CAIRO – An Egyptian ultraconservative Muslim preacher hears on his car radio news of the death of Michael Jackson, the pop singer he idolized in his teens, and he becomes so distraught he crashes his car.
The news of the passing of the King of Pop is the start of a crisis of conscience for Sheikh Khalid Hani, the main character of the movie “Sheikh Jackson,” Egypt’s first feature film to focus on the religious movement known as Salafis, followers of one of the strictest interpretations of Islam.
It follows Sheikh Hani, a Salafi, as his love for Michael Jackson throws him onto a bumpy journey to discover his own identity, mirroring how Egypt’s conservative society is torn between its Islamic and Arab traditions and Western culture in an age when television, telecommunications and social media bring together people and cultures from all corners of the world.
“I no longer cry while I am praying. That means my faith is faltering,” Hani confides to a female psychiatrist in one scene. Crying while praying, he explains, reflects his fear of God.
The film goes beyond examining Salafis, says the director, Amr Salama. “It’s about humanity … It tells you that one’s identity is not a single dimension or an unchangeable thing,” he told The Associated Press just days before “Sheikh Jackson” premiered in the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month.
It’s a journey Salama has some experience in: He was a huge Jackson fan in his teens and then became Salafi during his university years, before moving away from the movement.