Muhammad in the Movies

A Hollywood producer wants to dramatize Islam's founding without showing the prophet

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Bloggers are aghast at news that a $150 million movie about the life of Islam founder Muhammad is in the works. Islam prohibits visual depictions of the prophet, and the film's producer is Hollywood heavyweight Barrie Osborne, whose credits include the Lord of the Rings Trilogy book-to-screen adaptation and the first Matrix movie. He's set to begin work on the Muhammad movie in 2011, after he wraps up "Kingdom Come," a biopic on Jesus Christ.

A respected Muslim scholar will serve as a religious consultant for the yet-to-be titled Muhammad film, which will aim to avoid showing the prophet on screen. Some are still concerned about the reaction of hardline Muslims, who have violently opposed Muhammad artwork. Others think the filmmakers have gone too far in respecting the tenets of Islam, and wonder why other religions haven't received the same ginger treatment. For one reason or another, virtually everyone agrees it's a bad idea:

  • Should Have Seen it Coming  True/Slant's self-proclaimed "Muslim Guy" Arsalan Iftikhar says that the American producer's interest and involvement in the film is understandable in light of his career: "Osborne has already successfully made critically-acclaimed (and box-office) Hollywood movie hits dealing with ‘messianic’ central fictional characters in both The Matrix and Lord of the Rings…For these reasons, it should then come as little surprise that Mr. Osborne’s fictional messianic trajectories within his past motion pictures would now motivate him to feature the actual lives of major sacred historical figures like Muhammad and Jesus in his upcoming movies."
  • Attempted Before  MTV's Christopher Campbell begins by reminding readers about the violent controversy surrounding Hollywood's last high-profile Muhammad movie which refrained from actually depicting the prophet, an ambitious 1976 film known to American audiences as 'The Message.' "Back when Akkad was making "The Message," bloody riots occurred for two days in Pakistan based solely on rumors that either Peter O'Toole or Charlton Heston would be playing the Prophet. And upon release of the film in the U.S., there was a two-day hostage crisis in Washington D.C. due to an extremist group thinking the film's star, Anthony Quinn, was portraying Muhammad (he instead plays the Prophet's uncle, the desert-warrior Hamza)." Furthermore, he notes that 'The Message,' is also in the midst of being remade as a big budget affair, offering the possibility of "dueling Muhammad biopics in theaters" at the same time.
  • You Thought the Cartoon Controversy Was Bad, Just Wait…  Cinema Blend's Josh Tyler can't help but draw a connection between the film and the great Muhammad cartoon controversy of 2006, when Danish newspapers  published 12 editorial cartoons depicting and satirizing the prophet. The cartoons were reprinted around the world, igniting boycotts, large-scale street riots, and attacks on Danish embassies in Europe and the Middle East, resulting in over 100 deaths. As Tyler puts it: "People have been murdered for simply drawing pictures of the Islamic religious figure, now just imagine how well his biopic will go over. Hell, I’m nervous just reporting on this movie’s existence. The comments second on this post will now inevitably fill up with people claiming Islam is a religion of peace, and that may well be true, but the world’s recent track record when it comes to depicting this particular dude isn’t exactly cheery."
  • Hollywood's Hidden Agenda  Big Hollywood's John Nolte argues that there's a double-standard: Hollywood's demeaning treatment of Christianity compared to its more reverant take on Islam for the upcoming Muhammad film. He points to the reluctance of big studios to distribute Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," which went on to become a huge commercial success anyway, and the more recent example of an episode of the comedy series "Curb Your Enthusiasm," which involved star Larry David urinating on a picture of Jesus: "Which isn’t to say religion, including Christianity, is above satire, but what we have here is another example of the mindset of those who control the most powerful propaganda machine ever created." Moreover, he thinks the double-standard is indicative of a larger anti-Christian agenda: "When you loath Christians and want to do everything in your power to marginalize who they are what they stand for, there’s nothing at all hypocritical about pissing on Christ and deferring to Muhammad. In fact, that behavior is perfectly consistent. " 
  • Consulting the Wrong Man?  At Slash Film, Russ Fischer criticizes the theological consultant hired by the Qatari production house to advise the filmmakers on Islamic traditions, a Muslim theologian banned from entering Britain for espousing anti-Semitic, anti-gay views. "If you don’t recognize the name Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi you should — he’s the al Jazeera commenter who recently called Jews 'the treacherous aggressors…this profligate, cunning, arrogant band of people,' before calling upon Allah to 'kill them, down to the very last one.' He’s also called the Holocaust a punishment expressing Allah’s divine will, and hoped that “the next time will be at the hand of the believers.' Can’t wait for the movie!" he sarcastically concludes.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.