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Suggested Headline : Advocating Gender Equality
BY BISSME S.
WHILE some may believe that women can never play the role of a leader in religious matters, documentary filmmaker Norhayati Kaprawi, 47, in her latest work, Ulama Perempuan (Female Ulama), shows that is not the case, at least in Indonesia.The Malaysian director, in her 50-minute documentary released late last year, looks at the work of female Islamic scholars in Indonesia
and presents a more compassionate and humane face to her religion. In several private screenings held at selected venues, Ulama Perempuan (above) received rave reviews and ignited some healthy debates.Norhayati is an activist who advocates ‘gender justice’ in Islam. Her other wellknown works include Mencari Kartika – about a Muslim woman who was sentenced to six lashes of the cane for consuming alcohol and Aku Siapa – about the issue of wearing a veil in Malaysia. Norhayati (far right) talks about her latest work and the public response to it in an exclusive interview with theSun.
*What motivated you to make Ulama Perempuan?
Many Malaysians have been to Indonesia but not many really understand [the way] Islam is practised over there with its rich history and vibrant discourse on religious issues that are
ongoing. Some accuse Muslims in Indonesia of being too liberal, and that carries a negative connotation… It insinuates that they are less pious. And that Islam practised there is not as pure as it’s in Malaysia.
I find that to be far from the truth. Many Indonesians are open minded and adopt a more moderate and humane approach in religious matters. They also have a more indepth knowledge and
understanding of their religion and … a rich religious tradition that respects diversity.No doubt that there are extremists and radicals in Indonesia, but the country also has progressive Islamic scholars who challenge those radical and extremist groups. I was also amazed at the extent of their advocacy of gender issues and women’s rights … even in their rural areas. I thought Malaysians should know about it and reflect on why we have not progressed as much in raising gender awareness here.
*What is your aim in making this documentary?
I hope that viewers, especially women, will feel empowered and inspired by the strong, loving and good-natured religious women figures featured in the documentary. I believe the audience
will have a better awareness of gender issues and a better understanding that Islam does not condone gender discrimination. Many forms of discrimination or injustices done in the name of
Islam are in fact due to a person’s interpretations that regard women as inferior to men.
* Name some of your favourite scenes?
A particular scene that moved a lot of people while some even shed tears is when they watched a female ulama give a sex worker a motherly embrace, without any judgment whatsoever.My own
favourite is the one of a little girl who volunteered to come forward to recite a Quranic verse in front of hundreds of people in their national mosque in Jakarta.The ustaz treated her gently and with full respect although by Malaysian standard, the little girl may not have been considered to be properly attired for the mosque.
That experience will surely empower the little girl, at least to be more comfortable in public speaking and addressing a large audience or perhaps even take a leadership role as she gets older.
* What kind of responses have you received for Ulama Perempuan?
University students and members of Islamic organisations said they have a much better understanding of women’s issues after watching the documentary.It also inspires them to adopt a more compassionate and humane approach in their work with the community.A non-Muslim lecturer told me that while she has never been comfortable to be among Muslims before, the documentary made her realise that Islam is a good religion after all ….”
* Most of your documentaries touch on your religion. Why?
I try to put forward a perspective,information or argument that are rarely highlighted in the mainstream media. I hope my documentaries can encourage Malaysians not to adopt a simplistic
approach to Islam and just blindly follow the things said by [other people]. They should be critical and appreciate the complexities of the many issues facing our society today. The most important thing is that justice and equality should be upheld always.
* What is your next project?
I have recently launched a short animation on the history of monogamy based on the Quran.I havedone a documentary on Kuda Kepang (a traditional dance form) from my hometown of Batu Pahat in Johor. I hope to produce a longer version of it.
|Norhayati says Islam does not condone gender discrimination.|
|A scene from her documentary Ulama Perempuan|