Portrayal of Muslims on TV

Jul 13th, 2006, in News, by

The depiction of religiously observant Muslims on television has increased greatly in recent years but some remain unhappy at the stereotypical nature of such depiction.

Akmal, a blogging man from Bogor in West Java, writes about the topic and sees much cause for complaint in the situation and goes so far as to suggest the existence of a conspiracy to discredit Islam in the way that Muslims are habitually shown on the box.

A character in the Islamic serial Kiamat Sudah Dekat
A character in the “Islamic” serial “Kiamat Sudah Dekat” (Judgement Day is Near), which also stars a favourite of ours, Zaskia Adya Mecca.

In the past, he says, likely in the years of General Suharto‘s rule, symbols and portrayals of religion, including the majority faith of Islam, were studiously avoided by television producers. Characters in Indonesian movies and soap operas (sinetron) were invariably “secular” and they went about their lives gaily without any religious influence seeming to be in evidence.

Now things have changed, Akmal admits, the portrayal of devoutly Muslim people is quite common on television but the writer continues to see in this an anti-Islamic agenda being played out by the string-pullers of the national media.

The typical traits shown by characters in soap operas who are obviously meant to be religiously inclined, he says, are the frequently to be heard cries of “Astaghfirullaah!” whenever suprise and shock are meant to be portrayed, the showing of characters engaging in sholat, or prayer, often in a weeping state, apparently caused by the mental recollection of the misery of their lives, the habit of male characters to be dressed piously in koko (clothing normally worn during prayer), sarongs (although Akmal points out that the sarong is an east Asian clothing item with no connection to Islam), and peci (skull-cap), and finally the frequent and fortuitous appearance of Muslim clerics whenever trouble is at hand.

Koko Dress
Koko Outfit & Peci.

However, on the last example, the writer complains that the trouble which brings the coming of clerics to the rescue is usually of a mystical, other-worldly nature, and involves the holy man having to chase away, by the power of prayer, demon spirits and such like. That seems to account for the role of the clerisy in daily life, with no other use for them being evident on the television screens of Indonesia.

While lead characters are often shown performing prayers, Akmal is again roused to complaint in seeing this as an attempt by tv producers and writers to put a limitation on the permitted role of Islam in ordinary life. The impression is given that being a Muslim consists in nothing more than praying, and, once such prayer is dutifully gotten over with, leading figures in dramas will often then be seen reverting to non-Islamic behaviour, witnessed in their wearing of tight-fitting clothes that reveal too much, and even by their drinking of alcohol. There is a fitting Sundanese saying for all this, he says, that is, Shalat Tuluy, Maksiat Jalan, something like “Yeah pray, but sin goes on”.

The writer returns to the dress issue and asks whether, to be a good Muslim, it is really necessary to wear a skull-cap, least of all a sarong. A sarong is doubly useless, in that not only is it not Islamic attire but it restricts freedom of movement and leaves Muslim men easy prey for attackers. Muslims must always be prepared to fight, and he cites the example of Ambon, where Muslims were attacked in their mosques. Those who wear sarongs wherever they go fail in their duty to defend Islam from its adversaries.

Akmal’s final criticism of the portrayal of Muslims on television sees him say that the overall personalities of soap opera characters of an Islamic bent are unbalanced, leaning far too much to the gentle, calm side, and do not give an accurate representation of the true Muslim ethos of living, which consists in, he says, of being calm but not lethargic, tough but not rough, patient but not passive, friendly but firm, soft but strong, able to be moved to tears by the hearing of Quranic verses but not otherwise easily so moved to a weeping state. Balance, good balance, is one of the important aspects of Islamic teaching, he says.

He concludes by saying that all the foregoing is evidence of a dastardly conspiracy at work, of an effort to make Muslims in Indonesia dumb and backward. The enemies of Islam have penetrated far into the heart of the Indonesian media world, to the point where Muslims are no longer clear about the nature of the religion’s teachings, all because of soap operas.

2 Comments on “Portrayal of Muslims on TV”

  1. Ronald says:

    very easy to be suspicious. just ask the producers why they make such soap operas.

  2. mohamad ali hein says:

    as-salamu alaykome wa rahmantullah wa barakatullah from Germany !

    With great Interest did I read your Article on the Subject of Muslim on TV ! Since I´m betrothed with an Indonesian Muslima , al-hamdullilah , I´m very interested on Islam & Islamic Cultures in the world-greatest Muslim Population ! But in One Subject I have do object Akhmal : that of the Sarong as an non-muslim Clothing ! The Loincloth have an Tradition in Islam which can be traced back to the Time of the Prophet(sws) and the even pre-Islamic Times ! Only the Names of it varies from Izar to Lungi or Doti from Region to Region of the Islamic World !!! And you even can find it do be mentioned in the Hadeeth about the value of the Mahr(Dowry) as an poor Men offers his as Dowry for his choosen Bride and the Prophet reject it , since than allways on of them would be without Protection and Cover !!! Only the Names and Style of such an Cloth , as well as those of Headgear varies , but not the Fact that it is an all (!!!) traditional Islamic Cloth !!! As well as the Image of Muslim Male wearing Koko , are very similar do the Salwar Qamis, only it´s Length isnt reaching below the Knee.
    In the other Subjects of Brother Akmal´s Statement I have do agree , since there is an ongoing Islamophobia since 9/11 , which we only can fight with true Faith and modest Life as commanded for Muslim in Sunna !!!
    May Allah(swt) grant us Iman,Taqwa,Sadaqa & Iqama on this Way

    Mohamad Ali Hein
    IGW(Islamic Community Wuerzburg/Germany)

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