Arab Elites vs. Extremists over Iran's Prophet Movie

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Seyed Musa Alizadeh Tabatabaei

It has been almost a month since the historic movie, Muhammad: The Messenger of God, directed by Majid Majidi, hit the silver screen in Iran and elsewhere in the world and has been warmly received by the audience. Since production of the movie started by this world-renowned director, a group of Takfiri extremists have taken hardline positions against it and tried to show that it is incompatible with Islamic principles. As the screening of the movie approached, some clerics and muftis in Arab countries, who had not even watched the movie and knew nothing about its content, took positions against it and banned Muslims from watching it. While such measures by Wahhabi clerics in Saudi Arabia were not amazing, unfortunately a similar measure was taken by the ulema in Egypt’s al-Azhar University, which shows the impact of political issues and interests on jurisprudential and religious issues. Extremist elements tried to use Friday prayers tribunes as well as various media, including satellite networks and social networks to galvanize people into action against this prominent movie.

Meanwhile, all those who have seen the movie have opined that this is a valuable film which aims to bolster unity among Muslims and do away with the violent image of Islam, which has been unfortunately propagated in the world during past few years through measures taken by such extremist groups as ISIS. Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Al ash-Sheikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, has announced screening and watching of this movie as religiously forbidden, arguing that this movie is inspired by Zoroastrian teachings and noting that its production has been an act of hostility with and fight against Islam.

This unfair position taken by the extremist elements has elicited reactions from a notable number of prominent elites in various Arab countries. Such reactions show that extremist and Wahhabi circles in Arab countries have not only failed to achieve their goal, but their illogical stance has backfired on them. Davoud al-Sharian, the famous Saudi writer and journalist, has written a daily column of al-Hayat newspaper in which he has heaped praise on Muhammad: The Messenger of God. He has also criticized the approach taken to this movie by some religious institutions in Arab countries and has expressed regret that the traditional clerics have not yet understood the importance of art in defending the image of Islam.

Khalid Mahmood, the famous Arab writer and critic, has also written a piece for the Cairo-based al-Shorouk newspaper in which he has praised the Iranian cinema and its great directors who have been able to attract attention from the entire world at various film events. He has also criticized baseless judgments passed on the Iranian movie, Muhammad: The Messenger of God, saying, “I wish before all this hue and cry, the ulema at al-Azhar would have watched the movie in a private screening before announcing their stance on it.” He also added, “Majid Majidi, the director of the film, has emphasized that the goal of the film is to do away with the erroneous concept about Islam that this religion is a religion of violence and bloodshed, and he does not allow faces of the actors to be shown. Majidi has also noted that he respects what ulema believe about prohibition on showing the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH)’s face.” The Egyptian writer then added, “I wish the ulema at al-Azhar had watched this movie, not just for this reason, but only for the sake of basing their opposition on clear evidence.”

In another development, the independent Rai al-Youm newspaper has criticized Saudi Arabia’s mufti and other extremist clerics in its editorial, noting that according to Saudi Arabia’s religious instructions on conditions of a mufti, a person issuing fatwas (religious edicts) must be knowledgeable and bound by ethical principles, and secondly, he must be quite insightful with enough information about details of the subject of his fatwa. The editorial says Al ash-Sheikh apparently lacks such conditions in order to issue fatwa to ban watching of this movie because, firstly, he has not seen the movie, and secondly, if he wanted to watch it, there was no movie theater in Saudi Arabia where he could do this, and even if he traveled to another country to watch it, he could not do it because he is blind. Therefore, the fatwa issued by this mufti has been considered totally surprising even by his own followers.

The opposition of Arab elites to narrow-minded extremist elements shows that despite extensive propaganda in Arab countries against the Islamic Republic of Iran, there are still conscious minds which look upon the Islamic Republic of Iran away from nationalistic and sectarian viewpoints, and also shows that Western countries have failed in their plot to create divide between Iran and its Arab neighbors. The support of Arab elites for Mr. Majidi’s movie also shows that there are many areas for cooperation between Iran and Arab countries and there are numerous grounds for the exercise of public diplomacy between Iran and Arab states.

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*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.

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