I have noticed a trend on Facebook of pages created and maintained by male religious teachers in the Malay-speaking communities of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. CahayaIslam (“Light of Islam”) and Lukisan Dakwah Islam (“Islamic Drawings for Da’wah”) are two pages most intriguing to me for two reasons: because they create and share cartoons that are drawn in the style of manga, which is popularly associated with comic books cheaply available to children and youth; and because they circumvent the rule in many forms of orthodox Islam against representations of the human form in art.
It seems that this abovementioned rule can be suspended if the images have noble purposes, such as spreading messages about Islam or being a good Muslim. The popularity of these pages suggests that this interpretation is acceptable. These pages have a large following; the “likes” total in the tens of thousands. Many of the cartoons posted on the site receive many positive comments and are shared thousands of times. Thus, it seems to be a fair representation of the dominant ideas about what is considered “Islamic” by a large portion of the Malay-speaking community.
The main differences I noticed were in the implicit messages for the young Muslim woman and the young Muslim man. Looking over the various CahayaIslam cartoons depicting a young man, I could conclude that a young Muslim man should love God and love the Prophet Muhammad, pray, repent, seek spiritual success, and help those around him. In other words, he should embody the main tenets of Islam and many of the virtues that the Quran teaches us to strive towards. Lukisan Dakwah Islam also focuses on prayer (even linking it to being a macho man!), brotherly love and knowledge of Allah as our Creator. Noble da’wah work, right?
However, young women get a different message. As a little girl, being good means to pray-fast-and-obey-God-and-her-parents-and-later-her-husband. When she is older, she is shy and modest, because it is part of a woman’s attractiveness. She never forgets to follow the four rules of covering her aurat: don’t show your skin colour, don’t show the shape of your body, don’t attract attention, don’t use perfume (I guess there wasn’t enough space to include intellect and personality). [Read more...]