Will love or faith prevail?
Writer: Sharyn Shufiyan
Published: Fri, 14 Dec 2012
WILL love or faith prevail? That is the premise of “Nadirah”, a play written by Alfian Sa’at and directed by Jo Kukathas staged recently at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre.
The play is about Nadirah, who is the product of mixed parentage and her struggle accepting her mother’s decision to marry a non-Muslim.
Nadirah is a devout Muslim who is the vice-president of her university’s Muslim Society and organises inter-faith meetings where students talk about respecting each other’s spaces. Her father is Malaysian Malay while her mother is Singaporean Chinese.
They divorced when Nadirah was young and her mother, after gaining custody, took her back to Singapore where they now reside.
Her conflict began when her mother met another man and decided to re-marry. Nadirah, at first happy for her mother was instantly overcome with anguish when she found out that the man is Christian and had no intention of converting.
Hence began the conflict between her faith and supporting her mother’s wishes.
The play introduces civil marriage – something unimaginable for Muslims in Malaysia but possible in Singapore.
Thus began the sensitive discussion on faith and conversion as opposing views are represented by Nadirah’s senior Farouk who sticks to fideism and her best friend, Maznah who appeals for humanism as she turns to them for advice. A Jungian would read into these two characters as manifestations of Nadirah’s competing consciousness (whether or not it was intended as such).
Even though the play was set in Singapore, it could not be more apt or timely for it to be staged in Malaysia as we grapple with the same questions.
The play represents the growing intellectual divide between fundamentalists and progressive Muslims that are claiming, or re-claiming, our public space.
However, what is interesting in the play was the age old confusion between race and religion (“If you are Malay, surely you are Muslim?”) and the insecurity faced by Malays both in Singapore and Malaysia.
Through these two lines, the play captured the same sentiments felt by the Malay-Muslim community.
In Singapore, Malays are the minority and in order to have a united front against the majority Chinese, they have to stick to what characterises them as such – being Muslims. The religion then becomes the identity marker.
In Malaysia, however, the insecurity takes a slightly different form.
It is even more confusing for Malay Muslims whose identity is prescribed in the Constitution, further locking race and religion to one group of people.
It is not possible for someone who is born ethnically Malay to subscribe to any other religion or to denounce Islam altogether. Because if one who is Malay is no longer Muslim, then one is no longer Malay, or at least, that is the general sentiment.
And for a country where politics revolve around a “Malay majority”, this becomes a problem.
Nadirah’s conflict is nothing new; to seek a balance between Reason and Revelation and I believe that each one of us also goes through the same process whether internally or as we confide with our peers.
The topic may be civil marriage, but what underlines this is the willingness to talk about it.
To me, this is the strongest message of “Nadirah” – that it is a process but for the process to happen there must be some form of engagement and a space for discussions and arguments to flourish, whether the engagement is in the form of the arts, intellectual sphere or cerita kedai kopi.
For some people, Maznah’s humanistic approach resonates deeply – either you hate her or you root for her.
For the former, how can anyone expect to take seriously the wisdom from someone who calls herself Malay-Muslim but dressed in minimal clothing and only dons the hijab after meeting a hot Turkish man?
For the latter, regardless of how she is portrayed, her views represent the growing hunger for pluralism and moderation in Malaysia.
Personally, even though I enjoyed Maznah’s feisty character, I did not quite agree with the decision to don her in a hijab at the end of the play just because I’m tired of how much we put emphasis on outward appearance for one’s wisdom to carry weight.
But that is my own bias; I can moan about Maznah’s representation but she does in fact, say what many of us wish to say and represents the views which many us share but may be hindered to voice out.
Maznah’s character is also important as she actively seeks knowledge and asks questions that further challenge Nadirah’s position.
The trade-off scene between Maznah and Nadirah is a most powerful one because it either strengthens your point of view or breaks it into pieces.
So, does love or faith prevails at the end?
For me, this question is redundant, for love is very much part of faith and they were never separated in the first place – they were never two different things.
But we are mostly caught up in the literal.
We emphasise on rules and regulations and disregard basic human qualities – to reason, to think, to love. We are quick to judge and condemn.
As Maznah appeals to Nadirah’s reason, she asks: “How can you love God if you can’t love another human being?”