‘The Message’ To Be Shown In Saudi Arabia Four Decades After Ban

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DUBAI — Saudi Arabia will on Thursday screen “The Message” – a four-decade-old film about the Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) that was initially banned in most Arab states – as the first Arabic title after the kingdom ended its 35 year ban on cinemas last year.

The cinema epic, which chronicles the life of Prophet and the birth of Islam, has undergone extensive restoration and will be screened during Eid-Al-Fitr.

The Oscar-nominated film was passed by the General Commission for Audiovisual Media (GCAM) at a screening on Thursday, Arab News reported.

The film, which was released in 1976, was directed by Syrian film producer Moustafa Akkad and was instantly banned by Saudi Arabia and the groups affiliated to religious institutions in the kingdom.

Its English version – starring Anthony Quinn and Irene Papas – was nominated for a best music Oscar. Its Arabic version featured top actors from the region, including Egypt’s Abdullah Gheith and Syria’s Mouna Wasef.

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In accordance with Islamic beliefs, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was not depicted on screen nor was his voice heard.

 Akkad was killed along with his daughter in a suicide attack by Al-Qaeda in Jordan in 2005.

His son told AFP that “knowing that there were so many difficulties…, now that they’re showing it in the theatres I couldn’t be happier”.

Malik Moustafa Akkad has lobbied extensively for “The Message” to be screened across the region.

Malik worked tirelessly on the film’s restoration and to reacquaint himself with his father’s work.

“Ironically, even though it’s over 40 years later, probably the biggest challenge has been, once again, all the censorship boards and trying to get them to come around and see this film in a new light,” Malik said.

The 1976 film has been widely-watched in the Arab world despite its initial ban.  “It caused a lot of controversy and there were a lot of obstacles put in its way,” said Malik.

Saudi Arabia lifted a longstanding ban on cinemas last year, part of an easing of social restrictions pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi theatres will now screen a restored version of the 1976 epic, produced from the film’s original negatives.

The late director “always intended it to be a big-screen event. And that’s the way to see it”, Akkad’s son added. “Even if you’ve seen the film, you’ve never seen it look this good,” he said.

Its screening date coincides with Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

To date, Saudi Arabia has screened English titles such as “Black Panther” and “Isle of Dogs” since reversing the decades old cinema ban.

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