‘The Message,’ a 1976 film starring Anthony Quinn, is probably one of the few movies on Islam and its Prophet that did not attract much controversy.
Nearly four decades after its release, the film directed by Moustapha Akkad is ready for release in Tamil. But those behind the project do not favour screening it in cinemas but plan to reach audiences through satellite channels.
“There is grave misunderstanding about Islam among non-Muslims. Many Muslims too have no clear idea about the Prophet and his teachings. The film will dispel wrong notions entrenched in the mind of many,” said Mohamed Thamby, director of Mass Communications, the company that has dubbed the film in Tamil.
Produced in 1976, with financial assistance from then Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and others, following stiff opposition in Hollywood, the film was shot in Libya, Lebanon and Morocco. Its rights for Indian languages are with Mumbai-based Shahbab Ahamed.
The film powerfully portrayed the amity between Christianity and Islam in the early days, especially in a scene in which followers of the Prophet are given refuge by Ashama, the Christian King in Abyssinia, when they faced persecution in Mecca.
Drawing a line between him and followers of the Prophet, the king says, “The difference between you and us is no thicker than this line.” He then turns towards Amr bin Aas, who had visited his kingdom to bring back the followers, and says, “Not for mountain of gold, I will give them up to you.”
The film begins with the Prophet’s messengers asking the Byzantine emperor Heraclius, the patriarch of Alexandria and the emperor of Persia to accept Islam.
It then ventures to depict the life and times of the Prophet, starting with the beginning of Islam, its first martyrs, the migration or journey of Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina, the building of the first mosque, the appointment of Bilal, a black slave, as the first muezzin, his final victory, and removal of idols from Kabba. Finally, Bilal climbs atop the Kabba and call the victorious Muslims for prayer.
Asked why he had decided against screening the film in cinemas, Mr. Thamby said the number of Muslims visiting theatres was not big, as many considered watching films ‘haram’.
M.H. Jawahirullah, leader and MLA of Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (MMK), said there was great space in the visual media to get across messages to the people and there was nothing wrong in using it to convey the message of Islam and the Prophet’s teachings.
“Whether a film is ‘haram’ or not can be judged only after knowing its contents. Films in general cannot be classified as haram,” he said.