Why Hate Preacher’s New Film Will Inflame Passions

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Mehroor Mustafa

A NEW controversy is brewing as the release date of feature film “Lady of Heaven” depicting the life of Lady Fatima, the daughter of  Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) by a UK based production house, draws close.

Directed by John Stephenson Obe and produced by ‘Enlightened Kingdom’ the film is set for release on the New Years Eve. 

A number of renowned Islamic scholars have criticised the film for poor background research and inflammatory content. Iran based Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi has even issued an edict blacklisting the film. He has called upon Muslims to desist from watching or promoting the film.

“Without any doubt those who help to produce and release this film, as well as those who watch it have committed a mortal sin. This is particularly true under the current circumstances, where any sort of attempt at creating disunity among the Muslim people will be helping the enemies of Islam to succeed in their sinister plans against the religion. Such divisive acts do indeed entail severe divine penalty for those who perpetrate them. It is quite likely that the enemies of Islam have a hand in all this and they have planned to incite a lot of bloodshed among the Muslims through this film. Therefore, all those who help in the production of this film will also be responsible for any Muslim blood that is spilled on its account. You must announce to all Shias that those who intend to produce such divisive films are not one of us. These are some liars who seek only to manipulate the religious feelings of some of the followers and adherents of the Ahl-al-Bayt (a), and in particular their affections for the great Lady of Islam, Lady Fatimah Al Zahra (a). Thus, all Muslims must know that the messages intended to be conveyed through this film are neither the messages of Islam nor those of the Shia school.

May Allah bless you all

Naser Makarem Shirazi

However defending the film, its executive producer Husaain Ashmere says, “There are 250 films on Jesus Christ, 120 films on Moses, 80 about the other prophets, 40 films on Buddha and nine films about Mary, there are none about the life of Lady Fatima (AS), the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh).”

He said, during the making of this film no individual represented a holy personality in accordance with the Islamic tradition.

However according to blogger Hamid Waqar, the main reason behind this controversy is the involvement of Yasser Al-Habib. “Furthermore, the film seemed to portray a dangerous theme promoted by Yasser Al-Habib and the Shirazi clan”.

The film starts with a scene from present day war-torn Iraq. An Iraqi child who has lost his mother to a terrorist attack learns the importance and power of patience in his new home, where a loving grandmother narrates the historical story of The Lady Fatima (AS) and how her suffering as the “first victim of terrorism” spun out of control into the 21st century.

The controversial cleric Yasser Al-Habib, who surfaces as the screenplay writer, is actually said to be the brain behind this film project. Al Habib known for stoking controversies, has previously been jailed in Kuwait for insulting Islam. He later took refuge in the UK where he spent £2million to buy a former evangelical church in Fulmer County and turned it into his base. It houses a mosque and headquarters of his controversial satellite TV channel, Fadak. 

Al Habib is widely believed to be UK point man of Qum based cleric Sayyid Mohammad al-Shirazi, a critic of the Islamic Republic and its founding philosophy. Shirazi heads what has come to be known as ‘Shirazi group’ or ‘Shirazi clan’. The group owns more than 20 satellite television channels in different languages spoken in Muslim lands.

STOKING FIRE 

In 1979 Shirazi left Kuwait and settled in the holy city of Qum immediately after the success of Islamic Revolution in Iran. Shirazi initially supported the revolution but soon fell apart with the leadership because of his extremist views. Later his group was declared outlawed by the Iran government. “Shirazi advised his followers not to reveal all their cards so they do not become mere tools in the hands of the Islamic Republic”, researcher Hassan al Mustafa wrote on Al Arabiya website recently.

“The Shirazis are aware that Iran is a state with huge financial capabilities and political influence that goes beyond its borders. They know they cannot compete with it on this front so they headed towards another field which is possessing the sentiment of the Shia public, addressing it and influencing it especially amid the sectarian conflict in the Middle East and the worsening Sunni-Shia conflict”, Mustafa writes.

“Amid this sectarian polarisation, group launched plethora of satellite television channels. They adopted a religious rhetoric and broadcast juristic and doctrinal lectures and prayers and aired footage of visitors to sacred shrines of holy imams.

This combination of religious material touched the worried and wounded Shia sentiment at a time when Al-Qaeda explosions rocked Iraqi cities and killed thousands of innocent people and amid the rise of Daesh and the violence and oppression it represented.

The “Husayni” rhetoric of these channels created an objective and moral space for the public in the Gulf and in Iraq in particular as people found themselves a breather which they can use to declare their own identity amid attempts to bury it and eradicate it, as they tend to believe.

“Arresting the Shia sentimental space” was the task which the Shirazi group found itself capable of in terms of competing with the Iranian government and excelling over it, especially that Islamic Republic presents itself as a state against extremism and sectarianism and promoter of Muslim unity.

The Shirazi group refuses to surrender to the Iranian will but it cannot compete with the Islamic Republic. It can compete with it in controlling the Shia sentiment via the project of rituals and satellite channels. This explains why the Shirazi office began establishing ideological channels. By broadcasting controversial and provocative material they have largely succeeded in undoing what Iran has been painstakingly doing, that is to bury the old Shia-Sunni hatchet and forge Muslim unity.

Top Shia clergy in Iran, Iraq and beyond have branded Shirazi group as an extension of British intelligence service, the MI6.  According to a report published in March by the news agency Tasnim that’s close to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Shirazi groups media channels work on a daily basis to promote extremist ideology, attack the Iran’s Islamic Republic and ignite the fire of war between Sunni and Shia, i.e. provide indirect services to takfirist movements that wreak havoc in the Muslim Ummah.”

Fadak TV, which broadcasts from the UK premises of al Habib and which is directly supervised by him, is one of the most important channels that adopts a sectarian and slanderous rhetoric that excludes whoever is different whether Sunni or Shia. Habib’s insults have included respectable Sunni and Shia Islamic religious symbols.

Researcher Ahmed Al-Katib has his own opinion on the matter as he said: “Fadak TV and other similar channels express the opinion of the current Shirazi reference, despite the different terms used and the type of the adopted rhetoric. Everyone drinks from the same shallow intellect.”

“Yasser Al-Habib’s movement greatly harmed the image of Shia and depicted them as a group that do nothing but disturb others. This contradicts with the culture we inherited from the Imams of the Ahl al Bayt who forbade insulting, says Islamic scholar Sheikh Habib al-Jumayaa.

In September 2013, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei warned in a speech about Iran’s “enemies.” Along with the usual suspects, such as the United States and Israel, Ayatollah Khamenei also mentioned satellite channels like Fadak streaming out of the West. Referring to them as a “bunch of mercenaries who add more fuel to the fire” of Sunni-Shia conflicts, Syed Khamenei said emphatically, “They are given a mass media reach. And where are they based? The United States, Britain. The Shiaism that is being broadcast to the world from London is not Shia Islam but British Islam.”

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