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.