I’ve completed reading the highly-anticipated Indonesian “religious romance” novel written by Habiburahman El Shirazy called “Ayat-Ayat Cinta” (The Verses of Love) & this is my 3rd Indonesian novel that I read after two of HAMKA’s writings “Tenggelamnya Kapal Van Der Wijck” (REFER to https://undomiel84.wordpress.com/2016/03/25/the-human-love-an-ephemeral-withered-infatuation-tenggelamnya-kapal-van-der-wijck-by-hamka/) and also “Di Bawah Lindungan Kaabah”. I was so intrigued to read this (although romance isn’t my cup of tea) due to the hype on the novel and the film. So being the curious cat, I have to read this myself to verify the words-of-mouth! Is it true or merely cheap thrill?
This novel chronicled around an Indonesian Al-Azhar graduate named Fahri. As the protagonist, he is described as being a kind and responsible young lad with stoic principles on Islam. In this novel, four women were enamoured with Fahri :-
- Maria Boutros Girgis – daughter of Master Boutros Girgis, their Coptic Christian neighbour. I had the feeling that Shirazy inspired this character from one of Rasulullah SAW’s wives, namely Ummul Mukminin Mariah al-Qibthiya (I’ve written about her in https://undomiel84.wordpress.com/2014/01/14/muhammad-saw-he-is-no-son-of-god-episode-ii-the-husband-of-a-jewish-an-egyptian-christian-coptic/); but of course, Wallahualam! ;
- Noura Bahadur – An Egypt girl who was raped by her adopted father and was saved by Fahri;
- Nurul Azkiya – The Indonesian Muslimah students’ leader;
- Aisha – A rich Turkish-German lady with Palestinian blood and she wears a Niqab.
Fahri and Aisha – as per the depiction in the film version.
Maria and Nurul Azkiya have always been besotted towards Fahri but both of them surpressed their feeling and immensely hurt when they later found out that Fahri wedded Aisha. When Noura Bahadur learned this, she was so angry that she then falsely accused Fahri committed rape against her when as the matter of fact she was so in love with Fahri! I had the feeling that in this chapter, Shirazy drew the idea from Prophet Yusuf a.s. (Joseph) when he was jailed for not succumbing to Zuleika’s sexual advance (but then again, just my speculation. Wallahualam!).
Maria Boutrous Girgis.
I think Shirazy did wonderful in describing the exotic desert-like landscape of Egypt with his writing. I guess being an Al-Azhar graduate, he wrote that based on his own observation. The vivid description of the scorching weather, the web of modern transportation, the scenic Nile and Egypt’s geo-population – everything was so graphic and you felt as if you were there as you read the words. I like the whole concept of infusing Quranic verses, Hadiths and even some of the poems by Western philosophers and poets in the narration of the story but I wasn’t feeling that interested when Shirazy wrote on the romantic atmosphere between Fahri and Aisha! Probably because I am not a fan of romantic novel (chick flick?). I felt weird reading this segment in a supposedly “Islamic novel” but then again, I understood where all of these are coming from – maybe Shirazy was trying to hail the “Halal Love” (permissible love) between husband and wife as opposed to hedonistic sexuality in other types of novels.
Some people may agree and some people may disagree – to hail “Ayat-Ayat Cinta” as Dakwah medium. For me, it did brew the magic of Islam as The Way of Life. But to portray Fahri as this nearly perfect man with all the “Muslimahs’ ideal husband materials” is just too much for me to digest. But then again, it’s a fiction. But that doesn’t mean that it is not good. The idea of portraying Aisha as a woman with Niqab is excellent – to portray that to love is not merely superficial but skin-deep as Fahri has never seen Aisha’s face prior to the marriage except for her eyes (he eventually was allowed to see the face when they were deliberating about the marriage prospects). The popularity of Niqab seemed to skyrocket as a few Malaysian and Indonesian dramas began to depict characters with “Niqabis-and-the-mysterious-eyes”(including some celebrities) and you can see that due to this influence, more Malaysian and Indonesian ladies began to don Niqab! Perhaps there is a research that explains this phenomenon?! You guys can always search for the journals.
On top of that, it is also interesting to note that this novel isn’t focusing on polygamous marriage like what it has been publicized about – or at least that was my impression before I read this novel. Fahri was adamant to be married to only Aisha but as Maria became ill (and died later on), Aisha insisted Fahri to marry Maria in order to save her frail life – and to be the witness of the false accusation of Noura Bahadur as Maria saved her together with Fahri. But of course, I am annoyed with Fahri’s character – from someone who adamantly wanted to be loyal to Aisha to someone who has no qualm on serenading Maria with “Ayat-Ayat Cinta”! But, this proves to be a goldmine amongst the Muslimah readers I am sure (their fantasies to have that pious husbands as their Imams, all sort).
Aisha is portrayed as wearing a Niqab but in the novel it is also stated that she is a moderate Muslim and wearing Niqab is not a compulsory (When Fahri stated his anxiety about Aisha’s Niqab, if they were to reside in Indonesia as Indonesians are written as to have pessimistic views on women who wear Niqab).
On whole, this novel is alright. But for me, it is still a far cry from HAMKA’s league. Nonetheless, it is a subtle Dakwah medium by using casual approach to disseminate the Light of Islam.