Yasmin Ahmad’s recent movie titled ‘Muallaf’ (Arabic: The Convert). I once heard Yasmin said that there is no scene of conversion in this movie. The reason she said that is because she suspects that the Malaysian censorship board is worried that there are conversion scenes which show Muslims coming out from Islam in the movie. And truly, there isn’t such scene in the movie. So the question is why then this title? Perhaps the characters in the movie give some clues:
A kind but unconvincing Roman Catholic Priest who thinks that everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike, are looking for God in their own way.
A shallow, apathetic, and irreligious college administrator who does not know about theology, philosophy of religion, sociology of religion, and comparative religious studies.
A kiasu, self-seeking, and pathetic Taoist Chinese teacher who talks about Tao Te Ching but enjoy gossips and has the habit of not paying back her debts.
An insecure, desperate, and immature Christian widow who condemned and ever bugging her own son over trivialities.
Her unforgiving and cynical Christian son whose life has changed after being intrigued by the lives of the two Muslim sisters. He starts reading the Qur’an earnestly. He read it not only to himself but starting reading it to a coma patient as well. He starts learning about the Muslim culture and the Islamic faith. He is even open to learn Arabic to further his understanding of the Islam. He became more forgiving, sympathetic, and found some sense of meaning in life.
Then there are the intelligent, loving, gracious, and angelic Muslim sisters who ran away from their brutal father. They were taught about comparative religious studies and Qur’anic interpretations by their late mother who was a lecturer on religion. Hence they are well-versed with the Qur’an and Scriptures of other religions. They even read St. Augustine’s confession. The sisters are like salt and light to everyone around them. Their exemplary and inspiring Muslim lives influenced and transformed the lives of the insecure Christian widow, her cynical son, and even their own arrogant and cruel father.
The son and the two sisters are the protagonists in the movie.
Perhaps now it is clearer why the movie titled ‘Muallaf’?
Another note is that I think the portrayed intimacy between the two sisters is superficial. Overall, the best character probably is the pub-waitress played by Yeo Yann Yann that appears only a short while.
So far, among her movies such as Sepet, Gubra etc, Muallaf marks Yasmin's greatest work in promoting Islam to the modern contemporary audience.