The Expanding and Controversial Role of Al-Azhar in Southeast Asia

  • Mona Abaza


The reason for quoting at length from a critical review of the recently released (in March 2008) Indonesian film Ayat Ayat Cinta (Verses of Love) is to expose the reality behind the much embellished popular image of the Indonesian Azharite whose sojourn in the Middle East not only helps him find »true« Islam but, more importantly, romance and adventure. Fahri, the main character, has several qualities typical of many Southeast Asian Azharites living in the great metropolis of Cairo: he is poor, honest and diligent. In addition, Fahri is quite personable and romantic. Cairo itself is a suitable backdrop for falling in love with four women almost all at once. Two of these women are Egyptian, while one is Indonesian and the other a veiled Turkish-German studying Arabic at the venerable Al-Azhar University Mosque.


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  • Mona Abaza

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