Mohammad, Messenger of God
(retitled The Message
for U.S. release) is a 1977
film directed by Moustapha Akkad
, chronicling the life and times of the Prophet of Islam
. Released in both the Arabic language
and the English language
(Arabic name is الرسالة--English: Ar Risalah
), Mohammad, Messenger of God
serves as an introduction to early Islamic history
The film follows the years in which Muhammad is actively pursuing his role as the Prophet of Islam starting with the early years in Mecca in which the Muslims were persecuted, the exodus to Medina and ending with the Muslims' triumphant return to Mecca. A number of crucial events, such as the Battle of Badr and Battle of Uhud are depicted, and the majority of the story is told from the point-of-view of peripheral individuals such as Hamza ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib (Muhammad's uncle), Abu Sufyan (the leader of Mecca) and Hind bint Utbah (an enemy of Islam).
Director Akkad faced resistance from Hollywood
to making a film about the origins of Islam and had to go outside the United States
to raise the production money for the film. Lack of financing nearly shut down the film as the initial backers pulled out, financing was finally provided by Libyan
leader Muammar al-Gaddafi
. The film was shot in Libya
, with production taking four and a half months to build the cities of Mecca
as they looked in Muhammad's time.
Director Akkad saw the film as a way to bridge the gap between the Western and Islamic world, stating in a 1976 interview:
- "I did the film because it is a personal thing for me. Besides its production values as a film, it has its story, its intrigue, its drama. Beside all this I think there was something personal, being Muslim myself who lived in the west I felt that it was my obligation my duty to tell the truth about Islam. It is a religion that has a 700 million following, yet it's so little known about it which surprised me. I thought I should tell the story that will bring this bridge, this gap to the west."
Akkad also filmed an Arabic version of the film (in which Muna Wassef played Hind) simultaneously with an Arab cast for audiences in the Middle East. He felt that dubbing the English version in Arabic would not be enough as Arabic acting style differed from Hollywood's. The actors would take turns doing the English and Arabic versions in each scene. Both the English and Arabic versions are now sold together in some DVDs.
"Finally, when the film was scheduled to premier in the U.S., another Muslim extremist group staged a siege against the Washington D.C. chapter of the B'nai B'rith under the mistaken belief that Anthony Quinn played Mohammed in the film, threatening to blow up the building and its inhabitants unless the film's opening was cancelled. The standoff was resolved without explosion or injuries, though the film's American box office prospects never recovered from the unfortunate controversy."
Depiction of Muhammad
In accordance with Muslim beliefs, Muhammad could not be depicted on-screen nor his voice be heard. This rule extended to his seven wives, his daughters and his sons-in-law. This left Muhammad's uncle Hamza (Anthony Quinn
) and his adopted son Zayid (Damien Thomas) as the central characters. During the battles of Badr and Uhud which were depicted in the movie Hamza was in nominal command even though the actual fighting was led by Muhammad.
Whenever Muhammad was present or very close by, his presence would be indicated by light organ music. His words as he spoke them would be repeated by someone else such as Hamza, Zayid and Bilal. When the scene called for him to be present, the scene would be seen from his point of view (as the camera). The others would then nod to the unheard dialogue.
The closest anyone comes to seeing any of Muhammad or his immediate family is the view of Ali's sword Zulfiqar during the battle scenes and Muhammad's she-camel and staff in the scenes at the Kaaba.
Some cinemas received threatening telephone calls from those who mistakenly thought that the film showed Muhammad on screen. On March 9 1977
, a group of Black Muslims
, led by Hamas Abdul Khaalis
, seized several buildings and took 134 hostages
in the Washington, D.C.
(see 1977 Hanafi Muslim Siege
). The takeover led to the fatal shooting of a police officer, and the non-fatal shooting of Marion Barry
, who would become mayor of Washington, D.C. two years later. One of their demands was to prevent the release of the film. One of the hostage-takers specifically said, according to an on-site reporter, that "he wanted a guarantee from whole world it will never be shown or they would execute some of the hostages".
Awards and nominations
The film was nominated for an Oscar
in 1977 for Best Music, Original Score
for the music by Maurice Jarre