Friday, April 11, 2014

Why ban Noah in Islamic countries? by azly rahman


A good philosophical movie ‘Noah’ is; classic arguments between Fate and Free Will, juxtaposed with the Epic of Gilgamesh I am currently discussing. Now I know how Noah looks like. Like Russell Crowe! Good to see how the nephilim, the fallen angles, and the animals in Noah’s ark looked like.

Thank you Hollywood.

I suppose I am done imagining what all these looked like via readings/oral literacy. Now there is George-Lucas-Pixar-standard visual literacy. There is a nice element of fantasy in it, especially in the Transformer-looking fallen angels. I thought those were ugly-looking creations with some good thoughts.

Too bad many Muslims countries have banned ‘Noah’ for flimsy reasons when the value of the movie is a thousand times more. I would lift the ban and even use the movie in all classes in those countries. Can talk about cosmological doctrines, Creation myths, the philosophy of Good vs Evil, Love vs Duty/Dharma, and many more themes of human existence.

I think we should replace those in the Censorship Board and put in more Humanities and Philosophy scholars in them who understand not only deeply engaging English dialogues but comparative scriptures, pragmatism, and the value of cinema in teaching Cross-Cultural Perspectives.

The younger generation will benefit from these approaches. It is their future. Because they are millennial children (of the 21st century) and have mastered Visual Literacy.

Above all, the old have to give way to the young of which we cannot underestimate their natural urge to ask questions and philosophise. They will be the ones inheriting this troubling world. A world awaiting another deluge.

But then again that’s what the Islamic society of today is about - devoid of educational philosophers, cosmopolitan thinkers, and deconstructionists.

I shall not worship Russell Crowe as Noah after watching the movie, now that the Babylonian mythical figure has been represented by Hollywood. As a matter of fact, I have never been keen in worshipping anybody - not even Al Pacino as the Godfather.

Now why the ban? Isn’t this already the 21st century, the Neo-Frankenstein Era and not the Dark Ages?

Copycat banning?

Malaysia need not follow the eagerness of banning good movies such as ‘Noah’ just because other ‘Islamic countries’ decided to ban it. I thought Malaysia is more progressive than Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, Pakistan, and even Indonesia in matters of dealing with liberal ideas related to the advancement of thinking in society.

What is there to emulate in countries that ban women from driving, labelling atheists as terrorists, giving light sentence to a father who raped and murdered his five-year old daughter, or to look up to a country whose people shoot little girls in the face just for the crime of going to school to get an education?

What good reason to share fatwas with those countries whose citizens are kept at a low level of literacy enough to just memorise the scriptures but not to think, and enough to be controlled by the cleric and the monarchs?

Malaysia is blessed with a multicultural mix of peoples and a good social environment wherein people of different faiths, be they of the monotheistic or polytheistic systems, not only can learn to respect each other’s traditions but even, a mature society, engage in good philosophical discussions stimulated by good movies such a ‘Noah’ or even ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and ‘The Mahabharata’ created by Peter Brooks.

This dialogical nature of being members of a civil society always in the lifelong-learning mode and in deep respect for knowledge and new interpretations of old ideas ought to be what Malaysia is - not the book and movie banning and jailing-of-citizens-without-trial kind of Malaysia we deplore. Not the fork-tongued confusion-generating officials in an MH370 global media conference - kind of Malaysia we are seeing.

But this Malaysia is controlled by groups that are anti-knowledge, anti-new interpretations, and always afraid of the shadow of their own ignorance.

In the Western-liberal democratic countries that upholds freedom of speech, a movie such as ‘Noah’ or the ‘Passion of the Christ’ or even ‘The Matrix’ is not banned just because its interpretation is considered “sensitive” to this or that group or people of a religious faith - these movies are discussed, debated on, and debunked for their value. Not banned.

Malaysians - what are you going to do with your book-banners, book-burners, freedom-fighter-busters, and maddening-movie-censors?

What kind of learning society do we wish to see evolving? Have we not been independent for over 50 years? Is this country growing old, grumpy, and ignorant?

Incomplete Quranic story?

Readers of the Quran, and indeed those who are censor-happy, need to understand that movies and multiple interpretation of stories of the prophets in any reliable, authoritative, scholarly media form from all religious traditions should help make these stories better understood.

The story of Noah in Surah Hud in the Quran (Chapter on Hud) contains a few verses mentioning Noah and the flood. These are perhaps borrowed from ancient texts of Jewish and Christian sources. In the Quran, the story is told as a synopsis of a story that needs to be researched upon using pre-Meccan Islamic sources.

Herein lie the need for readers of the Quran to not only read it hermeneutically but also philologically and transculturally. The stories borrowed into the Quran have multiple variations. Even the story of Noah in the Quran is told differently than in the Bible, although the Quran owes the origin of the story to ancient Christian and Jewish texts which borrowed from the ancient Akkadian-Sumerian texts preserved on tablets in cuneiform.

To say that the movie ‘Noah’ is not suitable for Muslims and to be banned is not an intelligent statement to make. To produce a movie the magnitude of ‘Noah’, ‘The Passion of the Christ’, or even Mustafa Akkad’s 1970s movie ‘The Message’ require extensive research employing experts, scholars, and requiring even the actors to study the history of the story they are dramatising.

It is unlike producing Malaysia’s ‘Drama Minggu Lepas’ or ‘Hantu Mak Limah Balik Kajang’ epic movies or a Korean soap opera with Gangnam music as soundtrack.

A transcultural reading of the Quran is much needed these days, because the rich and extensive narratives of the stories in the Quran lie not in the Quran itself but outside of it - in ancient texts that the Quran borrowed from.

Herein lies the need to apply the cultural, scientific, hermeneutic, and phenomenological framework of analyses even to understand the simple story of a flood that might not have been a global/universal flood but just local one around where Noah the mythical Babylonian figure once lived (in the Fertile Crescent).

So - there is a lot of world Malaysian movie censors need to do before censoring blindly and happily, I humbly believe.



6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I believe that you're asking too much of our censors who are after all victims of our education system.



Anonymous said...

can you explain more on what you mean by The story of Noah in Surah Hud in the Quran (Chapter on Hud) contains a few verses mentioning Noah and the flood. These are perhaps borrowed from ancient texts of Jewish and Christian sources. do you mean that Allah copied His words from other sources?

Anonymous said...

How can you blame the education system? You should put the blame on the person/s who are responsible for the education system being as it is?
As for me I would blame the shallow thinking of Malaysians, especially the Malays, the majority of whom are sitting silently while the Government in power makes decisions for them
Kana Teeraj

non-conformis said...

Dear Sir,
As usual, I admire your open mindedness and objectivity in looking at issues.
I would hope that one day, Malaysians will understand what you have been telling them - be open minded and have critical thinking, instead of blind faith and take what is given to them.
Thank you for the good article.

Pohchee Kay said...

Hi Dr. Azli:

I used to comment that I agree Muslims must not read the Bible in studying the Quran. Because the portrayal of the Almighty God, Allah, in these two books are different and truly Muslims may get confused. But I also strenuously said that far be it that Christians be proscribed from using the word Allah just because Muslims might get confused. The better alternative would be to spend five minutes with each Muslim to tell them the truth, that there are other religions where their Almighty God is characteristically different from the Muslim Allah, even though they also call Him Allah.

But what you write here addresses the issue more clearly for us. That one should allow others' minds to open up to other representations and protrayals, otherwise the Muslim mind would then be limited only to the Quran (and the mind is not amenable to such absolute control) and in so doing stifle intellectual and even spiritual development. So I agree that movies like Noah (as if I already know this movie) should never have been banned.

But let me tell you that lack of honesty is not just in the Muslim fold. Here in Malaysia, the censors agreed with the Christians that The Passion of Christ would be screened, on the condition that it would only be for Christians and tickets would only be sold through churches, a condition accepted by the Christian leaders.

However I detected that these same leaders abrogated this agreement by writing to all churches to encourage them to buy tickets and bring non-Christian friends to watch. That is how I found out about this. This is why I always ask Christians to "define Christian," much less "define Christian leader." Somehow they believe that they could con non-Christians (including Muslims) to become Christians by watching this movie so they conned the censors into believing that they would live up to the conditions. So don't just blame Muslims for blinkered minds. Christians must shamefully admit that they are dishonest in written covenants.

So long as you also criticize Christians for dishonesty in asking for the lifting of censorship, I agree with you that censorchip of Noah is uncalled for.

Kaypohchee

clk said...

It is easier to ban than to enter into philosophical discourse and argument which sadly, very few are able to partake in sound and rational arguments.

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