Muhammad in film
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The depiction of Muhammad, the Islamic Prophet, in film (as with other visual depictions) is a controversial topic both within and outside of Islam. The Quran does not explicitly forbid images of Muhammad, but there are a few hadith (supplemental teachings) which have explicitly prohibited Muslims from creating visual depictions of figures. There is a split on this issue between the two major denominations of Islam, Sunni and Shia Islam.
Most Sunni Muslims believe that visual depictions of all the prophets of Islam should be prohibited and are particularly averse to visual representations of Muhammad. In 1926, Egyptian actor Youssef Wahbi was in discussions to play Muhammad in a film financed by the Turkish government under Atatürk. When the Sunni Islamic Al-Azhar University in Cairo heard about it, scholars there released a fatwa stipulating that Islam forbids the depiction of Muhammad on screen and King Fuad then sent a severe warning to the actor, threatening to exile him and strip him of his Egyptian nationality. As a result of the controversy, the film was abandoned.
In Shia Islam, scholars historically were also against such depictions, but have taken a more relaxed view over the years and images of Muhammad are quite common nowadays. A fatwa given by Ali al-Sistani, the Shi'a marja of Iraq, states that it is permissible to depict Muhammad, even in television or movies, if done with respect.
Mohammad, Messenger of God, released in the US as The Message, was the first major film about Muhammad. The film was released on January 1, 1976 and on July 29 of the same year it had its premiere in "Plaza", a London cinema. There are two versions of the movie, an English one and an Arab one. The Arab version had also its premiere in a London cinema, Curzon, on August 19, 1976. Both versions were screened till September 29. So the English version was shown for nine weeks, and the Arab version for six weeks.
When director Mustafa Akkad (1935-2005) was shooting the film, he made use of an American cast and an Egyptian cast. In the English version Anthony Quinn played Hamza, Michael Ansara Muhammad's principal opponent Abu Sufyan, and Irene Papas Abu Sufyan's wife Hind. In the Arab version these roles were played by Egyptian actors. However, in a number of overall shots, in which a large group is acting, such as the Battle of Badr, it can be heard that the scene is shot only once, as the actors shout "Allahu Akbar", whereas in other similar scenes the director opted for "God is great".
Although the movie is about Muhammad, the director decided to shoot the film so as to not depict Muhammad. Akkad frequently changed the position of the camera at moments when Muhammad would be brought into vision. When Muhammad was essential to a scene, the camera would show events from his point of view.
The Message became very popular, not the least in the circles of Muslims, for example in Africa, and Asia. Even so, two well-known fatwas from Al-Azhar University and Shiite Council of Lebanon were issued about The Message.
It is certainly probable that this is not the result of the creativity of the filmmakers but of the rules announced by the Islamic scholars of the Azhar and the Shia Council of Lebanon, who prohibited any representation of Muhammad's wives as well as of Muhammad himself.
Muhammad: The Last Prophet
Muhammad: The Last Prophet is an animated film produced by Badr International according to the same principles as "The Message". Its director is Richard Rich. The movie was released in 2004 and it was screened in a limited number of movie-theatres in the United States and the United Kingdom. The film focuses on the early period of Islam.
Muhammad: The Messenger of God
In October 2012, Iranian director Majid Majidi began shooting a film titled Muhammad: The Messenger of God with plans to show Muhammad on screen, though not his face, as per Shia tradition. The film world premier was on 27 August 2015.
In October 2008, Producer Oscar Zoghbi, who worked on the original The Message, stated that he would shooting a remake called The Messenger of Peace, to be shot around the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Film producer Barrie M. Osborne has been hired as an adviser on a possible series of epics about Muhammad. The films, which are financed by a Qatari media company and will be supervised by the Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, are unlikely to depict Muhammad at all on screen as per Sunni tradition which sees all renderings of the prophets as blasphemous.
A documentary is currently in the works about the attempt by Doug Shear and four actors to erect a stage in the middle of downtown Wynwood, Florida on Saturday, April 15, 2017. in order to perform the controversial stage play No Pictures Please. The satire includes an actor playing the role of Muhammad. A police officer shut down the production. The reasons given were that it required a film permit, that it was blocking the street, and that the people across the street had paid for their space. The counter argument was that it was a stage play, not a film, that it was on the right of way and therefore was not blocking the street, and that they were not selling anything or asking for a donation. Diana Frederick played the role of Malala, Isabel played Aisha, Tony Albanes played Muhammed, and Omar the Red played the Terrorist. Four additional crew preferred to remain anonymous. The documentary is expected to be completed by December 2017 and will cover the challenges to free speech faced by the entertainment industry, in particular the issues surrounding the image of Muhammad.
List of films
- Depictions of Muhammad
- Historicity of Muhammad
- History of Islam
- List of biographies of Muhammad
- Muhammad in Islam
- Prophetic biography
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