Passing and Conversion Narratives (Asian Cinema, 2010)

Asian Cinema, Fall/Winter 2010

PASSING AND CONVERSION NARRATIVES: AYAT-AYAT CINTA AND MUSLIM PERFORMATIVITY IN CONTEMPORARY INDONESIA

 Intan Paramaditha

The success of Ayat-Ayat Cinta (The Love Verses, 2008), a major box office Islamic themed film, was one of the key moments of Islamic hype in Indonesia after the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998. Based on the best-selling novel by Habiburrahman El Shirazy, the film broke the record of Indonesian cinema after 10 years by attracting more than 4 million people. With an audience ranging from political elites to students of Islamic boarding schools, it exemplifies the dominant Islamic visibility in popular culture after a long suppression of Islam under Suharto’s dictatorship. Some Indonesian Muslims view Ayat-Ayat Cinta positively as a moving melodramatic tale that attempts to spread dakwah (Islamic teaching), yet the film has triggered various debates in the public sphere. One of the issues raised was the convert story of the character Maria Girgis, a Christian Egyptian woman who is fascinated with Islam yet never really practises the religion until, on her deathbed when she asks her husband to teach her to pray in an Islamic way.

There has been a mushrooming of “Islamic cinema” following the commercial success of Ayat-Ayat Cinta. In the past two years movie theaters have been populated with films about the everyday lives of Muslims, such as Kun Fayakun (Be! 2008), Mengaku Rasul (The False Prophet, 2008), Syahadat Cinta (The Love Declaration, 2008), Perempuan Berkalung Sorban (The Scarfed Woman, 2009), and Ketika Cinta Bertasbih 1 & 2 (When Love Glorifies God, 2009). In this essay I will return to Ayat-Ayat Cinta as the convert stories on and off screen help us reflect on the question of Muslim performativity. I will explore how the characters on screen as well as the filmmaker and actors project desirable Muslim public identities within the conflation of piety, politics, and consumer culture in post-authoritarian Indonesia. Furthermore, I will examine how the narrative of passing is used as a motif in religious conversion to solidify the fiction of religious authenticity.

For research purposes, read the full text of the article here

Versi Bahasa Indonesia terbit di:

Khoo, Gaik Cheng & Thomas Barker, ed. Mau dibawa ke mana sinema kita?: beberapa wacana seputar film Indonesia. Jakarta: Salemba Humanika, 2011.