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Learn More About the Oscar-Nominated Short Film with Ties to Indiana

Writer / Seth Johnson
Photographer / Michael Durr

For as long as she can remember, Bibi Bahrami has made compassion a priority.Stranger at the Gate

“I was blessed to be born to a family who were always helping others in the village where I was born,” Bahrami says, an Afghan refugee who has called Muncie home for several decades now.

 

Bahrami’s kindness is on full display in the short documentary, “Stranger at the Gate,” which is up for an Oscar in March. Directed by Joshua Seftel, “Stranger at the Gate” tells the story of Richard ‘Mac’ McKinney, a former Marine from Indiana. He plots an attack on the Islamic Center of Muncie before changing his course after members of the mosque welcome him with open arms.

Before moving to Muncie in 1986, Bibi Bahrami and her family were faced with traumatic circumstances following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

“At age 13, my life changed to a nightmare,” Bahrami says. “Our country was taken over by the Soviet invasion, and our peaceful life changed. We had to leave our home with the clothes on our back and go to the refugee camp in Pakistan. It took us two days, and my mother was eight months pregnant. We then lived in the refugee camp and tried to survive.”

Bahrami met her husband, Saber Bahrami, at this refugee camp. He returned to the U.S. prior to Bibi and was able to pursue a career in healthcare. After finding stability as a doctor at Ball Memorial Hospital, Saber brought his wife Bibi to Muncie, where they still live today. Upon arriving in Muncie, Bibi quickly started looking for ways that she could make a difference in the community.

“It was my personal mission to make where I lived a better place,” she says. “We invested in our community and helped in any way we could.”

As co-founders of the Islamic Center of Muncie, Bibi and Saber made it even more of a priority to be involved in their community following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Stranger at the Gate“After 9/11, this became a double and triple priority because of the misunderstandings and Islamophobia,” she says. “Our religion was attacked. Our identities were attacked. We were concerned about our children and our grandchildren. This was the country where we chose to live. We came to have peace here and ran away from all this trauma.”

Featured in “Stranger at the Gate,” Richard ‘Mac’ McKinney is just one example of someone who has been touched by the Bahrami family. As the short documentary details, McKinney initially began visiting the Islamic Center of Muncie with the intent of plotting a terrorist attack on the mosque. Eventually, however, his plans change after getting to know the Bahramis and having dinner with them at their home.

“Usually, if there’s a concern or misunderstanding, I invite those people over,” she says. “We have dinner, and I break the ice to start a conversation about the mission of our organization.”

 

“McKinney loved the authentic Afghani food that I cooked for him,” Bahrami says.  “Then, I sat down and I bluntly said to him, ‘I heard this rumor, and I wanted to talk to you in person to see if it’s true.’ He put his head down, and it took him a while, but he said, ‘I’m ashamed, but that’s true. This is what I had planned.’”

After learning of McKinney’s story, director Joshua Seftel eventually reached out to Bibi Bahrami to see if she would be interested in being a part of a documentary. At first, admits she was a little hesitant. Following a near-death experience, though, Bahrami agreed to take part in the documentary in hopes that the story could impact generations to come.

“I said, ‘God gave me a second life. By helping this documentary, this message will live. And hopefully, humanity can benefit from it,’” Bibi says. “That was my prayer with my own creator.”

Much to her delight, “Stranger at the Gate” has now reached viewers far and wide, thanks to the excellent work of Seftel and his team.

“Thanks to Josh and his amazing team, we were able to share this amazing story with humanity,” she says. “I’m very, very grateful for people like him and others who make these movies to better understand and help our world.”Stranger at the Gate

 

Ultimately, she hopes “Stranger at the Gate” can leave a lasting impact on every viewer that watches it.

“I’m very grateful to be part of this amazing message that is going to benefit humanity,” she says. “I’m also so grateful for the amazing people of the United States of America who nominated this and voted on this message — who believed in this message and that it would help our humanity. They’re truly standing with what the United States flag says: justice for all. They’re standing for truth.”

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