Indonesia blockbuster film shows gentle Islam face

Tue Apr 1, 2008 6:42am EDT
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By Ahmad Pathoni

JAKARTA (Reuters) - An Indonesian film seeking to shatter religious stereotypes and show the compassionate face of Islam has become one of the biggest blockbuster hits in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

More than three million people, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and top government officials, have flocked to cinemas to watch Ayat Ayat Cinta (Verses of Love), an Islamic romance released in the middle of January.

The movie deals with a host of sensitive issues such as Islam's treatment of women and multiple marriages through the story of Fahri Abdullah Shiddiq, an Indonesian graduate student at Egypt's Al-Azhar University, and his struggle to deal with life's problems through Islamic teachings.

Film-maker Hanung Bramantyo, 33, who has won two Citra awards, Indonesia's equivalent of the Oscars, says his mission is to present Islam as a tolerant and peaceful religion.

"I wanted to tell a story about Islam from a universal point of view," Bramantyo told Reuters at his modest office tucked in a narrow South Jakarta street.

"I want to tell my audience that there are people who are hip, fashionable and capable of socializing but at the same time do things in an Islamic way," he said.

"I believe Islam is compassionate. Some people say to struggle for Islam means doing something great, but for me a love story can also carry Islamic messages."

Yudhoyono, who watched the film at an upmarket cinema with his family and 80 foreign ambassadors and diplomats, said the film was inspiring.   Continued...

<p>A teacher holds a Quran as students gather in a mass prayer for 2004 tsunami victims in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, December 26, 2007. REUTERS/Tarmizy Harva</p>