The Less Lecturing, the Better Islamic: Film as A Silent Theology
I borrow the term “silent theology” from the American Islamic expert, Oludamini Ogunnaike. For Ogunnaike, art is essentially a way of knowing God: not by discourse or lectures, but by perceiving His signs through the beauty that takes the form of His creations.
Titus Burckhardt says: “…just as a mental form, such as dogma or doctrine, can be an adequate reflection—albeit limited—of a Divine Truth, so can a sensory form traces a truth or reality that transcends both the senses and the terrain of thought.” Indeed, in Islamic mysticism, all of God’s creations are called tajalliyat (radiance/manifestation/theophany) of their Creator.
In the Quran, He Himself calls His creations the signs of Himself. “We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the Truth.” (Quran, Surah Fussilat: 53).
Furthermore, as revealed in one of the hadiths: “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty.” Thus, He also “…incorporates beauty (ihsan) into everything (He creates).” Therefore, as Plato says: “Beauty is the radiance of Truth (with capital T).”
So, as Ogunnaike says, for non-Muslims who want to know Islam, he prefers to suggest them not to read this book or that, or to listen to this lecture or that, but to enjoy Islamic works of art; he prefers to make them listen to the beauty of the recitations of the Quran, bring them to see the beauty of the Shaykh Lutfullah Mosque in Iran, or read the poems of Rumi, Ibnul Faridh, and so on.
Ogunnaike does not mention the film. But inevitably film is a medium for expressing beauty too; especially films that are made by highlighting aspects of art, whether acting—depicting human complexity—photography, or storytelling. Without having to be cynical toward the verbal content of a film—if it is artistically valid, even a verbal dialogue can become a work of art—one can see that a film made with confidence in the power of art and beauty is actually a da’wah film.
What I would like to say is that a da’wah film is not necessarily one that verbally teaches dogmas or doctrines of Islamic teachings—in fact to the point of cynicism. Verbal cynicism can actually make a film banal, lose its beauty and, therefore, lose its most important da’wah nature. Moreover, our surrounding atmosphere is too crowded with religious lectures and verbal discourses already.
This book of Ekky Imanjaya, one of the few experts on film, and a diligent observer of what is called da’wah films or Islamic films, is an excellent and enlightening description of the da’wah film industry and, more importantly , of what should be sought to make a film deserving of the category of a da’wah film or Islamic film. It must be the best one to achieve the goal of spreading good for the audience. And, for this, we need to express our thanks and congratulations to Ekky for this important work.
Dr. Haidar Bagir
(This essay is a foreword to the book Mencari Film Madani: Sinema dan Dunia Islam [Ekky Imanjaya, 2019]. The book is a part of “Seri Wacana Islam”, published by the Film Committee of the Jakarta Arts Council.)