Well I guess it’s a step up from that other great Muslim love story — Scheherazade and the Book of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights — in which the Muslim idea of romance is where the man doesn’t kill the woman.

Movie tapping national religious pride in the world’s most populous Muslim nation

A movie drawing record numbers of Indonesians is not a Hollywood blockbuster, but a local love story that is tapping national religious pride in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

For many, “Verses of Love” offers a remedy to Islam’s battered image following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, with the handsome, young protagonist trying to remain true to his faith as he watches his seemingly idyllic life crash down around him. Despite his troubles, he manages to pass on gentle lessons about tolerance, corruption, women’s rights and interfaith relations.

The movie — which drew 2.9 million viewers in the first three weeks — follows the path of Fahri Abdullah Shiddiq, who goes to Egypt to study the Quran at the prestigious Al-Azhar University. After enthusiastically taking part in his lessons, the 27-year-old struggles to choose a wife among four beautiful and distinctly different women. He eventually settles on the veiled, dark-eyed Aisha, who before long is pregnant.

Their picture-perfect life, however, is turned upside down after Fahri is falsely accused of rape, imprisoned and threatened with death by hanging. The only person who can prove his innocence is Maria, a close friend who is literally dying of a broken heart after learning about his marriage.

Desperate to save her husband, Aisha begs him to take Maria, a Coptic-Christian, as a second wife. He does so reluctantly and then struggles to be fair to both loves in practicing polygamy….

How romantic! What a beautiful love story! (Didn’t former NJ governor Jim McGreevy have something like that going on?)

Nina Triana, a 29-year-old accountant who went to the movie with her boyfriend, agreed. “I liked it,” she said, heading to a nearby prayer room as crowds rushed past her. “It shows Islam is peaceful and teaches us to help each other, regardless of faith.”

The movie shows that, yes. That’s why it’s called a movie.

…Its release comes as many in the secular, democratic country of 235 million are longing for a spiritual revival after decades of dictatorship…Today women are increasingly wearing headscarves, Islamic book fairs are packed with university students and teens, business executives are going on religious retreats with their employees and some regions are experimenting with sharia-based laws.

Though the movie is only being shown in Indonesia, Sarah Sayekti, a social worker who often travels to Europe, says she hopes it “will help show the world that Islam is peaceful and tolerant.”

Yes, that’s all we need. More of that.

Though the beautifully filmed “Verses of Love,” shot on the main island of Java and in India, is striking a chord with Muslims, it is making some members of the Christian minority uncomfortable because they see it as proselytizing.

Egyptian-born Maria converts to Islam [Imagine that!] after falling in love with the hero and there are several foreboding images of blood dropping on a black cross tattooed on her wrist.

Some are refusing to go, but others say, ultimately, it’s a love story with universal appeal.

“What happens in the movie could happen to anyone,” said Eliana Sampelalong, a 31-year-old Christian banker, who had to fight for a ticket in the South Sulawesi city of Makassar, where almost all shows were sold out. “A woman is willing to give up anything for love, even, sometimes her faith.”

Polygamy could happen to you any minute! Sounds like she’s already converted.

Indeed, it’s because Islam is so beautiful and appealing that you have to spread the religion by sword.

As for “secular and tolerant” Indonesia, here are the recent developments there — in addition to all those beheadings of young Christian girls:

‘Biggest Ever’ Rally Calls for Revival of Islamic Caliphate (August 13, 2007):

An estimated 80,000 Islamists packed a sports stadium in the Indonesian capital Sunday to call for the re-establishment of a single Islamic state or caliphate, uniting Muslims around the world under Islamic law.

The event was organized by Hizb ut-Tahrir (the Party of Liberation), which called it the biggest event calling for the revival of a caliphate since the last time one existed in the 1920s.

Hizb ut-Tahrir was founded in 1953 by a Palestinian Arab and works openly — except in those countries where it is proscribed — for the revival of the caliphate. Even regimes like the one ruling Saudi Arabia are not sufficiently Islamic for the group.

[M]ost Indonesian Muslims do not embrace such “foreign” concepts as that of a caliphate.

Muslim hardliners storm Indonesia church (June, 2007):

JAKARTA (AFP) - Muslim hardliners stormed a church in Indonesia during services, smashing images of Jesus Christ and demanding that it be closed down, the pastor said on Monday.

Dozens of churches have had to be closed in the Muslim-majority country in recent years, and Sunday’s attack was the second on the small Protestant church in the West Java town of Soreang since 2005.

Reverend Robby Elisa, who heads the church, said around 100 hardliners attacked while Sunday school was in session. He said his wife was beaten and that at least four stained glass depictions of Jesus were smashed.

West Java, where Islam is strong, has seen a series of attacks on churches to force their closure.

The Jakarta Post newspaper said that more than 30 churches have had to close their door in West Java since 2004 because of attacks by Muslim hardliners. Dozens of churches have also been forced to close in other provinces, it said.

According to a current decree by the religious affairs ministry, houses of worship must obtain the approval of at least 60 percent of local residents and have at least 90 followers to be able to operated.

Although the constitution gives all religions equal footing, laws make it difficult for religions other than Islam to establish houses of worship.

An explanation, from JihadWatch’s Hugh Fitzgerald:

Until after World War II, Islam was held in check in the Dutch East Indies, more or less, by the Dutch authorities…During the Dutch interval, Christian missionaries were protected. In East Timor, the Portuguese overlords protected the missionaries who could work in conditions that permitted locals to convert without fear of death. This also contributed to that “soft” Islam that one associates with Indonesia — but it was “soft” only up to a point, and is becoming “harder” every day. And in any case it was never quite as “soft” as Westerners seem to think.

Now, the longer from the Dutch period one gets, and the more that Muslims in Indonesia, like Muslims everywhere, are more easily reached by the new means of disseminating the full and dangerous texts of Islam, where before the simple and illiterate villagers might have been Muslims but knew very little (beyond the Five Pillars) of what that might mean. Now they have thrust in their ears and before their eyes incessant Muslim propaganda. That makes it harder and harder to avoid hearing and having to take in, and being naturally swayed by, not a false Islam, not an Islam that has been “hijacked by extremists,” but the full Islam that was always there. But when Muslims were weak, and lacked the money and technological means to disseminate that full message, this Islam was in some places not fully known or understood. And now, alas, Muslim money and appropriation of Western technology has meant that Muslims in the farthest islands can now be reached by the campaigners intent on disseminating to sometimes inattentive Muslims the full teachings of Islam — with the deadly results observable in Bali, and the Moluccas, and many other islands in the East Indian archipelago.

In Indonesia, 2,300 churches were destroyed in the year 2003 alone (source: The Barnabas Fund). New York Times, NPR, BBC, anyone interested? Any word from the E.U.? From the American State Department, telling the Indonesian government that the protection of Christians and other non-Muslims from Muslim fanatics is now the main task of that government? … Yet Indonesia has still managed to inveigle the Pentagon into renewing military training and aid (the limitless lack of guile, the limitless credulity, of so many whose stock in trade is supposed to be unsentimental, unfoolable toughness).