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The Voyage From the Mind to the Book and the Box Office

by Asma Nadia

I am Asma Nadia, and my adventures are often told through the films and books that I’ve written. Thanks to Allah, I’ve written 70 bestsellers, 13 of which were made into films.

Surga Yang Tak Dirindukan (A Forgotten Paradise) was a 2015 Indonesian film that sold over 1,500,000 tickets.

Seven books were adapted into soap operas.

Catatan Hati Seorang Istri (Heart Notes of a Wife) was the most popular soap opera in Indonesia in 2014. With a rating of 7.0 and a share of 32.3, it topped Nielsen Market ABC’s audience data.

Modesty and Not A Crutch

Most people believe travelling requires deep pockets, but money is not the only means to fly. Your books and achievements can also be a means for you to fly further. Throughout my adventures as an author and traveller, one thing that struck me was that for Muslim women who wear hijabs, exploring the world is still relatively uncommon. I wrote #JilbabTraveler to encourage my fellow hijabis to put themselves out there and chart their paths, wherever they might lead them to.

A group of Muslim Hijabi Women

Scarves only cover their heads, not their minds.

Muslims, especially Muslim women in hijab need to realize that when they enter a country that is not predominantly Muslim, they can represent Islam just with their external appearance. When we do good, we get a glimmer of hope for promoting Islam along the way.

The Writing Journey

I decided to write ‘Jilbab Traveler Love Sparks in Korea’ which was published in 2015 – and was adapted into a movie in 2016. I’m happy to know this film along with ‘Loving an Average Man‘ are both available on Qalbox.

Jilbab Traveler poster, streaming on Qalbox, Muslim Pro app

I grew up next to railroad tracks in Jakarta’s suburbs. My father, a songwriter, had no chart-topping singles so we struggled to eat. 

I had a concussion at age seven. When I went for a medical check-up, the result came in, and it felt like I was opening Pandora’s box. Thirteen teeth had to be extracted and the medical treatment took more time than my studies.

As waiting time at the hospitals was long, my mom would skip lunch to buy me books to kill time. When we got home from the store, my sister and I would unpack our groceries, arrange the newspaper pages, and start reading books. The pockets of time used to read books sparked my interest in reading and writing.

I borrowed a typewriter and sent hundreds of works to teen magazines in junior high. It took me six to seven years before my work was published and my first article was published in college. 

My first book was published at the age of 27. That year, nine other books were also published and one of them won the best young adult book category. Things finally started to get better for me. In 2001, the Southeast Asian Literature Assembly invited me to attend a writing class where I discovered more about writing.

A hijabi Muslim woman holds a book and smiles outdoors

Writing as Perpetual Giving

As a Muslim author, I realized I could share knowledge and kindness through writing. Insha’Allah, if I do this with an open heart, the books I write can become a source of perpetual good (Amal Jariyah) even after I’m gone.

In 2009, my short story titled Emak Ingin Naik Haji (Mother Longs to Perform Hajj) came under the spotlight. Aditya Gumay, a rising director and producer, read it. Although this short story was not written as a book, it was still adapted into a film. 

I realized that such short stories do have the potential to progress too.

I always ask the producers for the script because readers often compare books to film adaptations. This is how I work with production houses. I will discuss with the scriptwriters, directors, and producers during promotions to ensure the messages are well-aligned with the original pieces.

Books and movies are distinct forms of entertainment. In my case, a book is the work of one author, while a film is a collaborative effort. While I do not mind modifying a story for visual appeal, I always insist that the film upholds the original intent of the story. 

The soul of the book is irreplaceable and it has the power to touch the hearts of the readers.

“After I read the book, my husband and I decided not to get a divorce.”

“As a father, I cried and am reminded to be grateful after watching the movie about the child with special needs.”

“I decided not to end my life after I read your book. Thank you!”

A still from Jilbab Traveller Love Sparks in Korea streaming on Qalbox

Several passionate friends invited me to produce three films. Hayya, a movie we produced about a Palestinian girl, was well-received by both Muslim and non-Muslim markets, generating more than USD 350,000 in profits. We donated 50% of them to humanitarian aid organizations in Indonesia and Palestine.

Gaining the trust of readers, filmmakers, and producers have opened more doors than I could ever imagine.

Despite everything I’m currently working on, I hope Allah still grants me an opportunity to write, and to have more books than my age.

Write, because that is how we ensure important things will always be voiced. 

And, because it is a road chosen by few, to sculpt their names and lives forever.

About the Author

The writer of two highly acclaimed films on Qalbox: Jilbab Traveller Love Sparks in Korea and Loving an Average Man; Asma Nadia is a prolific writer and traveler. She has won the She Can Awards, and was chosen as the Inspirational Woman for Wardah. Since 2012, for eight consecutive years, her name has been included among the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World alongside twenty other Indonesian figures.