Posted by: Dawud Israel | February 18, 2009

The Future of Islamic Cinema

Bismillah, alhamdulillah, salat wa salam ala rasulullah

What would an Islamic film look like? How could music be used in films? What about showing haram scenes in these films? If we don’t is it realistic? Here are some possible ways Islamic Cinema could come about…

While, it’s true that a number of films in Hollywood try to convey morals and themes that are echoed in Islam, they often do not do so in an Islamic way. The way good and evil has been that the villain is some ingenious character who scares everyone, like Joker in The Dark Knight, and the good guy is one-dimensional, and often a naive, mentally retarded Forrest Gump character. Now, in terms of religion, the Catholic Church has suppressed films in Hollywood, threatening mass boycott if the films were against those values, but eventually the Church lost it’s influence. Muslims themselves, have been portrayed in a negative light, and when they have been portrayed in a positive light it is often at the expense of down-playing the role Islam plays in their life- either patriotism or personal interests end up coming first.

So this is how it’s been done so far…now how could Muslims do it?

Well, Islam has always had a class of people in it’s history who were known for their creativity- they weren’t rigid as the ulema nor were the dismissive of the Shariah. Often these people were the Sufis, who would write poetry, moral tales and compose nasheeds or qasidahs. At other times, it was artisans, calligraphers, artists and mathematicians that helped design much of the architecture present in the Muslim world. So the mentality of an Islamic film-maker must be: open-minded, creative, and free of dogmatism.

This is important because film is mainly about character development as the story progresses, the characters are where all the change takes place. And in order for that to happen, you have to show haram (forbidden) actions or deeds on film- or if not show it, then hint to it. Much of what is out there in terms of attempts at an Islamic film, steers clear of showing real haram, thinking that it would be “encouraging” fahsha (sin), but this doesn’t really relate to the viewer, and is dishonest simply because everyone sins. So character development is severely limited then.

It is best then, to use Islamic virtues and principles as “guidelines” within the plot in order to “reveal” the struggle faced by the main characters. This is best seen in some of the moral tales of the Sufis and in fact, much of that material could be put straight into film. The stories of Mulah Nasruddin with his comic exploits would make an excellent TV show portraying the morals and complexities of Muslim life or the stories of Laila and Majnun, the eternal lovers, to comment on the relationship between the worshiper and Allah. Other ways it could done is in an anthropological/sociological manner- showing the inside world of Muslim life, for example, with Muslim youth or Muslim women or the life story of great Muslim personalities. Or even from a direct Islamic knowledge angle, portraying the Sunnah with it’s Fiqh and focus on Akhlaaq in lesson format- for example, this episode is about how Shafi’i Muslims pray or how Maliki Muslims pray- so people can SEE it.

But there is more that needs to be taken into account, because Islamic Cinema could change the world. Currently, cinema uses a number of techniques to convey symbolism or certain ideas with the atmosphere of the film- the angle of the shot, the lighting, the closeup or how the scenes change. But beyond that, there are ideas like expressionism, where the background set is made to portray what the main character sees as the world, so for example, everything will look topsy-turvy and unusual to portray that the main character is mentally insane. These techniques could be incorporated into Islamic cinema.

Islam is a rich religion and has it’s own intellectual milleiu and so it becomes clear that film techniques could be derived from it. Film is considered the “ultimate art” and Islam is the ultimate religion. We all notice how certain messages or patterns or ideas pop up in a film, and it’s how the film-maker is commenting on the film or trying to get a message across, even if it be very subtle. Well, Allah does the same with us- He sends us messages, teach us through our struggles and tests and conveys truths to us in ways more subtle, more rich and more meaningful than that of any film out there. And from our day-to-day lives, we can produce stories out of them- but this is only for those who can appreciate the life of a Muslim and the struggles of it- it would not easily register with non-Muslims. This idea opens a number of doors- we could try and portray Islamic virtues and beliefs in film, such as, futuwa (chivalry), destiny (qadr) or nur (blessings) or firasa (when a pious Muslim can know exactly what a person is like, by just looking at him) or interpretation of dreams. From the Quran, we could incorporate the imagery and style that is used- the richness of meaning and directness of it all- you could make an entire plot and use character development to reveal the layers of meaning within one verse. Whether it is something in the plotline or in the camera angles, there are a number of different things that could be experimented with.

Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, Ameen.


  1. This is something I am really interested in, and am keen to learn more about: the limits of ‘cinematic license’ within Islam.

    I am particular interested in the narrative form of film, whether it be fictional or nonfiction based.

    I think much of it is open to personal interpretation and ijtihad; it would be hard to gain mass acceptance on any one ruling.

    I agree about showing the flaws of a character to gain the empathy of the audience. But I disagree that this is something rejected by the orthodoxy. Or if they do reject it, it is somewhat of an odd decision.

    It is the Sunnah of both of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala, and His Beloved Messenger, sallalahu ‘alayhi wa salam, to do just that.

    Examples include:

    The story of Prophet Yunus in the Qur’an. Allah relates how he ran away from the people that he was assigned to deliver the da’wah to, the repercussions of that mistake, and how he was eventually forgiven.

    The story from the hadith about the three men stuck in the cave. One man narrates how he almost committed zina, but left it when he was reminded of Allah.

    The hadith about the man who killed 99 people, who asked the ‘abid and then the ‘alim, whether he would be forgiven by Allah.

    Even the companions spoke of their immoral pasts, within the context of how Islam had saved them from such ignorance.

    Of course, speaking/writing about such things has a different effect to showing them to an audience on screen.

    So, for example, the story of the man who almost committed zina. IMHO, it would go against Islamic etiquette and hayah to show him on-screen lying on top of the woman, about to commit the act, even though he eventually changes his mind. Allahu ‘alam.

    So some stories may have to be kept out of the realm of visual depiction, or at least related in such a way that would avoid an 18 certificate. đŸ™‚

    I am planning to discuss this matter with a knowledgeable person soon, insha’Allah. I’ll let you know what I find out…

  2. Yes that is a good point you make about the sins. Showing it on the screen might be awkward, because it could give some people ideas.

    I think with something like zina, you could just use a cinematic technique of showing the door closing and then letting the audience figure out the obvious right? That is the beauty of cinema to be so manipulatable.

    The other thing about cinema is it could be used for teaching fiqh, since the Sunnah is so detailed one could make loads of movies about the “episodes” of the Sahabas.

  3. I have often thought of this, and I am so happy to have bumped into this blog and read this. The modern movie is so controversial and laden with haram ideas and scenes, yet by the end of the movie there is an underlying theme of moral uprightness that both non-Muslims and Muslims gain from. Why should we not also utilize cinema to bring morality into light?

    I remember once I was listening to a lecture by Imam Zaid Shakir, and he was saying (paraphrased by me) that the reason so many Saudi youth are addicted to American music is because all other forms of expressing their creativity and beauty is a biddah!

    Ihsan includes expressing our creativity and love for Allah through poetry, song-writing, and the like. How can such an action of love for Allah be considered wrong?

    On another note, remember the hadith in which the two grandsons of the Prophet (pbuh) wanted to correct a person who was making incorrect wudu, but they (Hasan and Husain, RA) felt bad confronting him. Thus they thought of a plan in which one of them would make incorrect wudu and the other would correct him. They acted this out in front of the man, who by watching them corrected his wudu. This is clearly an act in which a lesson was bestowed–this can clearly be a prototype of the Islamic movie in the making. đŸ™‚

    Nice blog!

  4. True say, and I really agree with Imam Zaid’s comment. In sha Allah, I wanna get some films made that actually have substance, similar to what I have mentioned here. I have some rough drafts of scripts but nothing solid yet. In sha Allah, will post something in the future…

    BTW, you aren’t MR’s (Amir) sister are you? Just a hunch…

  5. The creativity is biddah thing doesn’t explain Pakistani youth though…

  6. Your hunch is correct. InshAllah your films will be a success.

    To Qas: Obviously, Imam Zaid’s comment is not the absolute reason why the youth are addicted to American music, but it is a major cause and something to ponder upon nevertheless.

  7. Assalamualykum my name is Junaid Ali Qazi and I’m an engineering student I like to make short Films and I have one channel on YouTube named JAQOFHEART where I upload my films but now I feel that I should make Islamic films in a halaal way and I would also like to make career in it can someone help me regarding this because I don’t have any idea about Islamic films.

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