A Movie, a Musician and a Needless Controversy

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Like books and poetry, audio-video media are here to stay and we should use it to spread the true message of Islam. Scholars of Islam should get together and develop guidelines for the modern world and modern technologies rather than reacting to a changed world by trying to shut down things that they don’t like or don’t fully understand

ON August 31st, Raza Academy, a Mumbai-based organization of Barelwi sect, had issued a statement asking Maharashtra and Central Government to ban an Iranian movie “Muhammad: The Messenger of God.” The movie was made by famous Iranian filmmaker Majid Majdi and released on August 27th. The statement got traction in the Indian media as the music in the movie is composed by famous Indian music director A. R. Rahman.

The Raza Academy’s statement suggested they had problem because an actor has been indicated as playing the role of the Prophet. “Nothwithstanding sectarian differences showing pictures of the Prophet is sacrilegious within all Islamic traditions,” statement issued by Mohammad Arif Razvi of Raza Academy noted even though it acknowledged that movie did not show frontal or full-face representation of the Prophet.

The statement seemed confusing as to what is the real reason for objection to the movie. Regardless, Mohammad Saeed Noori, General Secretary of the Raza Academy called for legal action against A.R. Rahman and asked Indian and Iranian governments to ban the movie. The lack of coherence in the statement is what made TwoCircles.net ignore the statement at the first place.

Later interacting with the media, Mr. Noori was a bit specific about his objection: “We are against the title, People may use it in a bad manner if they don’t like the film, which will mean an insult to the Prophet.”

They also managed to issue a fatwa which asked all Muslims who were associated with the movie to recite the kalima again to renew their faith.

On Monday, A R Rahman issued a brilliant reply to the whole controversy. He starts the statement by saying that he is not a scholar of Islam. “I follow the middle path and am part traditionalist and part rationalist. I live in the Western and Eastern worlds and try to love all people for what they are, without judging them.”

He also clarified that his involvement with the movie is to the extent of composing the music for it. So if Raza Academy is objecting to the name or content of the movie how can Rahman be held responsible for it?

Mr. Noori started building his case as he started getting more media attention. In an interview he tried to bring the fear of Allah into the discussion. He told one publication, “… tomorrow, if and when, we face Allah He doesn’t say that you didn’t do anything to stop this from happening.” As if their hands are tied since it is Allah Himself who wants them to act this way.

A. R. Rahman was brilliant in his reply:

“My decision to compose the music for this film was made in good faith and with no intention of causing offence. In fact the decision was based on a similar point of view as expressed by Mr Noori. What, and if, I had the good fortune of facing Allah and he were to ask me on judgment day:

‘I gave you faith, talent, money, fame and health… why did you not do music for my beloved Muhammad (sals) film? A film whose intention is to unite humanity, clear misconceptions and spread my message that life is about kindness, about uplifting the poor, and living in the service of humanity and not mercilessly killing innocents in my name.” 

If fear of Allah is what is driving Noori and others then how come they don’t introspect against their own actions? Instead of creating a needless controversy did they try to contact the director of the movie to understand their point of view? Is Allah just going to ask us about one movie and not of other actions that we do every day and that are against His commandments? Why we are quick to judge others but refused to introspect ourselves?

Why message of love, kindness, helping the poor and marginalized- the life teachings of Prophet Muhammad is not being spread by “thekedaars” of Islam? Why the organizations that have “Islam” in their names are busy killing innocents rather than serving the humanity?

In the beginning of his statement, Mr. Rahman said he didn’t want to share his spiritual experience of working on the movie but towards the end he provides his reasons for doing the music for this movie. He said that he was taken aback by unethical, unacceptable and unkind remarks” made online concerning the Holy Prophet, he always wanted to counter this with love and kindness and audio-visual is the medium he chose to reach out to people to tell them about the mission of the Prophet Mohammad.

Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, has always been a popular subject and in fact Muslim scholars have created whole genre of literature called Seerah which is biography of the Prophet and Naat, of written and recited poetry. Both Seerah and Naat have a history as old as Islam itself, written in almost all languages that Muslims speak themselves. These works have made understanding of life and the life missions of Prophet accessible to the masses.

Books and poems were the means of mass communication for a long time. In modern age audio-visual has become an important means of communication. Syria-born movie director Moustapha Akkad was the first to attempt to make a movie on the life of the Prophet. In 1976 he released The Message, a brilliant movie that told the story without showing the main character. The movie made the early Islamic history vivid for Muslim youth and brought the important message of Islam closer to the world.

There are legitimate concerns about opening the floodgates of movies on the Prophet because Muslim masses are sensitive to how he is portrayed but instead of a blanket ban it is best to setup guidelines on how it can be and should be done. There are differences opinions about everything among different Muslim sects but all agree on no visual depiction of the Prophet. Akkad overcame this issue smartly by having some times camera and music indicate the presence of the Prophet in certain scenes. He had other actors narrate what Prophet was supposed to be saying in that situation. Can that not be an idea on how to go about telling this important story of early Islam without triggering any religious fatwa?

Like books and poetry, audio-video media are here to stay and we should use it to spread the true message of Islam. Scholars of Islam should get together and develop guidelines for the modern world and modern technologies rather than reacting to a changed world by trying to shut down things that they don’t like or don’t fully understand.

A tip to journalists, not all statements are news items. Controversy sells but at what cost to the humanity? Giving voice to the extremes makes good TV but then you end up giving them more importance than they deserve.

Kashif-ul-Huda is the Editor of online news portal, TwoCircles.net where this originally appeared

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