Hanif Muhammad made the conscious decision to rise above the injustice and poverty that befell him and many in his community.
Muhammad found himself incarcerated due to the many bad choices made in his youth, as he went down a wrong path for many years. Allowed a second chance to rise above it all and break the stereotypes that affected many of his friends and family from his neighborhood, Muhammad found Islam and began to turn his life around completely, walking a virtuous path.
Zeshwan Ali’s somber and moving documentary “Two Gods” follows the life of Hanif Muhammad who forged a better life for himself through his skill of building caskets and helping with (and teaching) sacred funeral rites for the Muslim people of Newark, New Jersey.
Muhammad has turned his life around as much as a suffocating and racist society will allow him to. He is not swimming in money and sleeps on a couch at his family’s house. But he is a place to lay his head that is safe and comfortable, and Muhammad is very thankful.
The man is a recovering addict and drug dealer who will always be haunted by his time in prison. He never wants to go back and has stayed clean, keeping on the right path.
Hanif has become mentor for two young men, twelve year-old Furquan, a smart and funny kid who has an abusive home life but a good sense of humor and contagious zest for life.
There is also Naz who is on parole at only seventeen years of age and whose future is in jeopardy after multiple run-ins with the Newark police who have come down on the young man to the point of harassment.
Hanif sees the mistakes of his own youth in Naz and wants to help the young man, even as he witnesses the troubled youth sliding deeper into the system.
The stories of Nurquan and Naz are fascinating and sad and real. There is hope in these two young men and Muhammad does all he can to bring it out in them. We root for them to make it.
Life is not always easy for Hanif Muhammad. In a revealing moment, he tells the camera that he fell prey to a moment of weakness that almost destroyed him and everything he has built.
Muhammad was approached with a chance to make big money selling drugs. As he states, the drugs were “in his hands” and he considered it for “a couple of hours,” but we see that his past life, while ever present as a reminder, is just that, in the past. He refuses to give in. Not just for himself but for the kids and community who respect and love him.
It is a powerful scene and Muhammad lays his struggles bare, unashamed and pure and well aware of his fragility. In his honesty, Hanif becomes a symbol of the day-to-day issues that face so many in the Black communities due to racial and economic injustice.
What is fascinating is how director Ali shows the healing effects of personal and religious growth and the power of believing in oneself and not succumbing to the pressures of your surroundings, difficult as this may be.
There are beautiful moments when Hanif building a relationship with his son, who came of age while his father was in prison. He seeks a better life for this young man and gently guides him towards it. A moment where Hanif is teaching his son how to properly craft a coffin says so much and gets to the soul of any parent.
With many prejudices against the Muslim community, it is quite beautiful to see the sense of brotherhood/sisterhood portrayed here. Ali shows us the reality of how the myths about the Muslim religion do not outweigh its truths, giving the film a purity in the way the religion and its people are presented.
Filmed in B&W and featuring a score by Michael Beharie, this is a film that bleeds compassion and kindness.
“Two Gods” is a story of redemption and peace. Hanif Muhammad stands as a symbol of the strength and power and the struggle to move forward, keeping your own head up while trying to save the lives of those around you. In life, he stands as a teacher, a cautionary tale and a living truth.
We exist in a time that needs a film such as this one, and in 2021 America, this is the moment for the story of Hanif Muhammad.