The Prophet and a Fatwa

Wonder why AR Rahman even bothered to clarify. An institution has problems with him giving the music for 'Muhammad: The Messenger of God', a film on the Prophet of Islam by Iranian director Majid Majidi.

The Raza Academy did what comes to their mind first — issued a fatwa. It is the usual rant that such a portrayal would make a mockery of Islam, of how the religion forbids physical representation that include, according to a report, "shots of the prophet’s back, via a low-angle shot of a teenage Muhammad against the sky, and his hands and legs as a baby".

Technically speaking, none of these are images of the Prophet as a prophet. At worst, the shots of the back might be akin to talking behind somebody's back. Prophets attain stature partly due to the slurs cast upon them and the manner in which they respond to them.

As regards the baby, this was way before Muhammad became the Prophet. It represents innocence and purity; children are not images but reflections.

The words against idolatry in Islam were a response to paganism, and if we are to extend it, then to narcissism too. However, Muslims do worship at tombs, and they bow before symbols. Different cultures follow different rituals, but they remain rituals and, therefore, pagan. Worse, many worship leaders, whether of governments or religious institutions, and even deify them with images. Is this not idolatry?

A problem with the prevalent conservative narrative is that its austerity denies the humanism the Prophet stood for. Is an expensive project the best way to capture the simplicity? It is possibly a redundant question. The director has his own reasons:

“We’ve been guilty of shortcomings in introducing the world to the real and true face of the prophet. There have been 200 movies about Jesus Christ, 100 featuring Moses directly or indirectly, 42 about Buddha, but only two on Muhammad. It’s a natural act of introduction to our culture.”

This is fair, and essential. Each time you turn, there is some debate or the other going on about Islam and Muslims, mostly by slander. And as a monotheistic faith, there is little else that can be blamed for what believers, or those who are Muslim by birth, do. "Did those terrorists not shout 'Allah-hu-Akbar'?" go the accusations.

Depictions of Islam or the Prophet in pop culture tend to be innuendo. I have watched some of Majidi's films, films that have nothing to do with religion. He is clearly a humanist. I'd trust him to make a film on any historical figure over an Islamic scholar.

Having said this, I do not believe there is a need to explain anything to the world. The world, the Islamophobic world, is prejudiced against people of certain beliefs, irrespective of how much they believe in or practise their faith, or whether they do so at all. It is unlikely that a film will alter their perception of Muslims.

I have not watched the film so cannot comment on the depiction of the Prophet, but from the trailer it seems as though Majidi is paying a poignant tribute.

Those issuing fatwas have no concept of such poignancy or symbolism. That is the reason I feel Rahman should not have responded.

The cleric said he was speaking out because one day he will have to face Allah. To this Rahman said:

“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 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.”

The first part is a fitting reply. I do have a problem with the bit about "clearing misconceptions". To whom — the inherently prejudiced, the fringe outragers? Why does every Muslim feel the need to distance her/himself from those who kill? Isn't it obvious, shouldn't it be? What does this say about those who accuse, and why then the need to clear misconceptions to such retarded brains?

For some, even among those objecting to the film, the attitude is similar. A spokesperson of Egypt's al-Azhar university said: “The actor who plays this role may later play a criminal, and viewers may associate these characters with criminality."

It is unlikely, but should that happen it will speak about the naïveté of the viewer and little else. Besides, might there not be viewers who would carry this image and see in any subsequent criminal character shades of his past goodness?

Let perceptions, not caricatures, thrive — they add to the persona.

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