“Haram is well-defined, so is halal but there is a grey area in the middle. Entering that space is risky,” cautions a character in the Halal Love Story, a movie on movie making that explores what is permitted and what taboo in the context of a certain religion.
How far can the faithful go to enjoy ‘beauty’ is a point of hot discussion in aesthetics and theology. Are there any theological inhibitors that prevent a devout Muslim from appreciating cinema or is it just the creation of the clergy?
Halal Love Story, a movie on movie making explores what is permitted and what is taboo in the context of a religion
The answer is crystal clear to an extreme Salafi who honestly believes that cinema, for that matter all art forms, is a devil’s machination to mislead the faithful from the path of God and to deny him the promised heaven. But for an organization like Jama’at-e-Islami, which positions itself as progressive, the challenge of making a work of art that does not affront the religious sentiments cannot be ignored.
“The dilemma presented in the movie really exists and such discussions have happened within the organization,” said Salih Kottapalli, state president of Students Islamic Organisation (SIO), the feeder organization of Jama’at-e-Islami. The SIO organized a brainstorming session in Kozhikode in December 2019 titled ‘Festival of Ideas and Resistance’ which discussed the importance of evolving a Muslim perspective in different spheres, including aesthetics.
“The dichotomy between the aesthetics of cinema and moral principles is a concern within the organization and this has been widely discussed at various programmes related to cinema organized by the SIO,” he said.
But Sunni intellectuals see the movie as the outcome of the confusions that stem from a flawed understanding of Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence).
“Jama’at-e-Islami used to frown on other Muslim organizations, especially Sunnis, for engaging in hair-splitting debates on theological issues like haram and halal when the community is facing serious political issues. The Jama’at cadres wanted to teach us that Muslims lost Spain because of these kinds of discussions. Anyway, it is heartening to see the new generation of Jama’at workers are worried about issues related to fiqh,” said Yasar Arfath Nurani, disciple of Sunni leader Kanthapuram A P Aboobacker Musaliyar.
Nurani argues that Halal Love Story has done more harm to the Muslim community than good. “It reiterates the popular notion that Islam as a religion has many limitations in addressing the aesthetics of cinema. The film desperately tries to prove that there are some Jama’at workers who can surmount this inherent weakness in the religion,” he said.
In that sense, the film also reproduces the ‘mainstream’ notions of Muslim society, which the film seeks to debunk. “The film seems to insist that Islam is an orthodox religion that is out of sync with the modern world,” he said.
Nurani, the creative director of an advertising firm, sees many things in the structure of the film itself that undermines its overt intentions. “In Halal Love Story, Jama’at workers refuse to accept money accumulated through bank interest for making the film but they have no qualms in organizing a puja during the switch-on of the movie. Their idea of halal and haram is that flimsy,” he said.
“There are Muslims who see or act or make films and similarly, there are people who choose not to be associated with the art form…These people have no confusion like the Jama’at workers,” he said.
Muhsin Parari, the film’s co-writer, said he never intended the film to represent the Muslim community as a whole. “Muslim community is not a monolithic structure anywhere. It may appear as a cohesive entity for an outsider, but there is a happy anarchy inside,” he said.
“The film deals with a section within the community in a specific historical moment; its confusions and delusions in addressing theological questions on haram and halal,” he said. Parari believes the Muslim community does face restrictions imposed by the religion while addressing the cinema as an art form. “But every section has its own set of taboos and restrictions. In a way, art is a rebellion against the restrictions,” he said.
The Muslim community in Malabar has a rich tradition of art and literature. “But it got submerged when the canons of literature and culture were redefined in the process of colonization,” he said. One way to approach the film could be to view it as a frantic attempt by a section haunted by the inferiority complex of being side-lined, to get their due space in the public sphere.
“In spite of being a culturally-rich and resilient community, they are often forced to look at themselves as an unrelenting and closed group. The film is also a struggle against the process of stereo-typing of a dynamic and divergent community,” said Parari.
Why, then, does the film end without solving the contradictions it raised? “It is intended to be like that. The issues are irreconcilable,” Parari said.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.