The Crescent Moon: The Many Faces Of Islam

by Helmy Sa'at

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We have to be at ease with uncomfortable truths. The fact is the global ummah is not in a homogeneous state whereby every Muslim is alike. Muslims are a heterogeneous bunch as we are comprised of diverse traits and characteristics anchored in faith, which is expressed through daily religious piety of various degrees as exemplified by pockets of Indonesian Muslim communities.

Father and son soaking in the sunset.

The Crescent Moon (Mencari Hilal) captures the fractious, at times tensed, relationship between a father, Mahmud, and son, Heli. Both stubborn. Yet, they still harbour deep love for each other. A learning takeaway for them both and we, the audience by extension: As Muslims, life is not about imposing our supposedly unadulterated views. Instead, let Allah be the judge of it all while we live and let live. Not everything is within our control.

Keep Curious: Use Your Voice

Keep questioning and not settle for the first (logical) response. Pair this sense of curiosity with the courage to articulate those thoughts.

Jadi, bapa masih belum mau bilang kita mau ke mana?” (“So, father you still would not tell where we are heading to?”)

Kalau dijelaskan nanti kamu makin banyak nanya.” (“You would ask more questions should I explain.”)

Tak salahkan orang bertanya.” (“It is not wrong to ask questions.”)

A man sitting on the back of a small lorry.

The impromptu road trip in search of the crescent moon (hilal) at Hiro Tower (Menara Hiro, named as such during the Japanese occupation of Indonesia in World War II), which marks the end of Ramadan, substituted with the start of Eid celebrations appears to show that Islam is a divide, not a bridge for this father and son. Their pained relationship that hides a deeper family secret (for this you definitely have to watch it for yourself; no spoilers!) is first amplified by their different approaches to Islam. Mahmud is a conservative and devout Muslim whereas Heli is more liberal.

Heli begrudgingly accompanied their ailing father at the insistence of his sister, Halidah. It is propelled with equal measures of emotional blackmailing that families deftly manipulate on the daily and as an incentive for Heli’s passport processing to be expedited for his delayed activism work in Nicaragua.

Though Mahmud and Heli’s differences seem insurmountable, still they are not afraid to voice out. Mahmud’s wry sense of humour shines at times as it is delicately delivered through his poker face; however, it just seems to provide (unjust) emotional and intellectual jabs for Heli.

Advice: Duty And Love

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Mahmud observes and tries his best to guide those around him, including strangers who are not necessarily receptive to his words. To the unprepared ears and sensitive minds, he would be perceived as preaching. They do not welcome his unsolicited advice. For instance, during a bus journey, Mahmud was chased down after he pointed out to the driver that it was wrong to not fast, even during work. Initially, Mahmud’s words were met with counter arguments, such as the need to stay awake while carrying out his job. However, understandably Mahmud’s subsequent words were met with outright rejection and anger.

As a viewer, you might not be able to disregard the fact that such outburst could have very well been motivated by a sense of guilt; knowing full well that Mahmud was right in his advice. Although Mahmud does not seek to impose his opinions, which are anchored in Islamic teachings and principles, his intention out of duty and love for his fellow Muslims speaks volume to the Islamic truths. Truths that sting and hurt the feelings of those in the wrong.

As Mahmud shares his belief in the following sentence, with his son within earshot: “Semuanya ini tergantung niatnya. Kalau teknologi sudah maju tapi kalau moralnya nul, tidak sampai ke mana-mana.” (“All of it depends on one’s intention. If technology has advanced, but one’s morals are null, it is a dead end.”)

Between complicity and hypocritical religious piety, which is your choice?

Faces Of Islam

Towards the end of their journey in reaching Hiro Tower, Mahmud and Heli learn the true meaning of religious diversity and acceptance in the context of everyday lived realities that are not painted in black and white.

Mahmud was surprised to discover that a villager, Andi, who is a Christian, is the nephew of Majid, a Muslim. That a mixed religious family is able to live harmoniously. Heli, on the other hand, learnt that faces of Islam are varied and opposing viewpoints on the true nature of Islam is not in the hands of a few. In actuality, it belongs to every Muslim. In essence, his voice matters just as much as any other Muslim as they all have a stake in the present and future of Islam.

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As Majid eloquently sums it up for the father and son duo: “Saya yakin Islam itu adalah agama yang penuh dengan cinta.” (“I am confident that Islam is a religion full of love.”)