Event Review: Freedom Film Fest
Norhayati Kaprawi’s ‘Mencari Kartika’ and ‘Aku Siapa?’ was showcased in this year’s second Freedom Film Festival on 28th October 2011. Organised here by the Singaporeans For Democracy (SFD), the festival was initiated by Malaysian NGO, Pusat Komas, nine years ago as means of education on the values of human rights for the public as well as an outlet for expression of human rights for Malaysian filmmakers. The festival has been held in different cities in Malaysia which includes Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor, Perak and East Malaysia.
In 2009, Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno was sentenced by a religious court to six strokes of the cane and a fine for drinking beer in a hotel bar. It was a highly controversial case with the Sultan of Pahang commuting the sentence to community service a day before the sentence was due to be carried out.
Merdeka Center conducted a survey and found that a large majority of the population supported the caning sentence on the part-time model. Kartika became a symbol to revive hudud* in Malaysia.
[box_light][*Note: Hudud (Arabic , also transliterated hadud, hudood; singular hadd, حد, literal meaning “limit”, or “restriction”) is the word often used in Islamic literature for the bounds of acceptable behaviour and the punishments for serious crimes. In Islamic law or Sharia, hudud usually refers to the class of punishments that are fixed for certain crimes that are considered to be “claims of God.” They include theft, fornication, consumption of alcohol, and apostasy.][/box_light]
The survey results spurred activist-turned-filmmaker Norhayati to make this documentary. In an interview with The Nut Graph, she said:
[box_dark]”The Kartika issue for me is only a representation of one of the many problems we have in Malaysia. My main concern is, what has happened to the Malaysian public? Why does a large majority support the caning without giving much consideration to justice and compassion? Is it because they just follow Muslim leaders, especially religious leaders, from government, the opposition parties, or Muslim non-governmental organisations?
If with the Kartika issue there is a great lack of justice and compassion being displayed, what then is the future of Malaysia? What kind of Islam are we going to have?
Non-Muslims in Malaysia should also [realise] that an exclusivist, uncompromising and punitive kind of Islam will have some impact on them. In fact, it can already be seen in some of the cases in Malaysia, such as the “Allah” issue and “body-snatching” cases.”[/box_dark]
The documentary provided a balanced narrative on Kartika’s case. It delves into the concept of ‘justice’ in Malaysia’s context. It questions the benefits of Kartika’s sentence to the society at large. It brings about the need to study on the ‘talibanisation’ of the Malay society.
When asked “What was the most significant or surprising discovery or observation you made while doing this documentary?”, she answered:
[box_dark]It was a surprise to me initially to hear young and modern Muslims, who even looked quite hip, supporting the caning just because they think that it is syariah and that is the Islamic way. Their simplistic and uncritical answers disturbed me because it is a reflection of our education system and the quality of public religious sermons.
I was also pleasantly surprised when a few older Muslim women, who were in their 60s, whom I interviewed in Kelantan and Terengganu, did not support the caning because they thought it was not necessary and it was unkind.[/box_dark]
Norhayati was able to gather views from the ground as well as views from experts on Shariah. Her film managed to explore both sides of the coin: those who support and those who oppose the sentence. It also gave a voice to Kartika and her family, which had largely been ignored by the media.
‘Aku Siapa?’-Who am I? looks into the reasons behind the wearing of the ‘tudung’- hijab, of Muslim women in Malaysia. Through casual interviews with the public as well as prominent celebrities, Norhayati attempts to capture the decisions behind women’s decisions to don the hijab, or not. Her film traverse the different interpretations on the ayaah 31 in Surah An-Nur which says:[box_light]“And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands’ fathers, or their sons or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers or their brothers’ sons or sisters’ sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack vigour, or children who know naught of women’s nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn unto Allah together, O believers, in order that you may succeed.”[/box_light] [pullquote_left]Most women in Malaysia wore the hijab not out of necessity or out of the fulfillment of religious duty but out of conformity[/pullquote_left]
Calling upon religious figures in Malaysia and Indonesia to explain the need of the hijab, Norhayati was able to bring to light the non-mainstream (and somewhat controversial) interpretations about the head covering. Her exceptional focus on the non-mainstream view about the hijab can be uncomfortable to watch especially since she merely touch upon the importance of wearing the hijab. Using historical comparison, she kept on emphasising the differences between then and now in which the women in 1950s and 60s Malaya do not don the hijab as women do now.
For this film, Norhayati tried to highlight that most women in Malaysia wore the hijab not out of necessity or out of the fulfillment of religious duty but out of conformity. Most interviewed seemed to suggest that they wore the hijab because ‘everyone wears it’ and not wearing it may cause isolation. The message to the audience in the end is to wear it for the ‘right reasons’.
The two documentaries highlighted the rise of religiosity in Malaysia, be it on the legislation level (through the attempt to bring in hudud) or the personal level (through the number of people wearing hijab). The films also expressed, though subtly, that the young are more conservative in their religious views and practices.
In her films, Norhayati highlighted the need to question and be critical on the practices done by the state and the individual. Religion may be part of Malaysian politics, and that Islam is the religion of the majority in Malaysia. However, this being the case causes Muslims to take their faith for granted and lose the ability to find meaning in the things they do.
Umm Amatullah is slightly Extraverted, moderately iNtuitive, highly Feeling, and somewhat Perceiving… well according to a mother-daughter team called Myers & Briggs.