Iman (‘Faith’, 1954); Malay-language film with an Islamist backdrop, loosely based on Goethe’s Faust

Iman (‘Faith’, 1954); Malay-language film with an Islamist backdrop, loosely based on Goethe’s Faust

Directed by K. R. S. Sastry
Written by K. R. S. Sastry (screenplay), H. M. Rohaizad (dialogue), S. Sudarmadji (gurindam)
Based on Goethe’s Faust
Songs by Yusof B.
Produced by Malay Film Productions (Shaw Brothers)
In Malay
Starring: Saadiah, Ahmad Mahmud, Haji Mahadi

Tok Guru, an old pious teacher, is tired of doing good deeds and neglecting the pleasures of the world. He tries to commit suicide by drinking poison. But before he could do so, “a man in a black costume and horns appears. The latter isn’t asking for directions to a Halloween party; he is Ibis (the Devil) in the flesh!”

“Iblis strikes a Faustian bargain with him: the old man will be young again, but needs to sign a document in blood. Transformed into a decent-looking youth [now named Roslan], he is brought by Iblis to a village far away. They travel though the air (…) and almost crashland when Roslan makes the mistake of saying Subhanallah (Arabic for ‘Glorious is God’). He’s obviously not familiar yet with this selling-your-soul-to-the-devil thing. (…) At the village, Ahmad Mahmud starts being a horny fiend! This is probably because he’s making up for all the years he’s lost as a pious geezer. He pursues the maiden [Hamimah] even though she’s engaged. The Devil makes him do it — quite literally: “Sekiranya dia membantah, kau mesti guna paksaan (If she resists, use force)” is the instruction. “Tidak ada satu dosa dalam hal cinta (There is no sin when it comes to lurve)” says [Roslan to Hamimah], and she’s unable to resist his demonic charm.”

“This is the first [Malay-language] film we have seen to have such a strong Islamist backdrop (God or the Devil is mentioned in practically every scene), and it became a big hit… even though it didn’t have P. Ramlee! This is probably an early indication of how much Islam would shape Malay society, even when it came to entertainment. The superbly entertaining ‘Iman’, however never presents things as a boring khutbah (sermon) but as a swift, cautionary tale.”

Source: Amir Muhammad, ‘120 Malay Movies’, 2010, pages 84-86

The ‘120 Malay Movies’ / ‘120 Wayang Melayu’ playlist:

A Singapore Filmography / Filemografi Singapura (1950s/1950-an):

Films of Singapore & Malaya Regularly:


  1. So very amusing to watch Haji Mahadi, the Mecca-educated son of the Negri Sembilan sufi shaykh, in the role of an awe-struck, ignorant, and gullible disciple (the open-mouthed, dumbstruck expression is totally priceless!!), sitting at the feet of Ahmad Mahmud, who just doesn't give off a very scholarly vibe, no matter how hard he must have tried. Haji Mahadi was hamming it up, God knows he must have totally enjoyed the irony of the situation!!
    The climactic transfiguration of Saadiah, the absolved sinner, into a shaft of light heavenward, is classic Kollywood!! I recall a similar scene in the Sivaji classic Veerapandiyan Kattaboman, from about the same period.
    This was an Indian movie, made by an Indian, for Malays in Malaya…There's nothing Islamic about hurling an innocent infant into the well, though he may have been born out of wedlock. That's simply cold-blooded murder. But trust a Hindu director to make such a point.
    I don't know which Singapore ulama they consulted when they produced it. The interpretation of Islam we see here, with mob rule and Islamic law enforced by a mere village head, would be more at home, say, in a Pathan village in the NWFP, or some village in UP where the village panchayat laid down and interpreted the law, usually arbitrarily and with disastrous consequences!!
    But the director was sharp enough to have Aziz Sattar cast as a non-conformist railing against the hypocrisy of the village elite (notice also how the non-conformist was dressed in black, symbolically opposing all norms), who would only censure the poor while failing miserably to reprimand the elites should they break the law. He was cut short by Mustarjo who told him tartly to save his rantings for another occasion!!
    Well, at least the director got that part of Malay culture correct: hypocritical and self-destructive.


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