By Rezaul H Laskar
Sep 15, 2015
At a time when India’s Muslims are grappling with a variety of serious problems, a bunch of clerics in Mumbai are busy arranging a fatwa against a film that is yet to be released in the country.
Iranian director Majid Majidi’s “Muhammad: The Messenger Of God”, made on a budget of $40 million and the first episode in a planned trilogy, has opened to mixed reviews.
Most critics have welcomed Majidi’s efforts to chronicle the Prophet’s childhood and adolescence, with the Guardian describing it as “intellectually honest, committed and poetic”. The Variety, however, called it a “lumbering, old-fashioned and overlong historical epic” akin to the Biblical movies churned out by Hollywood in the 1950s.
But even before the film’s release in India, Mumbai-based Raza Academy issued a fatwa against Majidi and composer AR Rahman, who did the film’s score, and wrote to the Maharashtra chief minister and Union home minister Rajnath Singh to ban the movie.
By the way, the fatwa contends Majidi and Rahman have committed sacrilege and will have to solemnise their marriages again and re-read the Kalima, an essential tenet of the Islamic faith.
The Raza Academy and one of its founders, Mohammed Saeed Noori, have a litany of complaints – that the film’s title has the Prophet’s name which is now likely to be taken in vain, that photography isn’t allowed in Islam, that various actors have played the Prophet and that the movie will be dubbed in many languages and released around the world.
Of course, Noori-sab is honest enough to admit that he has “not seen the movie” and does “not know exactly what is shown in it”.
Obviously Noori-sab also hasn’t seen the many selfies and live videos posted on social media by worshippers in Mecca, including the hundreds of videos posted on Snapchat on the 27th night of Ramzan. So much for the Raza Academy’s stance on photography and Islam. (Though knowing how these folks function, Noori and his compatriots probably have grounds for another fatwa!)
One also wonders whether the real reason why the Raza Academy, a Sunni Muslim group, is objecting to the film is because Majidi is a Shia Muslim and “Muhammad: The Messenger Of God” was backed by the government of Iran, the country with the world’s largest Shia population.
Majidi himself has referred to this issue, saying earlier this year: “We chose a period of (the Prophet’s) life about which there is no difference between different Shia and Sunni scholars and groups. We made this film with the view of bringing unity (to) the Muslim world.”
There are two things about Rahman that are difficult to question – his commitment to providing the best music for films (several critics have singled out his score for “Muhammad” for lavish praise) and his commitment to Islam. In a classy riposte to the Raza Academy that was posted on his Facebook page, Rahman quoted from the Quran (Nothing shall ever happen to us except what Allah has ordained for us. He is our Mawla (protector). And in Allah let the believers put their trust) and listed the reasons why he did the film’s score.
Rahman referred to a “blur between the real world and the virtual world” and the “unethical, unacceptable and unkind remarks” made online about the Prophet Mohammed. “I have always felt that we must counter this reaction with love and kindness, and through the audio-visual media reach out to people who wish to broaden their understanding,” he said.
Majidi’s film is not the first attempt at putting the Prophet’s life on the silver screen – that honour goes to Moustapha Akkad’s “The Message” (1977) – but it is the first that has depicted the Prophet in some form. According to reviews and images posted online, it includes shots of the Prophet’s hands and legs as a baby, his back and as a silhouette against the sky.
This could be a problem with a majority of Sunnis, who are opposed to the depiction of the Prophet in any manner though Shias have a more liberal approach to such matters. This could also pose serious problems if and when the movie is released in India.
But a ban as demanded by the Raza Academy – which would probably do better to focus on the genuine problems faced by India’s Muslims, such as the lack of quality education – is not the answer.
Majidi has said that the real reason behind his film is to reclaim the rightful image of Islam which extremists have distorted.
“Unfortunately at this time the impression of Islam is of a radical, fanatical and violent religion, which is not what it’s about,” he said after the film’s international premiere. For this reason alone, “Muhammad” deserves to be given a shot at featuring on Indian screens.