Qasim Basir was in London promoting his independent drama, Mooz-lum, when he heard the news of Osama bin Laden’s demise. For the writer-director, who was raised in a Muslim household, the news was bittersweet.

“I was asleep in my hotel room in London. I got a text and then a call,” says Basir. “There are lots of pivotal moments you have in your life, and it was one of those moments.”

Despite the lack of distribution from a major studio, Basir, a relatively unknown director, has managed to garner interest in his drama Mooz-lum, a story about a young Muslim man (played by Evan Ross) struggling to find his passion for a faith that he feels has ostracized him from his peers.

“People are afraid of certain things,” says Basir who initially approached several studios for distribution. “This word Muslim or Islam just has a bad rap, so when it came to getting the movie distributed commercially, people weren’t really ready to do that. When studios think of movies with primarily an African-American cast, a lot of times it’s comedy, and they don’t think of socially conscious films.”

“This movie has a much wider audience, but they weren’t ready to take the risk. So we are going to do what we have to do to get it out there as much as we can,” adds the 30-year-old director, who enjoys tackling subjects with substance.

Basir took a similar independent journey with his first project, 1Nation 2Worlds, which he screened at several colleges and universities all over the country, challenging students and professors to open discussions on the important issue of race. His second movie, Glimpse, dealt with erasing ignorance, and the third, Mooz-lum – which is deliberately misspelled – focuses on Muslims in America.

“There are going to be a lot of things people take away from this film, but the movie really is a coming-of-age story about a guy trying to find his place in society. Yes, he is Muslim, but overall that is the biggest thing,” adds Basir who feels the biggest misconception people have of Islam is that it teaches something violent.

Loosely based on Basir’s life, the heart and soul of Mooz-lum, is Evan Ross, who stars as the socially crippled Tariq, a young man conflicted between his strict Muslim religion and the normal social life he’s never had. Ross, who has made a specialty of playing mentally tortured characters in movies Life is Hot in Cracktown and ATL, brings much of the same intensity and strength to this role.

For Basir, making Mooz-lum, which he shot in his hometown in Michigan, meant revisiting a painful chapter in his childhood.

“Some of us have wounds from our childhood or from our youth that we never explore, and they affect us whether we know it or not. I was able to deal with those issues, and it ended up being one of the most therapeutic things that I have done,” says Basir, a recipient of the Inspirational Filmmaker of the Year award from the Memphis Black Writers Film Festival.

Also starring Danny Glover, Dorian Missick, Roger Guenveur Smith and Nia Long, who plays Tariq’s mother, Mooz-lum is set against a background that includes the attack on New York’s World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I feel like ignorance is one of the most significant issues hindering our society today, and I want to give people a human version of Muslims,” says Basir. “A perspective you have never seen before and not of extremism or terrorism. The extremists have created certain acts in the name of Islam and have sort of hijacked Islam in a way to make people believe that this is what it represents. I was born and raised Muslim and have been around all kinds of Muslims and all kinds of nationalities. I have never heard of anything like that and have always known of something very different – something much more peaceful.”

Produced by Dana Offenbach, Mooz-lum will force you to think of this often-misunderstood religion in a new and unbiased way, for Basir coaxes performances out of his actors that blend well with the overall tone and atmosphere.

Mooz-Lum is currently available on DVD.