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Asian Journal of

Social Science 42 (2014) 435466


brill.com/ajss

Mainstream Islam
Television Industry Practice and Trends in Indonesian sinetron
Inaya Rakhmani
Universitas Indonesia

Abstract
This article explores the modes of consolidation between the dynamic practices of
commercial television and the rising Islamic manifestation among urban, middle-class
Indonesians. Focusing on the most-consumed type of television programming in the
country, the sinetron (television drama), it describes media-economic factors that
have led to the multiplication of Islamic symbols in television. An image of Islam
that is unobjectionable to both the vocal, moralist Muslim audience and the general,
heterogeneous audience has received a privileged position in prime time television.
Business deals between media organisations that have become more stable blow the
wave towards mainstream Islam, which reflects a symbiosis between growing Islamic
influences and commercialisation in Indonesias television industry.

Keywords
commercial television commercialisation Islamic expression sinetron
mainstream Islam

Introduction
Southeast Asian countries experienced a wave of economic liberalisation in
the late 1980s (see Bowie and Unger, 1997 and Rosser, 2002), and in Indonesia
this was enabled through the Open Market policy (Hollander et al., 2009). In
the early 1990s, Indonesias television system was also affected, and it shifted
from a single, state television station under an authoritarian rule to a thriving
commercial system in only ten years (Sen and Hill, 2000). As the survivability
of commercial television relies on the profitability of television programmes
based on its supposed popularity, business strategies were carefully designed

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to ensure thisfrom predictable scheduling to producing the least objectionable programme.1 During these early years, Indonesian commercial television producers, particularly entertainment programmes, avoided religious
issues altogether. Stations were concerned that the misrepresentation of religion could potentially cause public unrest, particularly those led by hard-line
Islamists (Wardhana, 2002, as cited in Barkin, 2004: 246). In order to take preventive measures, commercial television stations also produced low-cost token
programmes for their Muslim audience, such as the evening call to prayers
(adzan Magrib) and sermons (teledakwah). Although these programmes were
low in ratings, they ensured that a concern towards Islamic religiousity was
addressed to tame their outspoken conservative viewers or, at the very least,
to neutralise the negative effects of Indonesian television (Purnomo, 1998: 6).
In the 1990s, parallel to television commercialisation, Indonesia experienced
a conservative Islamic turn (van Bruinessen, 2013). This could be noted by,
among others, the emergence of the Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals (icmiIkatan Cendekiawan Muslim Indonesia), then authoritarian
Presiden Soehartos own gradual turn from syncreticism to orthodox Islam, and
the founding of Republika newspaper to voice Muslim interest marginalised
by the regime (Hefner, 1997: 96). As business logic dictates, commercial television stations sought ways to make themselves more profitable, in this case
by responding to societal changes and appealing to the Muslim-majority audience.
In 1998, successful media mogul Raam Punjabi, an Indonesian of South
Asian ancestry and a self-proclaimed Hindu Indonesian, made the first notable
attempt at this. A skilled television producer and businessman, Punjabi introduced Islamic themes slowly into his already successful television drama or
soap opera or sinetron format (Rakhmani, 2013: 80).2 Instead of airing the
Islamic-themed sinetrons once a week like the more popular melodramatic
ones, Punjabi took his chances by broadcasting the show daily during the

1 See Klein and Morgensen (1979).


2 Television dramas or soap operas are lumped into the term and are more popularly called
the sinetron. Sinetron is a portmanteau of sinema (cinema) and elektronik (electronic). The
term sinetron, comparable or even inspired by telenovela and K-drama, is generally used to
indicate soap opera-style primetime Indonesian television. The term sinetron was first coined
by Ishadi sk, tvris Chief Director from 1967 to 1992 (Kitley, 2000: 104), to refer to television
drama. To avoid confusion, in this article I will consistently use the term sinetron as known
by the general Indonesian public. Further in the paper, I explain that at times, the content
can be closer to mystery drama, comedy drama or melodrama but they are all lumped into
sinetron by television professionals because of the industry practice they follow.

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Islamic fasting month of Ramadan. This is nothing new to global television,


as Ramadan dramas have been popular in Egypt since the early 1990s (AbuLughod, 2002, in Barkin, 2004: 255). But for a country with an authoritarian regime that had controlled political Islamic movements for decades (see
Hefner, 1997), this was a significant turn of events.
After the acceptance of Islamic themes in sinetrons, popularly called sinetron
religi (religious sinetron),3 Islamic representation on television enjoyed a
steady increase in Indonesia. This also occurred alongside, or together with,
the growing economic manifestations of Islam in a multitude of sectors, such
as banking, micro-finance and celebrity preaching (see Fealy and White, 2008).
This article focuses on sinetron as an industry, which was the entry point for the
increasing emphasis on Islam in television, in order to understand the modes of
accommodation between commercial media economy and Islamic expression.
In this article, I first describe the development of the sinetron landscape as an
industry, particularly the transformation of ownership patterns among production houses and their partnerships with television stations, which had implications in themes and content. Secondly, I elaborate on the business strategies
employed by television stations and production houses to show how they imagine a Muslim audience. Thirdly, as a result of the industrys commercial risk
aversion (Barkin, 2004), the abundant Islamic sinetron, like the melodramatic
sinetron that was popular before, has also become standardised. By tracing the
common features between different Islamic sinetrons, this paper reveals that
they have clustered based on the targeted audience class. These factors have led
to stronger cultural emphasis on Islam, which has not only influenced they way
in which Islam is portrayed in television content, but has also influenced the
conducts of television programming and business exchanges. This, in turn, has
mainstreamed the imagination of a Muslim audience into Indonesias commercial television system.

The Punjabi Effect: Nascent of Indonesias sinetron Industry


During the early 1990s, the popular format of the sinetron was perhaps most
suitably compared to television film or television dramas, rather than melodramas or soap operas. Then Chief Director of state television tvri (Televisi

3 Reflecting on its market, although it is called sinetron religi or religious television drama,
the theme is almost absolutely Islamic. There was only one attempt made at producing a
Christian sinetron religi, namely Buku Harian Nayla (Naylas Diary).

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Republik Indonesia), Ishadi, argued that tvris television drama would sustain
the station in the face of commercial competition. Producing television drama
was expensive, and tvris drama were produced locally and carefully designed
to uphold quality and national culture. Their content was monitored and regulated by the State through professional associations and awards.4 In short,
Ishadi argued that its cultural significance and the supporting State system
would protect tvri vis--vis television drama.
This slowly changed when Punjabi, riding the wave of growing commercial
television, shifted to also produce sinetrons. A successful film importer in the
1970s and producer of racy comedies in the 1980s, he masterfully set new
modes of producing sinetron that were both inexpensive and entertaining. The
commercial success of the sinetrons he produced, a transnational derivative of
the general norm in Indian television, established the norm of the Indonesian
sinetron industry until today.5 It was in reference to the shows he produced,
which are closer to melodramas or soap operas, that the meaning of the term
Indonesian sinetron shifted.
Indonesian television producers regard the success of Punjabis production
house, MultiVision Plus (mvp), as based on the financial investment in the production of locally-made sinetron (Barkin, 2004: 59). While [local] production
houses would come to stations with only a pilot programme, or perhaps even
just an idea and a request for funding to develop it, mvp arrived at the table
with a complete package, including sponsors already attached (Barkin, 2004:
104105). With an approximately 80% share of the sinetron audience (Ida, 2006:
92), mvp created a formula that included melodramatic plots inspired by Bollywood films and desires for wealth and luxury that he believed were the taste
of the targeted majority middle- and lower-class audience (Barkin, 2004: 56).
mvp dominated Indonesias sinetron landscape throughout the first decade
of Indonesias commercial television system, producing almost 6070% of
the total soap opera titles aired (Loven, 2008: 49). This dominance persisted
throughout the late 1990s to the early 2000s. mvp was not without competitors,
for instance, Genta Buana (6%) also established in the 1990s survived by focusing on action dramas. Other production houses followed during the early 2000s,
such as Prima Entertainment (8%), while others predominantly focusing on
film production, such as Rapi Films (2%), expanded after mvps television success (Pratomo, 2003).

4 On the sinetron landscape during late New Order, see Barkin (2004) and Ida (2006).
5 This is excluding one deviation, particularly the success of Si Doel Anak Sekolah sinetron
between 1992 and 2002. For more, see Loven (2008).

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table 1

2011 Audience share and most popular content by television station

Television station
rcti
sctv
Trans tv
mnctv
Trans 7
Indosiar
Global tv
antv
tvOne
Metro tv

Audience share
(percentage)
17
16
14
12
10
10
8
7
5
3

Most popular content


Sinetron, comedy
Sinetron, import drama
Variety shows, sinetron, comedy
Sinetron religi, local music
Sports, reality shows, news
Sinetron, import drama, reality show
Nickelodeon, f-1 racing, mtv
Lifestyle, family entertainment, sports
News, sports
News, talkshows, documentary

Source: Mapping the Landscape of the Media Industry in Contemporary Indonesia by


Y. Nugroho, D.A. Putri, S. Laksmi, Jakarta: cipg and hivos, p. 61.

The early 2000s marked the end of mvps unassailable lead in the sinetron
industry. Around this time, television station executives started seeing Punjabi
as being too powerful in determining television programming, to the extent
that he controlled advertisers and made sure mvp sinetrons were not aired
simultaneously by competing stations. This way, he ensured that mvp sinetrons
received the highest ratings across as many stations as possible. Station bosses
began to resist their loss of autonomy. According to sctvs Director of Programming, Harsiwi Achmad, this realisation coincided with an increase in the
number of production houses that answered the demands of the increasing
number of television platforms.6 We are the ones who own these platforms,
therefore we should have the right to own the content and distribute them to
other platforms. This business turn motivated television [stations] to take our
power to drive production houses or at least cooperate equally with them. And
this is when beli putus (cash and carry) began (H. Achmad, pers. comm., 8 July
2011).7

6 These different platforms include national or terrestrial television, local television and payTV.
7 See jual putus (outright sale) in the next paragraphs.

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table 2

Total amount of Sinetron titles broadcasted (20052010)

Year

Sinetron titles broadcast

2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010

663
556
565
425
266
225

Total

2,700

Source: Compiled from Nielsen Rating Program trans, sctv, tpi; all people 5+, 10 cities;
20052010. Jakarta: agb Nielsen Media Research.

md and SinemArt competed head-to-head in supplying sinetrons to television (Kurniawan, 2010). By 2003, newcomer md had produced 200 sinetron titles
and, in 2005 and 2006, it won several Panasonic Gobel Awards.8 In 2005, newcomers md Entertainment and SinemArt changed the sinetron landscape by
introducing derivations of Korean drama and targeting a younger audience
compared to the previously targeted housewives. Stations with the highest
audience share whose strength was in sinetrons, rcti and sctv (see Table 1),
made business deals with SinemArt and md Entertaintment (md) respectively
to curb mvps dominance.9 These respective production houses accepted the
deals because it gave them the opportunity to lead the competition against
mvp.
Compared to the 120 sinetron titles aired in 2003 (Ida, 2006: 87), between
2005 and mid-2010 some 2,700 sinetron titles were aired, making an average of
495 titles per year (2005 to 2009) as a consequence to this change (see Table 2).
There is an average of 13 episodes per title,10 while the production cost of one
8

9
10

The Panasonic Gobel Awards is a tribute given by pt Panasonic Gobel Indonesia to appreciate the merits of television personalities. The selection process involves audience voting
compiled through questionnaires managed by the company. The award is somewhat comparable to the Golden Globe Awards in the u.s.
Founded by Manooj Dhamoo Punjabi, son of Raam Punjabis younger brother Dhamoo
Punjabi (Wawancara Eksklusif, 2010).
This is the average number of episodes a television station orders from a production house
if the pilot is approved (I. Kurniawan, pers. comm., 11 June 2011). Some sinetron, such as
Munajah Cinta (2008), reached 92 episodes.

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sinetron ranges between 100 to 300 million Indonesian Rupiah (us$ 10 to 30


thousand) per episode. In the past five years, between us$ 351 million to us$ 1
billion has been spent on the production of sinetrons in Indonesia.
Although the number of sinetron titles broadcast continued to decrease,
each title gained a stable following, leading to more episode production overall
(I. Kurniawan, pers. Comm., 11 June 2011). The three main models of business
agreement between television stations and production houses, namely outright sale ( jual putus),11 revenue sharing and blocking time (Ida, 2006: 93) are
still practiced in the sinetron industry today. However, the general and most
recent trend is for television stations to determine sinetron content and order
the production houses to create sinetrons based on the television stations programming team analysis.

Television Programming
Unlike the industry practice in the late 1990s, the current sinetron production
involves a pitching process. Achmad notes that a relatively similar process was
implemented during her work in tpi,12 rcti and now sctv, which was confirmed by television professionals from design production and public relations
that I had interviewed (I. Kurniawan and D. Suryani, SinemArt public relations,
pers. comm., 11 June 2011). Firstly, the programming team of a television station analyses audience data provided by Nielsen audience share, ratings and
segmentation. The team strategises new television content and then decides
whether rating decline would be an indication that the market is saturated
or a sinetron theme has been replicated too often. The team then looks back
through the main trends of the past ten years for a successful theme and
attempts to repeat its success with novel content or by the reproduction of
previously trending content. They then verify quantitative Nielsen data with
qualitative methodssuch as group discussions and interviewsand conduct
minute-by-minute content analysis on highest rated programmes to identify
which content received the highest rating (i.e., key themes). The team notes the

11

12

The production house transfers all of the rights of the sinetron to the television station
immediately after purchase. I.e., from the side of the television station, it is beli putus (cash
and carry).
Indonesian Education Television (Televisi Pendidikan Indonesiatpi) was established in
1991. In 2010, it was rebranded as mnctv after controversies regarding its permit to air
entertainment programmes as an education television station.

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type of content represented in a sinetron when the rating peaked, then orders
that the production house replicate it. The television station selects the production house based on several criteria.
Firstly, television stations would select from a pool of production houses
with track records of producing specific themes. As an illustration, in its first
attempt to produce a melodrama with an Islamic package, sctv called in SinemArt because of their track record in making other sinetrons with some religious substance.13 Secondly, the selected production house, or sometimes several competing production houses, would submit a synopsis. If the television
station approves the synopsis, the production house creates the pilot episode,
which, if approved by the television station, will be aired (with minor changes
if necessary). This strategy also changed the nature of business deals between
rcti and SinemArt, as well as sctv and md, as pitching meant that the production costs and risks of pilot episodes would be borne by the production houses,
who now must also compete against each other. This left television stations
with practically no financial risk if the sinetron flopped. By the 2000s, the power
to determine sinetron production that, in the 1990s, was in the hands of mvp,
was in the hands of television stations.
Competition between production houses in the sinetron industry proved
more advantageous for television stations compared to the period of mvps
dominance, as it gave more autonomy to television stations to determine content. We make the trends. Its not easy, we have to be consistent and persistent.
We could make 10, 20 shows before being able to put on one successful show.
Once we succeed, others will follow and the trend will roll (md owner Manoj
Punjabi, in Arditya, 2013). Television stations now have the power to reject a
ready-to-air pilot episode without having to compensate the costs incurred by
production houses.14

13
14

Two of such are Pintu Hidayah (The Door of Guidance, 2005) and Buku Harian Nayla
(Naylas Diary, 2007), both aired by rcti.
To curb this risk, production houses created exclusive and binding contracts with actors
and actresses under their modelling agencies (D. Rusmana, sinetron production manager, pers. comm., 23 June 2011). Firstly, actors and actresses under this contract are not
allowed to play in sinetrons created by competitor production houses. Secondly, through
these contracts, the same actors and actresses may play in several sinetrons aired simultaneously. Thirdly, exclusive contracts allowed back-to-back sinetron episode production
that follows the television station programming teams audience analysis or the stripping
method.

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The Stripping Method


In 2006, the success of engaging viewers for four hours during the Islamic fasting month Ramadan (6.00 to 10.00pm) inspired stations to extend the original
7.00 to 9.00 prime time slot to four hours throughout the year (I. Kurniawan,
sinetron production design, pers. comm., 11 June 2011). This shows that audience habits during the Islamic month also influences general television programming. Another development in relation to the four-hour prime time slot
is the so-called stripping method. Stripping is a pattern of airing the sinetron
daily. The broadcasting strategy relates to tight deadlines (kejar tayang, literally
chasing broadcast), where sinetron episodes need to be recorded, edited and
submitted within two days. This production mode responds to daily ratings,
allowing television stations to modify the script and cast right up to the end of
production.15
This enables the television station to analyse daily ratings, identify which
minute gained the highest audience, and attempt to replicate the success in
the next episode. We analyse which characters are saying what during what
time, then we can find out which artist the audience likes best (H. Achmad,
pers. comm., 8 July 2011). The production team thus shoots an episode a mere
day after the programming teams sinetron content analysis is delivered. This
often influences the plot within the sinetron as the next days script is adjusted
to todays ratings. This way, productions can also be cut rapidly if ratings
continue to decline. This arrangement also had ramifications on the working
conditions of the shooting team, who can work up to 12 hours straight for one
to three sinetrons in a time (J.E. Katili, sinetron director, pers. comm., 29 April
2011).
The method has been implemented in other countries with a thriving television drama industry, such as India, South Korea and Latin America. In Indonesia, the stripping method was initially implemented only during the 30 days of
Ramadan with a possibility of extension if the ratings remained high to 45 days.
In 2007, rcti tried its first sinetron produced with the stripping method, Candy
(SinemArt). The stripping method occurred after the expansion of prime time
from 7 to 9pm to 6 to 10pm. Television stations strategised how to engage the
audience to sit in front of their television sets for four hours. Therefore, sinetron
titles were produced in order to maintain a loyal, daily audience.

15

As an example where ratings are very high, Putri yang Ditukar (The Switched Daughter,
SinemArt) was aired by rcti with four episodes back-to-back from Monday to Sunday.
The sinetron title aired for 676 episodes in its one year run.

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Before the stripping method, the four-hour daily prime time was filled with
28 different titles (four titles aired every day of the week). After the stripping
method, the same title aired daily. Although the number decreased from 28
titles to a mere four titles per television station (one title every prime time
hour), the total amount of episodes aired remains the same (28 episodes). This
signifies that sinetron productions are stabilising into more focused themes.
The emotional plots of popular melodramatic sinetrons also worked well with
the stripping method. The audience now does not have to wait a week to find
out what happens to their favourite character. They can find out tomorrow
The sinetrons convoluted plot becomes addictive to its viewers, making them
willing to sit in front of the screen for hours (I. Kurniawan, pers. comm., 11 June
2011). This method also had the added benefit of cutting production costs. From
the original 28 production teams required to produce 28 episodes of 28 titles,
production houses only need four production teams to produce the same total
number of episodes. The stripping method cut 25 % off production costs, while
maintaining the profit margin received through advertising (H. Achmad, pers.
comm., 8 July 2011).

Audience Class Taste


One of the key factors that determine sinetron content is television ratings
and in Indonesia agb Nielsen Media Research (Nielsen) is the countrys only
rating body. Nielsens audience measurement panel currently measures 2,423
tv households over 10 major cities (Greater Jakarta, Greater Surabaya, Bandung,
Semarang, Medan, Makassar, Greater Yogyakarta, Palembang, Denpasar and
Banjarmasin; Nielsen, 2010), while largely excluding major cities in the eastern
part of the country arguably for their audiences lower buying power.
Nielsen subsequently divides the audience into classes, based on the socioeconomic status of residents in 10 large cities in Indonesia and further divides
them into seven classes from a1 to e and below.16 Both the a and b classes comprises of approximately 10% of the total sample, the c class 50 % and the d
16

The 2008 Nielsen audience classification is also based on ownership of 10 to 15 items,


including house and car ownership, stove, washing machine, mobile phones, air conditioners and suchlike. It is classified as follows (using monthly income in Indonesian
rupiah): a1 3.5 million (us$ 360 and over); a2 2.5 to 3.5 million (us$260 to 360); b 1.75 to
2.5 million (us$ 180 to 260); c1 1.25 to 1.75 million (us$130 to 180); c2 900,000 to 1.25 million
(us$ 93 to 130); d 600,000 to 900,000 (us$ 62 to 93); e 600,000 and below (us$12 Persen,
2008).

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class 10%. Based on these proportions, the majority of Indonesias television


audience come from the c class,17 which greatly determines the content of
Indonesian television (Kitley, 2000; Barkin, 2004; Ida, 2006). This has also been
the accepted premise behind the popularity of sinetron programmes. However,
in the past five years, television stations have found new ways to cater to as
many audience classes as possible.
From the perspective of television stations and producers, there is a connection between programme theme and class. When Punjabi was criticised by
politicians, intellectuals and Islamic figures for selling dreams through formulaic melodramatic sinetron that often represent the wealthy upper class, he
defended the format by arguing that that is what the majority c class audience
expects and fantasises about (Barkin, 2004: 117).
No, they say Im selling dreams. I say no. First thing, I dont sell. Because
anybody can watch, its free, and they can change the channel too. But
I give them hopes, for one solid hour, I give them hopes. And the whole
family unites, middle to low familywhen they see the problems that are
faced by the rich community, they feel happy. Hey, look we are suffering,
we dont have enough to eat. I dont have the luxury to spend for my
children, but at least I dont have this problem.
barkin 2004:120

Punjabis premise continues to prevail among television producers today, upon


which sinetrons are produced. Television professionals involved in sinetron production that I have interviewed, from television executives, directors, camerapersons, predominantly go by the assumption that programmes must appeal
to the large c class that desires for escapismregardless of whether this is
accurate or not.18 Producers sought for ways to make the highest buying power
17

18

There is a thin layer of a+ audience comprising 1 to 2 % of the sample that, based on their
media use, prefer Pay tv than terrestrial television in their television consumption (Widjenaru, 2011). set Foundation conducted a counter-rating research on popular programmes
to challenge Nielsens methodology, which led to starkly different results than Nielsen, in
which edutainment and news came in first (Yunaidi, 2009).
Unlike the television producers analysis, I argue that this is less about audience class taste
than it is audience habit. Based on Nielsen cross-media platform research, the a class
audience chooses television and newspapers for information, resulting in high a class
audience ratings in news and documentaries. They prefer going to the cinema and social
media as their main media source of entertainment (Widjendaru, 2011). But it is important
to note that television producers imagine this as the a class taste, which then goes into
the television programmes content.

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audience to watch television along with the c class audience. This is where
religion, specifically Islamic themes, became crucial because they brought
together attributes that were the interest of a, b and c class audiences. Islamic
sinetrons that represented the lives of lower class characters, reference towards
Islamic teachings that guides them in their struggles and, packaged as entertainment, successfully did this. The stripping method was also initiated by the
success of Ramadan programming, in which sinetrons were aired daily during
prime time to accompany the Muslim audience during the breaking of fast. The
economic value of mainstream, middle-class, urban Islamic culture factored
into developments of the Indonesian sinetron industry since the mid-2000s.
The entry point that permitted the growth of Islamic sinetrons could be traced
back to the coining of the term sinetron religi in 2003, which, since then, has
evolved in different ways until Islam became the established theme in sinetrons
today.

Islamic sinetron
The fact that Ramadan television routine actually inspired television stations
to try out the four-hour prime time slot and the year-long stripping method
suggest that the Muslim audience has great influence over television programming. The term sinetron religi, or Islamic sinetron, was coined and popularly
used to refer to television drama with obvious reference to Islam after the success and further replication of Rahasia Ilahi (Gods Mystery; Subijanto, 2011).
Soon after, different kinds of Islamic sinetron mushroomed during prime time
(Subijanto, 2009: 243). Islamic themes continued to surface as a steady trend
within sinetron content over the past 12 years and has become a recurring
theme from 2005 to 2010 (sctv Programming and Production, July 2011).
The commercial success of Islam as a theme in sinetron content is only surpassed by romantic drama and is even more popular than teenage sinetrons
that emerged as a response to K-drama (sctv Programming and Production,
July 2011). Despite the term sinetron religi, it mainly portrays mainstream,
middle-class, urban Islamic rituals. Thus, I use the term Islamic sinetron to
properly capture the popular meaning of sinetron religi within Indonesian television practice.
From the total of 2,700 sinetron titles aired between 2005 and 2010, 12.4 %
(335) are Islamic sinetrons (Nielsen, 2010). Studying hundreds of Islamic sinetrons, I was able to categorise them in three clusters based on common characteristics of format, plot, narration and visual representation. These clusters,
confirmed in interviews with producers, include: supernatural drama, Islamic

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melodrama and critical Islamic comedy. Each type of Islamic sinetron rose
into prominence based on precedents set by previous commercially successful
Islamic magazine, film and/or programme in different time periods; however,
all contribute to what is largely mentioned as sinetron religi by television professionals and the public alike. Although they were high in audience ratings,
each cluster received public criticism, which were predominantly variations
of they are not Islamic enough. This revealed that there are contradictions
between the commercial practice of television professionals and the Islamic
values of the very Muslim audience they imagine.
Supernatural Dramas
Between 1998 to 2003, Indonesian sinetrons were mainly a variation of conventional global soap operas. In early 2004, inspired by a Malaysian magazine
called Hidayah (Gods Guidance), a small production house called kep Media
initiated the phenomenon of Islamic television drama with their sinetron Rahasia Ilahi (Gods Mystery). Achmad claims to be the programming executive that
had picked up keps sinetron to increase tpis leverage. The sinetron was inexpensive and kep agreed to a cash-and-carry, thus lowering tpis risk in broadcasting the sinetron. Usually an underdog in the competition, tpi, for the first
time, led audience share when airing this low-cost sinetron (Darmawan and
Armando, 2008). The sinetrons success baffled television producers for its conspicuous representation of supernatural events, lowbrow packaging compared
the standard format of sinetron and particularly its blatant representation of
Islamic rituals and supernatural occurrences.
By associating supernatural forces (alam ghaib) with Islamic rituals, the content of supernatural dramas has similarities with mystic reality shows (tayangan mistik), whose popularity peaked in 2003. These include actors and actresses who re-enact occult encounters or Muslim ustads (religious teachers) chase
down ghosts (Hobart, 2006). However, since these mystic reality shows received
public criticism and were finally prohibited by the Indonesian Broadcasting
Commission (kpiKomisi Penyiaran Indonesia), the numbers of such shows
declined. This decline happened as the popularity of supernatural dramas
increased. The success of Rahasia Ilahi aired by tpi in 2005 initiated an onslaught of copycat programmes (see Table 3).
The cluster of supernatural dramas has several main features. Firstly, the
formats are self-contained, where each episode stands alone without any continuing plot between episodes. Secondly, the titles of the sinetron deliberately refer to Islamic-related idioms: Rahasia Ilahi (Allahs Mysteries), Hidayah
(Gods Guidance), Takdir Ilahi (Allahs Predestination), Tawakal (Submission)
and Sakaratul Maut (Arabic for the moment before death), to name a few. The

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table 3

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List of supernatural dramas (20052007)

Television Audience share Number


station
(percentage)
of titles Title
tpi

15.8

11

Rahasia Ilahi (Gods Secret), Takdir


Ilahi (Gods Destiny), Mereka Ada
Dimana-mana (They are Everywhere),
Allah Maha Besar (God is Greatest), Dosa
Tak Berampun (Unforgivable Sin), Jalan
Keadilan (Path to Justice), Rahmat Ilahi
(Gods Grace), KehendakMu (Your Will),
HidayahMu (Your Guidance), Kusebut
NamaMu (I Say Your Name).

Indosiar

12.4

Hanya Tuhan yang Tahu (Only God


Knows), Tawakal (Surrender), Mukjizat
Allah (Gods Miracle), Padamu Ya Rabbi
(To You Oh, God), Di Balik Kuasa Ilahi
(Secrets of Gods Power), Di Balik Kuasa
Tuhan (Secrets of Gods Power), Titipan
Ilahi (Gods Trust), Misteri Dua Dunia
(Mysteries of Both Worlds).

sctv

15.2

Astaghfirullah (God Forgive Me), Kuasa


Ilahi (Gods Power), Kafir (Infidel),
Suratan Takdir (Destiny), Iman (Faith),
Jalan Takwa (Pious Path).

rcti

14.9

Tuhan Ada Dimana-mana (God is Everywhere), Jagalah Hati (Protect Your Heart),
Maha Kasih (the Most Giving), Cahaya
Surga (Heavens Light), Hikmah (Wisdom),
Pintu Hidayah (the Door to Guidance).

TransTV

n/a

Taubat (Repentance), Istighfar (God


Forgive Me), Hidayah (Guidance), Insyaf
(Repent), Takbir Hikmah (Call of Wisdom),
Hikayah (the Saga).

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Television Audience share Number


station
(percentage)
of titles Title
antv

n/a

Azab Dunia (Wordly Punishment),


Sakratul Maut (Moment Before Death),
Sinema Legenda (Legend Cinema), Jalan
ke Surga (Way to Heaven), Nauzubillahi
Min Zaalik (God Forbid).

LaTivi

11.2

Azab Ilahi (Gods Punishment).

Source: Adapted from Islam Representation in Religious Electronic Cinemas in Indonesia by Nazaruddin, 2008.

titles signify that the sinetrons speak largely of divine power and are to be distinguished from the more general portrayal of angered spirits in most Indonesian
horror films (Heider, 1991; Gladwin, 2003; van Heeren, 2007).
Thirdly, each episode includes verified sources to prove that they are based
on true stories. Rahasia Ilahi is opened with a declaration that, This story is a
true account adapted from Hidayah magazine. The names and characters have
been changed. Other supernatural dramas repeat the same statement at the
beginning of each episode. These declarations suggest validity and to present
the sinetron as reality, a trait that was a given in the preceding mystic reality
shows. The difference between supernatural dramas and mystic reality shows
is the continuity of the narration or plot that a sinetron can present; whereas
reality shows are muddled, without structured dialogues and stable camera
angles.
The fourth feature lies in a plot that portrays the dichotomy between good
and evil (Nazaruddin, 2008: 26). The plots repeated throughout various supernatural dramas contain the same linear arrangement that involves two clear
main character divisions: the antagonists (sinner or kafir [infidel]) and the protagonist (victorious in staying in the righteous path). The fate of the antagonist
can either be forgiven, often by an ustad (well-regarded Islamic teacher), or
is punished for their sins and tortured (Nazaruddin, 2008: 11). The suffering
of the antagonist is visually shown, which include being consumed by flesheating worms, body parts oozing with blood or puss, to being swallowed alive
by the earth. Unlike mystic reality shows where the host and/or ustad claims to
sense spirits in a damned place and eventually performs local exorcism so the
audience rely on what the ustad claims to see, in supernatural dramas these

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List of Ustad or Ustazah appearing in supernatural dramas

Title

Television station

Ustad or Ustazah

Rahasia Ilahi
Takdir Ilahi
Astaghfirullah
Kuasa Ilahi
Pintu Hidayah

tpi
tpi
sctv
sctv
rcti

Arifin Ilham
kh Mustafa Yaqub, ma (mui)
Jefry Al Buchory and Yusuf Mansur
Jefry Al Buchory
Luthfiah Sungkar

Source: Adapted from Islam Representation in Religious Electronic Cinemas in Indonesia by Nazaruddin, 2008, p. 21.

occurrences are visualised to signify divine power. The power of the divine is
re-emphasised by the ustad, which is the last common feature.
An authoritative ustad appears in supernatural dramas to endorse the show
(see Table 4). The ustad appears as a talking head and as a fictive ustad within
the storyline; very similar to the kyai (a traditionalist Islamic teacher) that
appears to restore order at the end of the film during the authoritarian rule
(Heeren, 2007: 219). The ustad is a celebrity preacher who also appears in
other formats, such as Islamic talk shows, Islamic music shows and as a jury
in dakwah (Islamic propagation) talent shows. The ustad, or female ustadzah,
more often appears at the beginning of the episode before the story starts to
explain, citing the Quran and Hadith, how such accounts should be interpreted.
Supernatural drama gained currency not long after the populace dealt with a
series of natural disasters, such as the Aceh tsunami, which led some to believe
that they are connected. In the face of such incomprehensible calamity, people tried to escape from reality. They also grew desperate, as corruption remains
unbridled. Religious programs are a kind of escapism (Wardhana, 2002, in Taufiqurrahman, 2005). Wardhana (2002) also argued that the audience of these
shows may well be non-Muslim viewers or Muslims who rejected simplistic
and doom-laden interpretations of their religion. Although critical of the trend,
his analysis is reminiscent of Punjabis defence in stating that sinetron viewers
come from the majority c class who fantasise an escape from their economic
struggles. Producers of Hidayah, one of the highest rated supernatural dramas,
claim that throughout the production process, they were aware of the lowermiddle class audience they are making the sinetron for. Although they realise
that stations are commodifying on a religious theme that may as well be substituted by folklore (J.E. Katili, sinetron director, pers. comm., 29 April 2011), they
feel that the portrayal of divine intervention gives hope and order to viewers.

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Wardhana predicted that the trend would have a short shelf-life once the
audience grew tired. However, the supernatural theme in Indonesian popular
culture has a long history. Supernatural portrayals with Islamic reference have
been present in film long before they appeared on the small screen.19 It is only
logical that television producers, with less state control over content compared
to the first ten years of commercial broadcasting, replicated a formula proven to
endure in the film industry. Since 2002, it became a recurrent theme, circulating
from one television format to another. Between 2002 and 2004, supernatural
reality shows proliferated. From 2005 to 2008, supernatural drama thrived.
In 2008, the popularity of supernatural dramas did finally decrease not due
to loss of commercial appeal, but public criticism. This eventually caused kpi,
having received protests related to supernatural dramas promoting irrationality, to prohibit all television stations from representing the supernatural or
mysticism in their programmes (Syafirdi, 2008). kpis concern was that it would
teach viewers irrationality, suggesting a conflict between modern rationalism
and supernatural representations. Unlike the kyai that appears at the end of
a horror film to restore order, the ustad failed to neutralise the irrationality of
supernatural occurrence in such dramas. Television stations responded quickly
to this and after the prohibition of supernatural dramas, a new trend of supernatural shows emerged in 2009, returning to the format of reality shows.20
Despite the decline of its popularity, supernatural dramas had given precedence for obvious Islamic reference in sinetrons. Its success also factored into
the emergence of a second type of Islamic television drama: Islamic melodrama.
Islamic Melodrama
The commercial success of the Islamic themed, melodramatic film Ayat-Ayat
Cinta (Verses of Love) in February 2008 was a notable departure from the numerous horror and teen films that crowded the resurgent film industry in Indonesia
(Heeren, 2008: 2021). The film was not only commercially successful, it also
received positive feedback from state officials, moderate Muslim organisations

19

20

In some episodes that I saw, dukun or shamans were presented as evil. There seems to be
some referencing to Javanese mysticism. For more on Javanese mysticism, see Woodward
(1989) and Subagya (1976).
The second type of mystic reality shows, for instance, programmes such as Realigi aired by
Trans tv, Mohon Ampun Aku (Please Forgive Me) aired by antv, Pengejar Rahasia (Chasing
Secrets) aired by antv, portray ordinary people (not ustads) trying to solve their life crises
in which divine intervention occurs. These programmes were still broadcast until 2010
despite receiving warnings from kpi.

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and scholars. It achieved the second highest ticket revenue to date in Indonesia,
viewed by a total of 3.5 million people (Yuk ! Nonton, 2009). The film audience was not the usual teenagers, but housewives who often attend neighbourhood congregational Quranic readings (ibu-ibu pengajian) and Islamic boarding schools (pesantren) students (Endriana and Budianto, 2010). The films
director, Hanung Bramantyo, says that he chose the film because it represented
Islam in a positive light, where Muslims are not associated with terrorism and
fanaticism, but portrayed as people who practice tolerance, patience, sincerity
and honesty (Heeren, 2008: 2021). In a way, for Bramantyo, who was educated
in Muhammadiyah-run schools, the film was his dawah.
With the rating decline of supernatural drama, television producers examined the success of Islamic melodrama in film. The success of Ayat-ayat Cinta
had inspired television producers to adapt the format into sinetron, which
introduced the second type of Islamic television drama. Although Islamic melodrama showed different features compared to supernatural drama, industry
professionals and audience lumped them into one for their obvious Islamic reference.
The features within Ayat-ayat Cinta, particularly the love triangle between
the main characters, translate well with the plots used in conventional sinetrons. While conventional sinetrons portray melodramatic romance stories of
the main protagonist entangled in a love triangle, in Islamic melodrama, this is
resolved by polygamy in Indonesia.
Islamic melodrama is produced in two streams. Firstly, by designing a melodramatic sinetron with an Islamic theme. Secondly, by creating a Ramadan
version of a previously successful melodramatic sinetron, where its title is usually followed by a Ramadan Edition (edisi Ramadan). However, in content,
both streams feature the same characteristics. Firstly, the title of the sinetron
predominantly relate Islamic idioms with love, such as Ketika Cinta Bertasbih
(When Love is Glorified), Munajah Cinta (Surrendering to Love) and Ramadan
versions of successful conventional sinetrons, such as Cinta Fitri edisi Ramadan
(Fitris Love Ramadan Edition). The titles indicate that the sinetrons differ from
conventional ones, in their attribution of Islamic idioms (see Table 5).21

21

There are some overlaps between clusters. For instance, the title and content (plot) of
SinemArts Pintu Hidayah (The Door to Guidance) suggest supernatural drama, but in a
format that is Islamic melodrama. It also includes a sermon by female ustadzah Luthfiah
Sungkar. The overlapping format never became commercially successful.

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table 5

Top four stations airing of Islamic melodrama (20082010)

Television
station
Type
tpi

sctv

Number
of titles Titles

By design

Ramadan
edition

By design

Ramadan
edition

27

Kaidah Cinta (The Rule of Love), Taaruf (Islamic


Matchmaking), Buku Harian Menuju Surga (Diary to
Heaven), Mukjizat Cinta (The Miracle of Love), Kun
Faya Kuun (Be It and It is)
Rubiah Ramadan edition, Siti Cinderella Edition,
Taaruf (Islamic Matchmaking) Ramadan Edition

Amanah Cinta (The Mandate of Love), Annisa,


Zahra, Rumahku Surgaku (My Home My Heaven),
Hafizah
Azizah Ramadan Edition, Cinderella Ramadan
Edition, Cinta Fitri (Fitris Love) Season 2 Ramadan
Edition, Cinta Fitri (Fitris Love) Ramadan Edition,
Cinta Indah (Indahs Love) Ramadan Edition,
Mutiara Hati 2 (The Pearl of My Heart 2) Ramadan
Edition, Benci Bilang Cinta (I Hate but I Say Love)
Ramadan Edition, Cinta Fitri (Fitris Love) Season 3
Ramadan Edition, Cintaku Berat di Ongkos (Love is
Expensive) Ramadan Edition, Cintaku Memanggil
(My Love is Calling) Ramadan Edition, Inikah Cinta
? (Is This Love ?) Ramadan Edition, Kau Masih
Kekasihku (Youre Still My Lover) Ramadan Edition,
Nadia Ramadan Edition, Pengantin Kecil (The Young
Bride) Ramadan Edition, Cowok Impian (Boy of My
Dreams) Ramadan Edition, Kau Masih (Youre Still)
Ramadan Edition, Penyihir Cinta (Love Witch)
Ramadan Edition, Perawan Desa (The Village Virgin)
Ramadan Edition, Sahabat Sejati (True Bestfriend)
Ramadan Edition, Ande Ande Lumut Ramadan
Edition, Atas Nama Cinta (In the Name of Love)
Ramadan Edition, Benar-Benar Cinta (True Love)
Ramadan Edition, Cewek Penakluk (The Female
Conqueror) Ramadan Edition, Cinta Remaja
(Teenage Love) Ramadan Edition, Gitu Aja Kok

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table 5

rakhmani
Top four stations airing of Islamic melodrama (20082010) (cont.)

Television
station
Type

Number
of titles Titles
Repot (Dont Sweat the Small Stuff) Ramadan
Edition, Gue Sihir Lu! (Ill Bewitch You!) Ramadan
Edition, Jangan Pisahkan Aku (Dont Separate Me)
Ramadan Edition, Kutunggu Cintamu (Ill Wait for
Your Love) Ramadan Edition, Rahasia Hati (The
Hearts Secret) Ramadan Edition

rcti

By design

21

Ramadan
edition

27

Alisa, Aqso dan Madina, Assalamualaikum Cinta


(Hello Love), Menanti Keajaiban Cinta (Awaiting for
the Miracle of Love), Munajah Cinta (Surrendering
to Love), Khanza, Safira, Aisyah, Cinta dan Anugerah
(Love and Grace), Doa dan Karunia (Prayer and
Blessing), Kembang Surga (The Flower of Heaven),
Manohara, Muslimah (Female Muslim), Safa dan
Marwah, Amanah dalam Cinta (The Mandate in
Love), Kemilau Cinta Kamila (The Sheen of Kamilas
Love), Kemilau Cinta Kamila 2 (The Sheen of
Kamilas Love 2), Kemilau Cinta Kamila 3 (The
Sheen of Kamilas Love 3), Ketika Cinta Bertasbih
(When Love is Glorified), Hamba Hamba Allah
(Gods Servants), Mengintip Surga (Peeking into
Heaven)
Ada Apa dengan Cinta (Whats Up With Love)
Ramadan Edition, Aku Bukan Untukmu (Im Not for
You) Ramadan Edition, Bawang Merah Bawang Putih
(Indonesian Tale, trans.) Ramadan Edition, Bukan
Salah Bunda Mengandung (Dont Blame Mother)
Ramadan Edition, Habibi dan Habibah Ramadan
Edition, Kapan Kita Pacaran Lagi? (When Should We
Date Again?) Ramadan Edition, Ratapan Anak Tiri
(The Plea of a Stepchild) Ramadan Edition, Soleha
Ramadan Edition, Aisyah Ramadan Edition, Anak
Cucu Adam (Adams Grandchildren) Ramadan
Edition, Anakku Bukan Anakku (My Child is not My
Child) Ramadan Edition, Bukan Diriku (Not Myself)

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mainstream islam

Television
station
Type

Number
of titles Titles
Ramadan Edition, Cahaya (Light) Ramadan Edition,
Candy Ramadan Edition, Fajar (Sunrise) Ramadan
Edition, Janji (Promise) Ramadan Edition, Kakak
Iparku 17 Tahun (My Brother-in-law is 17 Years Old)
Ramadan Edition, Kembang Surga (Heavens Flowe)
Ramadan Edition, Mawar (Rose) Ramadan Edition,
Ratu (Queen) Ramadan Edition, Assalamualaikum
Cinta (Hello Love) Ramadan Edition, Cincin (Ring)
Ramadan Edition, Dewi (Goddess) Ramadan
Edition, Gara Gara Cinta (Because of Love) Ramadan
Edition, Kecil-Kecil Jadi Manten (Such a Young
Bride) Ramadan Edition, Ketika Cinta Bertasbih
(When Love is Glorified) Ramadan Edition, Mutiara
(Pearl) Ramadan Edition, Nikita Ramadan Edition

Indosiar

By design

16

Ramadan
edition

Jihan, Muslimah (Female Muslim), Syarifa, Tasbih


Cinta (The Rosario of Love), Amira, Dibalik Jilbab
Zaskia (Behind Zaskias Veil), Hareem, Inayah,
Mahabah Terindah (The Most Beautiful Affection),
Mualaf (Muslim Convert), Tasbih Cinta (The Rosario
of Love), Baghdad, Nurjannah, Pernikahan Siri
(Unregistered Marriage), Surga Untukmu (Heaven
for You), Takdir Cinta (The Fate of Love)
Jihan Ramadan Edition, Beningnya Cinta (The
Clarity of Love) Ramadan Edition, Surga Untukmu
(Heaven for You) Ramadan Edition

Source: Compiled from Nielsen Sinetron Titles 20052010 and television station websites.

The second feature relates to the plots of the sinetron. The plot, which is centred
on interpersonal relationships, either friendship, family or filial piety and/or
between a man and a woman who eventually legitimise their relationship by
getting married to demonstrate marital piety, is generally similar to the love
plot of conventional sinetrons. The third feature, Islamic symbols, includes
costumes (veils or jilbabs for females and baju koko [Malayan-Chinese shirt

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table 6

rakhmani
Islamic melodrama produced by SinemArt (20082010)

Main characters

Television
station
Episodes

Title

Year

Munajah Cinta
(Surrendering to Love)

2008 Baim Wong, Rianti


Cartwright, Zaskia Adia
Mecca

rcti

92

Aqso dan Madina

2008 Marshanda, Dude


Harlino, Ibnu Jamil

rcti

132

Doa dan Karunia


(Prayer and Blessing)

2009 Naysila Mirdad, Glenn


Alinskie, Dude Herlino

rcti

74

Ketika Cinta Bertasbih


(When Love is Glorified)
Ramadan Special

2010 Kholidi Asadil Alam, Oki


Setiana Dewi, Andi Arsyil
Rahman, Dude Herlino

rcti

56

Kemilau Cinta Kamila


(The Sheen of Kamilas
Love)

2010 Asmirandah, Jonas


Rivanno, Mischa
Chandrawinata

rcti

365

Amanah dalam Cinta


(Mandate in Love)

2010 Julie Estelle, Christian


Sugiono, Ali Syakieb

rcti

54

Ketika Cinta Bertasbih


2011 Kholidi Asadil Alam, Oki
Meraih Ridho Ilahi
Setiana Dewi, Andi Arsyil
(When Love is Glorified,
Rahman, Dude Herlino
Reaching Gods Blessing)

rcti

25

Kasih dan Cinta


(Compassion and Love)

rcti

25

Dari Sujud ke Sujud


2011 Marshanda, Dude
(From One Prostration to
Harlino, Asmirandah
the Other)

rcti

35

Air Mata Ummi


(Mothers Tears)

rcti

25

2011 Tika Putri, Julie Estelle,


Ashraf Sinclair

2012 Widyawati, Atalarik Syah


Fathir Muchtar

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Main characters

Television
station
Episodes

Title

Year

Dalam Mihrab Cinta


(In Loves Throne)

2012 Dude Harlino, Meyda


Sefira, Baim Wong

rcti

49

Karunia
(Blessing)

2012 Marshanda, Mischa


Chandrawinata, Raya
Kohandi

rcti

63

Source: Compiled from SinemArt website and Nielsen Sinetron Titles 20052010.

often used as a symbol of Islamic piety] for males), settings (e.g., mosques), and
props (e.g., framed calligraphy on walls). The fourth feature lies in the speech.
The speech of Islamic melodrama includes the names of the characters, usually
Arabic names or with reference to the Quran, and speech (e.g., using the Islamic
greeting Assalamualaikum [God be with you], Insya Allah [God willing] and
Alhamdulillah [Thank God] to name a few).
The fifth feature relates to the actors and actresses playing the characters in
Islamic melodrama. One of the strategies implemented by production houses
in Indonesia to lower costs is to use the same actors and actresses in popular
melodramas and films they produce (see Table 6). As an illustration, the most
popular actor and actress in Islamic melodramas produced by SinemArt are
Dude Harlino and Marshanda respectively (see Figure 1).
As the same production houses that create conventional sinetrons also create Islamic melodrama, actors and actresses starring in them also star in other
conventional sinetrons without jilbab and baju koko. These low-cost solutions
often invite criticism from Muslim audiences who claim that the actors and
actresses are not Muslim enough, sometimes citing their personal lives that
are frequently reported by television gossip shows.
As an illustration, Islamic melodrama Hareem received a warning from
kpi after the commission considered the Indonesian Ulama Councils (Majelis
Ulama Indonesiamui), protest about the programme (Wulan, 2009). mui, an
umbrella organisation for various Muslim bodies, claimed that Hareem contained verbal and physical violence and was blasphemous towards Islam. This
protest is particularly related to its portrayal of a pious Muslim man with four
wives who treats his wives inhumanely, such as locking them in the house.
Although kpi only warned the station to move Hareems time slot, the production house, Soraya Intercine, stripped the show off of all its Islamic attributes.

Asian Journal of Social Science 42 (2014) 435466

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figure 1

rakhmani

Actor and actress intertextuality. Upper right: Marshanda captured from Benci
Bilang Cinta (2006). Lower right: Dude Harlino captured from Cahaya (2007). Both
Marshanda and Harlino in Dari Sujud ke Sujuds (From Worship to Worship, 2012)
promotional poster, complete with Islamic attributes.

They changed the title of the show to the name of its main protagonist, Inayah
and the characters subsequently no longer wore jilbab and baju koko and/or
other clothing attributes that indicate it being an Islamic television drama.
All characters, including the actors and actresses playing them, remained the
same.
The protest raised by mui attempted to set straight the morality shown in
the content of Islamic melodrama and its actors and actresses. mui argued that
the sinetron is blasphemous and ruins the image of Islam (Anugrah, 2009).
In response to blatant commodifications of Islamic imagery, one production
house, Citra Sinema, attempted to rectify Islamic portrayals in their Islamic
sinetron Para Pencari Tuhan (Gods Seekers).
The commercial success of this type of Islamic sinetron also led to a replication of its features by other production houses without motivations to return
the Quran and Hadith as intended by Citra Sinema. However, the succeeding replications maintained the everyday portrayal of middle- and lower-class
Muslims and its comedic package. This is important because the former were
orientalised in supernatural drama and Islamic melodrama and the latter often

Asian Journal of Social Science 42 (2014) 435466

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459

normalised the conflict between secular authority and Islamic teachings. Thus,
although coined by television producers as religious comedy (komedi religi), I
dub this as critical Islamic comedy.
Critical Islamic Comedy
In 1997, prominent Muslim film producer, director and actor Deddy Mizwar
founded Demi Gisela Citra Sinema or Citra Sinema to produce films and sinetrons that uphold Islamic teachings based on the Quran and the Hadith. Unlike
most production houses that aimed to answer demands of television stations
and consulted to ustads primarily as an endorsement, Citra Sinema consulted
to Islamic scholars from universities that propagate Islam based on the Quran
and Hadith (dawah; Lahir untuk Mengisi, 2009). Mizwar carefully handpicked his production team of Muslims who are as creative as they are critical
of Islamic portrayals.
Since then, Citra Sinema has produced commercially successful Islamic
sinetrons and films praised by State representatives. In 2005, President Yudhoyono invited Mizwar and his crew to the presidential palace in appreciation of
their Islamic sinetron Kiamat Sudah Dekat (The End is Nigh), particularly for
producing good-quality series that support national education (Subijanto, 2011:
251). In 2009, the same sinetron won the Isodel Award, granted by the Department of Educations Centre of Information Technology for television shows
with educative themes (Ika, 2008). The growing piousness that has permeated
public spaces, namely television, caught the attention and was capitalised on
by representatives of the state.
For television executives, Citra Sinemas dawah was commercially successful because of their savvy use of comedy. While Citra Sinema producers used
comedy to popularise the show and gain a larger congregation, for the television executives, it made way for a new theme to be married with Islamic
imagery. The commercial success and stable viewersip of Citra Sinemas Para
Pencari Tuhan (Gods Seekersppt), has set a new trend within the sinetron
industry: critical Islamic comedy. Since 2005, the format of critical Islamic comedy has been copied by mvp, md Entertainment and SinemArt by maintaining
several main features.
Firstly, the titles of the sinetron, such as Lorong Waktu (Time Tunnel), Demi
Masa (The Time) and Para Pencari Tuhan (Gods Seekers) refer to Islam in
implicit ways. For instance, Demi Masa, which literally translates to On Behalf
of Time is the title of one of the chapters in the Quran. The title Para Pencari
Tuhan suggests that the sinetron represents a pursuit to find God. The titles of
this third cluster imply a struggle or effort ( jihad) to practice Islam. The copycat
sinetrons do not maintain the narrative of the jihad, but highlights on the

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contrasts between secular culture and Islamic teachings as experienced by proletariat Muslims. This is apparent in the titles Islam ktp (Superficial Muslims)
and Pesantren Rock n Roll (The Rock and Roll Islamic Boarding School).
The second feature lies in the content of the sinetron. Critical Islamic comedy portrays the jihad of the main characters who attempt to define their
piousness based on knowledge of Islam. The jihad is crucial in the narrative,
as it allows the characters to oscillate between making errors and doing good
deeds (Subijanto, 2009: 22). This oscillation is not apparent in supernatural
drama and Islamic melodrama, where there is a clear division between protagonists and antagonists. The introduction of comedy as a package for dawah
normalised the dissonances of individuals and their struggle to be a good Muslim. In critical Islamic comedy, Islamic teachings give hope for the main characters who often come from lower socio-economic classes. Islamic rituals at
times become a yearning or a desire that needs to be achieved (Tukang Bubur
Naik Haji [The Porridge Hawker Does the Hajj] and Emak Ijah Pengen ke Mekkah
[Momma Ijah Wants to go to Mecca]), or potential rewards for proletariat Muslims. Likewise, the setting often revolves around urban villages, small alleys and
shelters.
Lastly, in contrast to the binary oppositions of black-and-white characters in
both supernatural drama and Islamic melodrama, there is no clear protagonist
and antagonist in critical Islamic comedy. For instance, even characters of
authority, such as ustad, are represented as not always knowledgeable of Islam.
The ustad in this cluster deviates from the general representation of preachers
in Indonesian television programmes who are seen to have no fault. Thus,
Islamic authority circulates from one character to another.
Although critical Islamic comedy as a theme of Islamic sinetron was made
possible through the dawah mission of one production house, which makes the
origins of this cluster stand out compared to the first two, the sinetron industrys profit orientation and structured modes of production quickly tapped into
its success. The shared feature of critical Islamic comedy is in its portrayal
of the everyday struggles of proletariat characters who are not victimiseda
critical turning point from supernatural dramas and Islamic melodrama. kpi
received protests in regards to the portrayal of socially-regarded Muslims, or
those who have gone on the hajj, as having negative traits like being envious and worldly (Arditya, 2013). Introducing flawed traits in its Muslim characters seem to go against the expectation of moralist Muslims who desire
sinetrons that represent only the goodness of Islam. Ironically, without references to the Quran and Hadith that had in fact been the basis of Citra Sinemas
dawah.

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mainstream islam
table 7

List of critical Islamic comedy (20072009)

Year

Titles

2007

Kiamat Sudah Dekat (The End is Nigh) Ramadan Edition


Kiamat Sudah Dekat 3 (The End is Nigh 3)
Lorong Waktu 2 (The Aisle of Time 2)
Lorong Waktu 2 (The Aisle of Time 2) Ramadan Edition
Lorong Waktu 4 (The Aisle of Time 4)
Lorong Waktu 4 (The Aisle of Time 4) Ramadan Edition
Lorong Waktu (The Aisle of Time) Ramadan Edition
Para Pencari Tuhan (Gods Seekers)
Para Pencari Tuhan (Gods Seekers) Ramadan Edition
Lorong Waktu 5 (The Aisle of Time 5) Ramadan Edition
Para Pencari Tuhan 2 (Gods Seekers 2)
Para Pencari Tuhan (Gods Seekers) Ramadan Edition
Rinduku Cintamu (My Yearning Your Love)
Para Pencari Tuhan 2 (Gods Seekers 2) Ramadan Edition
Para Pencari Tuhan 3 (Gods Seekers 3)
Para Pencari Tuhan 3 (Gods Seekers 3) Ramadan Edition
Para Pencari Tuhan 4 (Gods Seekers 4)
Islam ktp (Superficial Muslims)
Para Pencari Tuhan 5 (Gods Seekers 5)
Para Pencari Tuhan 5 (Gods Seekers 5) Ramadan Edition
Islam ktp (Superficial Muslims)
Pesantren Rock n Roll (The Rock n Roll Islamic Boarding School)
Dikejar Surga (Chased by Heaven)
Para Pencari Tuhan 5 (Gods Seekers 6)
Para Pencari Tuhan 5 (Gods Seekers 6) Ramadan Edition
Tukang Bubur Naik Haji (The Porridge Hawker Does the Hajj)
Para Pencari Tuhan 5 (Gods Seekers 7)
Para Pencari Tuhan 5 (Gods Seekers 7) Ramadan Edition
Benar-benar Muslim (A Real Muslim)
Emak Ijah Pengen ke Mekkah (Momma Ijah Wants to go to Mecca)
3 Semprul Mengejar Surga (Three Stooges Chase Heaven)
Anak-anak Manusia (Children of Man)

2008

2009

2010
2011

2012

2013

Source: Compiled from Citra Sinema, rcti, sctv website.

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Conclusion
This article revealed the modes of accommodation between media practices of
the sinetron industry and the growing influence of Islam among the Indonesian
urban, middle class. As a result, the article has laid out the ways in which
television stations and producers have imagined their Muslim audience, and
how this has left impressions on secular, television programming.
Portrayals of Islam in the late 1990s have been largely tokenistic, primarily
attempting to tame outspoken conservative viewers in order to avoid potential
commercial losses. By the early 2000s, Islamic expressions that has manifested
in various economic sectors became apparent in the television industry as
well. At a glance, it may have seemed to sinetron producers and television
executives that this is a changing trend from one theme to another, a mere
commodification of a currently popular attribute. But taking a look into the
common features between them, and the stable position of Islam as one of
the most profitable themes in sinetron for the last eight years (2005 to 2013),
it becomes clear that it is not only about pragmatic, commercial savvy-ness
on the side of television stations, but also about a symbiosis between growing
Islamic influences in society and commercialisation.
I argue that it was the market value of Islamic culture, whose expression has
become more manifest in large cities in Indonesia, that had influenced new
modes of cost efficiency and profit opportunities within the sinetron industry,
namely stripping and longer prime time hours. By understanding the stable
trend of Islamic sinetron, I argue that mainstream Islam, one that is acceptable to both vocal, conservative Muslims, as well as the general, heterogeneous audience, intermingles with the organisation of television programming
and content. The Indonesian sinetron industry sustains profitability because of
its dynamic responses towards shifts in market taste. Amidst this dynamism,
Islamic references have become a constant factor that ensures profitability.
The moral responsibilities of vocal Muslim audiences, vis--vis the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission, have also given cue to television executives
and sinetron producers on which portrayals to avoid. The sinetron industrys
mode of production accommodates these protests because it works well with
their own risk aversion. As a result, this interaction between these Islamic
and secular factors has provided the mechanism through which Islam has
become mainstreamed into the television system of a supposedly pluralistic
country.

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463

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