In that light, the prompt appearance of Takva on SBS is a bit annoying, but in another, if the three people in
At BIFF Takva was one of several films that formed a focus on Rumi, the 13th century ‘mystic and poet’, whose work ‘is one of the most important sources of inspiration for theology, poetry and philosophy in the Islamic world’ (Official Programme 2007, 8) . I was attracted to this film, in particular, because it was about the Dervish order. Here I anticipated seeing the mesmerising dance of the Whirling Dervishes. Further, the brief synopsis in the BIFF Programme described the central character, Muharrem, a man who led an ascetic life, and there’s something that I find intriguing about that kind of existence.
While the order of Dervishes portrayed was not of the Whirling variety (or at least I didn't see the iconic dance), the centrality of poetry, music and movement to this order of Dervishes’ worship was evident. Extended sequences depicted the order immersed in prayer. They were seated, but they oscillated in their meditation, synchronised with one another and the sounds of their chanting.
Muharrem is invited to join the Dervish order as a lay member. He is recruited from his job working for a sack retailer by a local religious leader. His role is explained to him as one where he will concern himself with the worldly affairs of the order. In effect he is to collect the rent on the various residential and commercial properties that the Dervishes own, and oversee the maintenance and accounting associated with those business interests.
Before moving into the order’s premises, Muharrem has lead a simple life. He submits himself to the orders of his somewhat self-satisfied boss, without complaint. He lives in a small, worn apartment, and heats his plain dinner for one on a gas burner. He wears clean but shabby clothes and a knitted hat. He is devout. The invitation to serve the Dervish order is an honour for Muharreme. He is frightened that he won’t fulfil the faith the order has placed in him, but to decline would be akin to an insult.
From the moment Muharrem accepts the position his life is altered. His boss begins to defer to him, if somewhat insincerely. The order gifts him with a range of luxury items, including a brand new car and wardrobe, accoutrements, they explain, that are necessary for his work, which enables the order to continue its operations, such as the education of the poor.
It is perhaps not surprising that a man as devout as Muharrem begins to struggle with his new found power and wealth. Ironically, perhaps, it is the religious members of the order who prove to be far more prosaic about ‘worldy affairs’, while Muharrem is shocked by tenants who drink alcohol and wants to extend charity to the poor families from whom he collects.
In this age, where many representations of the Islamic faith, in Australia and other Western countries, are routinely imbued with the fear of terrorist acts, it is an important role that film festivals (and SBS) play in bringing to our attention the lives of ordinary Muslims as they go about their every day lives. Takva: A Man’s Fear of God is a film that effectively portrays one man’s efforts to live a life according to the principles of his faith; that the institution of his faith presents the greatest test of those principles is the paradox that makes Muharrem’s story so compelling.