Many successful Islamic films were adapted from books. Forum Lingkar Pena (The Pen Circle Forum), a group of Muslim literary activists established in 1997, has produced highly popular novels and anthologies of short stories, which big production houses have turned into blockbusters.
Indonesia has a variety of Muslim denominations or faith groups. In films, these tend to be manifested in three schools of thought or approaches: the idealist, the commercialist, and the ideologist. The themes presented on the silver screen typically have a pattern. Some tell stories of successful people (respected professionals or individuals studying abroad) who struggle with complying with Islamic values in their relationships (finding spouses or practicing polygamy). Others tackle cultural and political issues such as corruption (“Ketika”, or “When”, released in 2004, and “Alangkah Lucunya Negeri Ini”, or “How Funny This Country Is”, released in 2010).
Many films represent Muslims as world citizens and romanticize the golden age of Islam when Islam became the center of global civilization (“99 Cahaya di Langit Eropa”, or “99 Light in the European Sky”, and “Bulan Terbelah di Langit Amerika”, or “The Moon Splits in the American Sky”). There are also films dealing with international issues such as defending Palestine’s rights over Israel – “Hayya” (“The Power of Love”) released in 2019 and its sequel which was in cinemas in 2022. Other themes highlight specific Muslim rituals and experiences such as the Hajj pilgrimage and Ramadan/Eid, all stressing the importance of family values.
There are films which are preachy, replete with characters or Muslim clerics sermonizing or quoting verses of the Qu’ran or sayings of the Prophet. The only film promoting the idea of the Khilafah or Caliphate is a short documentary “Jejak Khilafah di Nusantara” (“Traces of the Caliphate in the Archipelago”, released in 2020 by Hizbut Tahrir (Party of Liberation), an Islamic organization aimed at re-establishing the Caliphate to unite Muslims that was rendered illegal by the Indonesian government in 2017. More moderate and liberal filmmakers who graduated from Islamic boarding school (santri) have made movies upholding anti-radicalism and religious tolerance in Indonesia such as “3 Doa 3 Cinta” (“3 Prayers 3 Love”) and “Bid’ah Cinta” (“Heresy of Love”), which featured devotees who understand Islamic values.
Another trendy genre is biopics of prominent Muslim clerics, including the founders of two of the biggest Muslim organizations in the country: Nahdatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah. One popular film portrays the story of prominent Muslim figure Bacharuddin Jusuf (BJ) Habibie and his wife Hasri Ainun. "Habibie & Ainun", which has three parts, the most recent released in 2019, and a prequel, recounts their relationship and struggles together as Habibie rose to become the first head of Ikatan Cendekiawan Muslim Indonesia (Indonesian Association of Muslim Intellectuals) and the third president of Indonesia, in office from 1998 to 1999 with Ainun as first lady.