'The Last Sermon' Review: Filmmaker duo's noble attempt to promote peace fails to find essence of the journey
For many, 'The Last Sermon' opens their eyes to the lives of refugees and even understand Islam
Prophet Muhammad's final sermon is a series of general exhortations for Muslims to follow the teachings that he had set forth in the Quran and sunnah. As such, it is one of the most revered texts in Islam. For filmmaker Jack Baxter, one part of the prophet's last sermon struck. It states, "There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab or of a non-Arab over an Arab, or of a White over a Black or of a Black over a White, except by righteousness and piety." The quote appears at the beginning of his documentary, 'Brother Minister: The Assassination of Malcolm X' and 'The Last Sermon' is the name of his latest documentary.
In April 2003, Baxter and Joshua Faudem survived when two British Muslim men perpetrated a suicide attack at Mike's Place, a bar in Tel Aviv, Israel. After the attack, the Palestinian terrorist groups Hamas and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed joint responsibility for the attack. In addition, Hamas spokesman identified the perpetrators as Asif Muhammad Hanif, 22, from London, and Omar Khan Sharif, 27, from Derby. Baxter and Faudem then decided to make 'The Last Sermon' to understand religious terrorism, especially in the backdrop of Europe.
The film follows the two filmmakers, as they travel across Europe to understand why young (and old) Muslim people turn to religious extremism. They visit various refugee camps across the continent and speak to musicians along the way. One of them is a gifted Palestinian musician, who tells them that his lack of nationality is part of his journey. Baxter and Faudem also visit relief organizations in France, Hungary and Germany. It is during one of these visits that they hear the news of the Manchester terrorist attack after a concert by Ariana Grande. The attack left 23 people dead, including the perpetrator. On hearing about the attack, Baxter's team gets more motivated to understand why these attacks take place, and Baxter begins to question his own faith amid tragedy, hope and music. For many, 'The Last Sermon' opens their eyes to the lives of refugees and even understand Islam.
With honest conversations, the documentary aims to understand the cause of extremist Muslims, and yet, approaches practicing Muslims who denounce this extremism with compassion and understanding. While doing so, the documentary advocates for these refugees and promotes peace.
However, while the topic of 'The Last Sermon' stood to be a true understanding of the phenomenon, it ultimately fails to find the essence of the filmmakers' journey. In trying to promote understanding between people of various faiths, Baxter and Faudem found a meaningful purpose, and yet, the film lacks the power to achieve this. It is clear that Baxter intended something more -- he wrote for The Daily Beast that he believes "that the Last Sermon of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, has the power to change the perceptions of Muslims and non-Muslims alike," and that the film is intended as a vehicle to communicate that sentiment, and so, the documentary feels incomplete.
'The Last Sermon' premieres on digital platforms on Tuesday, December 15.