With the announcement almost three years ago about the production of a film portraying the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the Iranian director Majeed Majeedi sparked a controversy all over the Islamic world. Now, as the film is ready for viewing, the temperature is rising.
First came the thought of presenting the Prophet’s (pbuh) personality, which is regarded inadmissible and undermines the religious values, as fatwas prohibit any depiction of the Prophet (pbuh) and his Companions.
The Iranian announcement about the film triggered resentment among Muslim scholars. Ahmed Al-Tayeb of Al-Azhar said that production of such a film is not permitted religiously.
A statement by Al-Azhar scholars and elders demanded a prohibition on the film for it violates Islamic laws, and a firm and decisive stance toward Iran. “We demand that Iran refrain from releasing the movie so that the image of the Prophet (pbuh) is not distorted in the minds of Muslims,” the statement said.
Al-Azhar Academy member Hamed Abu Taleb said that making such films is inappropriate for an Islamic country and explained that since there is no direct knowledge of the prophets’ personalities, any depiction of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) will differ from reality and will therefore be a lie. He said that Islamic Research Academy recommended that Egyptian satellite channels refrain from screening the film.
Senior adviser to the sheikh of Al-Azhar and the head of the Arabic Language Academy Hassan El-Shafei warned Iran against depicting the Last Prophet (pbuh) in artwork, and compared this irresponsible behavior to the publishing of the offensive cartoons of the Prophet (pbuh) in the West. He explained that the prophets and messengers, as well as the Prophet’s Companions, must not be depicted in artwork due to their sanctity, and warned that such act would cause a rift in the Islamic nation.
Addressing the Iranian authorities in charge of approving films, Al-Azhar’s Academy of Islamic Studies stressed that the Prophet (pbuh) and his Companions must not be depicted, so as to keep their image untainted in the Muslim minds and preserve Muslim unity. Al-Azhar clerics demanded the film not be screened.
Two prominent members in the Council of Senior Scholars, Dr. Ali bin Abbas Al-Hekmi and Abdullah bin Salman Al-Munea, also an adviser in the Royal Court, denounced the personification of the Prophet (pbuh), saying that portraying prophets, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in particular is a big sin. “Depicting prophets is against Islamic laws. It contradicts with the sacredness of prophecy,” Al-Hekmi said. “There are no justifications whatsoever for the personification of prophets. This involves caveats — perhaps the most important one is that no one deserves to embody the Prophet (pbuh). Whoever plays the role will not and cannot reach the status of the Prophet (pbuh), regardless of his goodness and virtue,” he added.
Al-Munea emphasized that its inadmissible to personify and represent prophets and holy messengers, saying that portrayal of such holy characters by illegible persons distorts history.
“That’s why the Council forbids the personification of prophets in films and series,” Al-Munea said. “This leads to mocking them and lowering their dignity. It destroys their prestige in the hearts of Muslims.”
The president of the Assembly of Muslim Jurists in America and member of European Council for Research and Iftaa, Hussein Hamid Hassan, said that portraying the Prophet (pbuh) is violating the consensus of the nation. He emphasized that Islamic laws prohibit any depiction of the Prophet (pbuh), his family, Companions and other prominent figures from early Islam in works of art.
A campaign by Facebook users has been organized to boycott the Iranian film, demanding that Muslim countries should ban the screening of the film and file a lawsuit against the filmmakers.
There was so much secrecy surrounding the actor who played the role of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), but it turned out that Majeedi himself played the role. The film itself is the first part of a trilogy depicting the Prophet’s childhood and the periods afterward.
Though Majeedi knows exactly the gravity of the situation and the criticism his film will receive, he says that the production of the film is very important because of the few number of films that talk about the life of the Prophet (pbuh) whose life was dedicated to “the enlightenment of humanity,” while there are more than 200 film about Christians and Jews.
Majeedi, said the first movie in the series attempts to show the nature of Arab society at the time of the Last Prophet’s childhood and the other circumstances that led to his emergence in that particular era. He added that spiritual and moral values are foremost in his mind in making the movie, and that the trilogy presents the Prophet (pbuh) as the embodiment of these values. “We only seek to present the Prophet (pbuh) in his best image for his nation and the world,” Majeedi said. He requested everyone to see his work before judging it.
Some scenes were filmed in the cities of Kerman, Nur and Asaluyeh in the south of Iran. A small model of Kabaa was built from stones, covered with cloth and idols, with palm trees brought from Bam region to the east of Iran, and planted around the site of shooting, along with 60 authentic houses constructed in the mentioned cities. Scenes of the films show the attack of Abrah, the Abyssinian, and parts of Madinah, and the movement of convoys between Makkah and Madinah before the mission. The budget of the film exceeds $30 million, the most expensive film shot in Iran in the past couple of years.
Majeedi suggested earlier that he might choose Morocco to shoot his film, but a statement by the Moroccan Cinematographic Center made it clear that Morocco did not want to have any relation with this, saying “we have a frame of relevant criteria to prevent any abuse affecting the administrative, financial, or dramatic aspects of these works.”
Mohammed Mehdi Heidarian is the producer, while Majeedi worked for three years with Kambozia Partovi on the screenplay with assistance of a team of researchers and translators and several clergymen from Iran, Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, Iraq, and Algeria.
The trilogy, as Heidarian and Partovi suggest, aims to monitor the life of the Prophet (pbuh), from his birth till death, stressing that the life of the Prophet (pbuh) cannot be covered by a single movie.
Iranian films about prophets and holy messengers are supported by the Iranian government, and often rely on stories and novels that are incorrect and twisted in a way that expresses their point of view.
There is a foundation called Hanibal, which is in the process of establishing a correction course by focusing on the special relationship with the Ali bin Abi Talib and previously produced films about Abraham, Jesus, and Mary.
No doubt that the film represents a clear challenge to the feelings of millions of Muslims who are against the personification of prophets and messengers, in particular Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), in any artwork, film, or documentary. Hence the attack on the filmmakers, and the strong objection to its screening throughout the Arab and Islamic world.