By Zan Azlee, The Malaysian Insider
I’m a Muslim and I make films. I guess that constitutes me as a Muslim filmmaker. It doesn’t even matter if my films are about Islam or not. Well, my films are mainly about myself anyway (and from all the complaints I get from readers, so is this column, apparently!) and indirectly, my films become about Islam too.
Whenever I meet people who have seen my films, they always ask me advice about Islam. There was a time when I made a mockumentary on ‘samak’, and I got calls from Muslims asking me about the procedure to clean their newly-bought houses just in case some Chinese had eaten pork or kept a dog there.
Even PhD candidates and journalists sometimes request for interviews with me as if I’m some kind of expert when it comes to matters of religion. I need to let everyone in on a little secret — I don’t know much!
The reason I make these films that deal with my religion is because I want to find out more myself. I see the process of making the films as a process of discovery and learning in order to understand my religion better. And most importantly, understand it the way I want to understand it.
Like the time I went to the Middle-East to shoot a film. I had gone to a holy site by the river Jordan. There was an orthodox church near the banks and I approached the entrance. The priest there saw me walk up and greeted “Assalamualaikum”. Shock! Horror! Never would this happen in Malaysia.
While there, I conversed with a local Muslim guide who spoke excellent English. For some reason, we were talking about inter-racial marriage (must have been because I mentioned that Arab women had beautiful eyes and that I wouldn’t mind getting to know them better!) and that led to us talking about inter-religious marriage.
“If I were to marry someone who is not a Muslim, she would have to convert,” I said.
“Then marry a Christian or a Jew,” the guide said.
“Haha! What are you talking about? They still have to convert.”
“Why? Those are Allah’s religions too. They are all People of the Book.”
Shock! Horror! Never would this happen in Malaysia.
Then there was the time I went to Pattani, Thailand, to make a film about the plight of the Thai-Malays who are also Muslims. These are people who are facing persecution because they want to practice their culture and religion. In order to deny the indoctrination attempt by the Thai government, they send their kids to private schools.
“There, my children learn Malay language and also Islamic studies,” said a local journalist there.
“Ahh! So you cannot separate your ethnicity and your religion?” I asked.
“Of course not. It’s important that they learn these things because it defines our identity.”
Not so shocking and no so horrific. Very similar this is to Malaysia.
So there you go. It isn’t just making films to me. It’s much more than that. I can’t really say that I will become an expert on the subject. All I can say is that it allows me to view the subject matter in many different perspectives. The experience I gain is so valuable to my self-development. And in the process, if my viewers can get a little something from it as well, be it positive or negative… how cool is that?
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.