. The Pakistani community in the Boston area are close-knit, so there were gatherings and meet-ups every weekend with others Pakistani families.”

Butt graduated from college in 2001, but even with his entire academic upbringing being pre 9/11, there were identity issues. “Being raised as a Pakistani-origin Muslim prior to 9/11 included explaining our habits and the differences between our respective cultures to people in general,” he explains. “Fasting in high school invited a lot of questions, for instance, when I had to break my fast in the middle of a basketball game. There were bouts of what you wouldn’t call discrimination, but minor instances of racism or misunderstanding because of our cultural and our religious differences.”

The big, bad 9/11

For Butt, life before 9/11 was typical and uneventful compared to life after 9/11, but even at that time, he wanted to work in a career where he could bring positive change to the American Muslim community. “We are a minority in this country and not a lot of people knew us about us as a community,” he points out, “but post 9-11, because of the powerful influence of media, some people in America saw Muslims as this villainous caricature, unless someone had a personal connection to a Muslim.”

Graduating from college in 2001, he immediately got two entry -level jobs in journalism in the Boston area. “When 9 -11 happened, I think I was the only Muslim in both of these organisations,” he recalls. “In my early days in the newsroom, one of the reporters was running around asking how to pronounce the name of a city, which turned out to be Peshawar. When I told him, he looked at me surprised since I was junior-most and a fresh grad. I told him that my family was from there and that is when I learnt about the importance of representation.”

After 9 -11, Butt clearly knew that he wanted to focus his career on giving American-Muslims a voice and try to be that voice for the community. He returned to graduate school, got a degree in broadcast journalism from Boston University, and in 2004/2005 helped launch Bridges TV, the first American-Muslim lifestyle network, in Buffalo, New York. “I was the main anchor and producer for their daily news show for about a year or a bit more,” he shares.

Butt also worked at a non-profit that connected classrooms in the Middle East and Pakistan to ones in the US using video conferencing. “It was cutting edge technology at the time, which we all take for granted today,” he points out. “In these two three -hour conversations, the students would ask each other questions about what TV shows they watched, what they did after school. The whole point of the programme was to build bridges of peace and understanding. Basically, at the end of the day, you realise that all human beings want the same thing — a good education, a great family life and opportunities to grow.”

In 2010, Butt was back to grad school for two more graduate degrees in MBA and a master's in media ventures. In 2020, he launched his company Rifelion. “After the George Floyd incident in the US, I wanted more than anything else to go back to my roots of trying to give a voice to the American-Muslim community through media.”

Advocating authenticity

Butt believes that it is extremely important to be correctly representative of the American-Muslim experience through the Rifelion content. “The experience includes very religious people, not very religious and people that are maybe not religious but their Muslimness comes out once a year or in the holidays or only when they meet up with families. As long as the individual identifies as American Muslim, regardless of their religiosity, where they come from or their ethnicity, it's important for us to tell their stories as they're part of our community. In the movie, there are some references to LGBTQ community issues and we have a character that's kind of leaning in that way. We have a character that is divorced. And we have a character that has experimented with drugs. These are all part of the American Muslim experience and should be explored on film.”

Whether it's an American-Muslim observing or simply a typical American or someone from elsewhere in the world watching, Butt wants to ensure that people walk away with a more accurate portrayal of what American-Muslim life entails in today's world. “I want them to gain a deeper understanding of the American-Muslim experience and narrative,” he says. “The characters are realistic, unlike American-Muslim portrayals on screen that are either super positive or super negative, or what commonly happens always being the bad Muslim which has been a trope in Hollywood's representation of Muslims in the past. I want more and more American Muslims to have the opportunity to tell their story.”

In the shadow of suffering

On a more sombre note, Butt spoke about how his crew was affected during shooting when the war began in Palestine. “We started shooting this film in October and when the war began, there was a real heaviness amongst a lot of people on our cast and crew,” he shares. “We were wondering as to whether we should be creating art in a time of so much suffering and destruction. It’s not just Palestine, there's stuff happening in Pakistan, in India, and in China with the Uyghur community. What is happening in Gaza and Palestine is horrific.”

This only bolsters his resolve to get more Pakistanis, Indians and Palestinians get to tell their stories to change the narrative about Muslims in general and lead to more peace and prosperity for all communities. “There have been times where I've been consumed in my social media with all the horrific stories coming out of Palestine that I've just haven't been able to work because you're just so, just in shock with the suffering and the dehumanisation of people that look like you,” he shares. “I often wonder if I should be promoting this movie on socials while there are so many other important stories of suffering happening in many parts of the world. These are questions that my team and I grapple with every day.”

Race against time

The biggest challenge for Butt in creating Ramadan America was to put together an entire movie in that short timeframe. “We wanted to get it out in the world by Ramadan this year to really kick off the journey,” he says. “We were working at a fast pace, trying to find the writers, directors and actors, navigating through strikes in the entertainment world, and making sure that we were doing everything above the board.”

Butt’s aim is not to educate people, but to ascertain that through the entertainment, a little bit of education happens. “I love Christmas movies or Christmas stories,” says Butt. “You don't watch them going in thinking that you're learning anything about Christianity or whatever, but I think you come away with a sense of what it's like to celebrate these holidays as that community. And that is what we hope to do with Ramadan America.


Rifelion also shares the untold stories of American life and culture centred on American Muslims and other minorities through podcasts, blogs, and socials. Their first seven-part podcast series called King of the World about American Muslim life post 9/11, won several awards.

“It followed the life and times of my friend who was the host of the show,” shares Butt. “Post 9/11, he turned 18 in the US, and his life had ups and downs for the next decade or so, to do with his identity and post 9/11 racism.”

Presently Butt is busy trying to get Ramadan America out into the world, aiming to release it internationally this year. “We want to continue to do stories about the American-Muslim experience,” he says. “We're in pre -production or in early talks for a couple of other movies and also a podcast series that will hopefully be released later this year.”

“The more we can make it easier for regular American Muslims to engage with our community through this content, the better it's going to be for all of us in the long term.”