“Muhammad (s)” movie; praises and objections

Tehran, September 30, The Iran Project –”Muhammad (s), the Messenger of God”, the religious biopic directed by Majid Majidi has enjoyed a warm welcome both in Iran and abroad. This 171-minute epic that is the first part of a trilogy on the life of the prophet shows the events before his birth up to his teenage years in the holy city of Mecca. While the movie has received a box-office hit in Iranian theaters, it has enjoyed an extra screening at the 39th Montreal World ‎Film Festival (MWFF) in Canada.

However, the reactions in the Arab world to the movie have been rather different. On one hand, part of the Sunni senior clerics blames the movie for depiction of Prophet Muhammad, calling it a “blasphemous” measure. Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, the most prominent institution of Sunni Islam, as the main adversary of the movie, claims it is forbidden to portray the prophet’s body and voice.

It is worth noting that according to Sharia law embodying the prophet is prohibited. The movie also has angered Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, provoking him to call it a “mockery of the prophet and degradation of his statute“.  However, despite this criticism, the prophet’s face is not pictured in the movie; instead the camera just shows a boy from behind.

On the other hand, there is another entirely different approach toward the movie within the Arab world. In an article in Al-Hayat newspaper, the Saudi journalist, Dawud al-Sharyan praised the way in which the movie introduces Islam to the audience. He also stated that despite the Sunni clerics’ rejection, the movie attractively depicts the prophet’s personality until his teenage era.

Khalid Mahmud in Al-Shorouk newspaper published in Cairo, also strongly denounced Al-Azhar baseless criticisms over the movie, adding that all those who opposed the movie haven’t seen it yet. While the Sunni cleric’s judgment of the movie seems more political, the later position proves that the Sunni clerics’ dissatisfaction is totally baseless.

Amid the objections and praises, the movie’s director remarks about the purpose of the movie production are highly notable. He insists that the “Muhammad (s)” movie aims to provide a better understanding of Islamic and to alter the dominant narrative about the prophet of Islam and Muslims globally. Thus, irrespective of how powerful the movie is to change the non-Muslims perceptions and attitudes toward Islam, Majidi’s efforts to use art as a means to convince the Westerners that Islam is a religion of peace is highly praiseworthy and courageous.

Rezvaneh Hakimzadeh Abianeh contributed to this article. She is an associated professor at the University of Tehran.