The Message (movie about prophet Mohammed)

I have heard about the movie The Message many times. But, the movie about prophet Mohammed was banned in Kuwait where I grew up and not available in Canada.

When my husband told me that he saw it at BlockBuster (our local DVD rental store), my heart jumped in anticipation. I went the same day to try to rent it out, but it was out. Since BlockBuster only had one copy, I had to wait for the DVD to be returned. I kept checking back every few days. Finally! At last! Last Thursday I went into the store and there it was sitting on the shelves. For 20 years I have wanted to see this movie, At last I will get the chance.

Last Thursday, I went home with a heavy heart, having heard the same day about the horrid terrorist attacks in Amman Jordan that had killed 57 people of various nationalities.

I started cooking dinner, my husband walks into the door with the kids. While he takes his shoes off, he asks me.

Za’atarah: So! were you able to rent the movie?
ihath: yes, I stopped by BlockBuster on my way home from work, its over there.
Za’atarah: Do you know who Mustafa Al Aqaad is?
ihath: Yes, off course, he is the director of the movie.
Za’atarah: Mustafa Al Aqaad, was one of the people injured in the explosion in Amman Jordan today.
ihath: You are joking right?
Za’atarah: No, his daughter was with him and she died, Mustafa Al Aqaad was injured and transferred to the hospital. Apparently he was one of the guests at that wedding that was bombed in that hotel in Jordan.
ihath: You must be joking, where did you read this?
Za’atarah: on Al-Jazeerah website.

The next day, Za’atarah told me that Mustafa Al Aqaad has died.

The movie I am talking about is “The Message”, the big budget historical epic telling the story of the birth of Islam starring Anthony Quinn.

If you think that Peter Jackson faced a challenge when he decided to transfer the well beloved Lord of the Rings into film, try to consider the challenge that Mustafa Al-Aqaad faced when he made a movie about prophet Mohammed.

Peter Jackson had to make his movies that would appeal to the fans of the original books and to those that didn’t even know what a Hobbit was. He was making three movies at the same time and had to deal with complex story line with many characters that had to all fit neatly into a movie format.

Mustafa Al-Aqaad, had a bigger challenge. He was making a movie that is burned in the collective memory hundreds of millions of believers and non-believers alike. In the Muslim world every detail and every aspect of this story is taught in the school, quoted in literature and mentioned as a matter of fact in daily conversations. If he gets one detail, one fact, even slightly wrong he would have been lynched over it. On other hand, the same movie has to appeal to an audience that knows nothing of the story and has no emotional attachment to it. Mustafa has to make a movie that engages and makes those that know nothing about Islam care about the characters and sympathize with their struggle.

Ok, so Mustafa was only shooting two movies at the same time and not three as in LOTR trilogy, but Mustafa had the additional difficulty that each movie was in a different language and used a different cast. For each character he had to hire two actors, one English speaking and one Arabic speaking. Each scene was shot twice, once in each language using the language appropriate cast and in the end you have two similar yet different movies. One in English and the second in Arabic.

Mustafa had a challenge that no director could possibly want to face. He is not allowed to show any of the main characters of the story in the movie about prophet Mohammed. According to Islamic rules of avoiding idolatry, Prophet Mohammed himself and all his family and closest associates are not allowed to be depicted in movies or pictures. Try to imagine if Peter Jackson was making LOTR, telling the story without ever showing Aragon, Frodo, Sam and Gandalf. Mustafa has to tell a compelling story without showing “The Man” himself, but has to contend with showing you the influence “The Man” has on his followers and the change he exacts on their behavior, thinking and attitude.

Finally, since the movie was made 30 years ago, Mustafa doesn’t have access to all the computer generated graphics that I am guessing Peter Jackson was able to use in making his movie. All the sets and palaces had to build, all battle scenes enacted in real life and so on.

In short, the movie is a monumental achievement.

I watched the English movie about prophet Mohammed followed by the Arabic movie and just couldn’t help myself comparing the two to each other. The Arabic version has a few more details spelled out and additional scenes. I am guessing that Mustafa felt that with the Arabic audience he could put additional details since everybody knows the story already, yet in the English version he tried to simplify a bit. I couldn’t help compare the actors in the two movies.

Anthony Quinn/ Abedallah Gaith both superbly playing the role of the Prophet’s uncle Hamza. I would say that both equally embody the character of the brave warrior and it is not lightly that I say that an actor is as awesome as Anthony Quinn but in this movie Abedallah Gaith is truly an equal.

I thought the English Abu Sufian seemed more lordly and embodied the role of the arrogant lord of Mecca who does not wish to be equated with the riffraff, better than the Arabic Abu Sufian. The Arabic Abu Sufian was ok, but he didn’t come across as the cunning wealthy lord of Mecca enough.

The English Hind was only slightly better than the Arabic Hind. Both actresses did a good job playing the beautiful yet vengeful wife of Abu Sufian. But the English Hind somehow felt more compelling.

The big surprise was Belal. I thought the Arabic Belal was hands down more interesting than the English one. The English Belal plays the black ex-slave and close companion of the Prophet too nice and too grateful. As if he is constantly surprised and amazed that all these great guys are letting him play with them. The Arabic Belal comes across more as the humiliated black slave who discovers that he is a man and that dignity and humanity is his birthright and not a privilege. Once he makes that realization, he holds on to it, not allowing anybody to tell him otherwise.

I also thought that it was interesting that in the English version there is no mention of the fact the Hind eats a piece of Hamza’s liver after she has him killed. Perhaps Mustafa felt that the western audience would find that fact too gory. Yet the fact is mentioned albeit never shown on the Arabic version of the movie.

I am in awe what this one director has done. It saddens me that a man who put so much effort into creating a bridge of understanding between the east and the west would be murdered in such a savage manner. While Mustafa Al Aqaad tried to explain the social justice and humanity of the Islamic faith, a group of idiots with bombs associate our religion with the most inhuman acts.

At the end of the movie, Upon Prophet Mohammed’s death, people are grieving and many can’t believe that such a man could possibly die. Abu Baker (the Prophet’s best friend) gives his famous speech that starts with:

“To those of you who worshiped Mohammed, I say Mohammed is dead and he is not coming back. To those of you who worship god, god is alive and never dies.”

A messenger is dead but the message lives on


The Message

If you wish to watch a movie about prophet Mohammed, I highly recommend that you watch The Message.

I was able to find a trailer here.

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