A new film on the oppression of women in Islamic societies is courting controversy in Indonesia.
The film, "Perempuan Berkalung Sorban" (Woman with a Scarf Around her Neck), by local filmmaker Hanung Bramantyo is the latest Islam-inspired movie to ride the wave of a cinematic revival in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority nation.
AdvertisementWhile most of this growth has been in schlock-horror flicks, teen sex romp comedies or Muslim love stories, "Perempuan Berkalung Sorban" is aimed squarely at prompting a difficult internal debate among Muslims about how women are treated.
The film, which is based on a 2001 book by Abidah El-Khaliqey, tells the story of the rebellion of Anissa, the headstrong and intelligent daughter of the head of an Islamic boarding school on Java island.
Anissa wants to study at university, but her father pressures her into marriage to another cleric's son who beats her, rapes her, and impregnates another women who he then takes as a second wife.
That is only the first 30 minutes.
Suffice to say, some clerics are not happy.
But filmmaker Bramantyo says it is not a critique of Islam but of the patriarchal culture in many of the boarding schools and mosques throughout the country.
In the film, the answer to Anissa's struggle is not less Islam but more.
"The Islam born in Arabia under the Messenger of Allah is a free religion," Bramantyo told AFP.
"God created men and women as a partnership, and they're equal. But over time, culturally and socially, that understanding has been misused and misinterpreted so that men became superior," he said.
"Right now there is a lot of pushing and shoving between Islam and (patriarchal) culture."
After being divorced by her husband, Anissa goes to study and returns to the boarding school with the goal of getting the girls to read books other than the holy texts of Islam. And in her struggle, she comes armed with Islamic arguments.
While the film has not had the same box office success as Bramantyo's last Islamic film "Ayat-ayat Cinta" (Verses of Love), a religious love story dealing with intolerance and polygamy that famously brought President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to tears at one screening, it has found its fair share of critics.
Ali Mustafa Yaqub, the head imam, or prayer leader, at Jakarta's main Istiqlal Grand Mosque, said the film should be yanked from cinemas in order to "correct the depiction" of his religion in some scenes.
"The film portrays a bad image of Islam," Yaqub said.
"Islam doesn't forbid women to get out of the house to study, to pray, in fact to do any activity... to relax or to enjoy themselves, as long as the activity is not haram (forbidden in Islam)," he said.
But Indonesia's women's minister Meutia Hatta said the film is an important tool to correct centuries of tradition, and the creeping influence of religious hardliners drawing inspiration from the Middle East.
"I think it is an improvement on the old mindset that oppresses women," Hatta said.
"(Some Muslim leaders) think it's Muslim culture but actually it's not, the influence of Arabic culture is there," she said.
"I think people are scared to talk openly, but I think someday we have to.
"Even in the United States they dress with tank tops or something like that and nobody thinks 'she's doing something wrong.' So why can't we be like that?"
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