Muhammad in film
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Most Sunni Muslims believe that visual depictions of all the prophets of Islam should be prohibited and are particularly averse to visual representations of Muhammad. In 1926, Egyptian actor Youssef Wahbi was in discussions to play Muhammad in a film financed by the Turkish government under Atatürk. When the Sunni Islamic Al-Azhar University in Cairo heard about it, scholars there released a fatwa stipulating that Islam forbids the depiction of Muhammad on screen and King Fuad then sent a severe warning to the actor, threatening to exile him and strip him of his Egyptian nationality. As a result of the controversy, the film was abandoned.
In Shia Islam, scholars historically were also against such depictions, but have taken a more relaxed view over the years and images of Muhammad are quite common nowadays. A fatwa given by Ali al-Sistani, the Shi'a marja of Iraq, states that it is permissible to depict Muhammad, even in television or movies, if done with respect.
When director Mustafa Akkad (1935-2005) was shooting the film, he made use of an American cast and an Egyptian cast. In the English version Anthony Quinn played Hamza, Michael Ansara Muhammad's principal opponent Abu Sufyan, and Irene Papas Abu Sufyan's wife Hind. In the Arab version these roles were played by Egyptian actors. However, in a number of overall shots, in which a large group is acting, such as the Battle of Badr, it can be heard that the scene is shot only once, as the actors shout "Allahu Akbar", whereas in other similar scenes the director opted for "God is great".
Although the movie is about Muhammad, the director decided to shoot the film so as to not depict Muhammad. Akkad frequently changed the position of the camera at moments when Muhammad would be brought into vision. When Muhammad was essential to a scene, the camera would show events from his point of view.
The Message became very popular, not the least in the circles of Muslims, for example in Africa, and Asia. Even so, two well-known fatwas from Al-Azhar University and Shiite Council of Lebanon were issued about The Message.
It is certainly probable that this is not the result of the creativity of the filmmakers but of the rules announced by the Islamic scholars of the Azhar and the Shia Council of Lebanon, who prohibited any representation of Muhammad's wives as well as of Muhammad himself.
Muhammad: The Last ProphetMuhammad: The Last Prophet is an animated film produced by Badr International according to the same principles as "The Message". Its director is Richard Rich. The movie was released in 2004 and it was screened in a limited number of movie-theatres in the United States and the United Kingdom. The film focuses on the early period of Islam.
Future projectsThere are some new films currently being produced about Muhammad, considered the "second of their kind" (referring to Western films respecting the portrayal of Muhammad).
In October 2008, Producer Oscar Zoghbi, who worked on the original The Message, stated that he would shooting a remake called The Messenger of Peace, to be shot around the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
In October 2012, Iranian director Majid Majidi began shooting a film titled Muhammad: The Messenger of God with plans to show Muhammad on screen, though not his face, as per Shia tradition. The film world premier is set to 22 July 2015.
Film producer Barrie M. Osborne has been hired as an adviser on a possible series of epics about Muhammad. The films, which are financed by a Qatari media company and will be supervised by the Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, are unlikely to depict Muhammad at all on screen as per Sunni tradition which sees all renderings of the prophets as blasphemous.