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Posts Tagged ‘Islam’

The Message (1976 / 1977) — movie review
Today’s review is for “The Message” (originally titled: “Mohammad, Messenger of God“), which was released in Arabic in 1976 and in English in 1977.  The English version of the movie stars Anthony Quinn as Hamza (the Prophet’s uncle), Michael Ansara as Abu Sufyan ibn Harb (the leader of Mecca), Irene Papas as Hind (Abu Sufyan’s wife), Johnny Sekka as Bilal, and Michael Forest as Khalid.  Although the movie is “about” Mohammad, the movie follows the Muslim tradition of not portraying the Prophet or his voice.  Therefore, the movie has a few awkward scenes where the camera appears as the Prophet’s view and his lines are said (or rather repeated) by one of the actors on screen.  The movie depicts the historical drama (biopic) of the Prophet from his conversion until his death, and the birth / growth of Islam as a religion.
I first saw this movie almost twenty years ago when I was working as a contractor in Saudi Arabia for their national steel company: Hadeed.  A co-worker of mine, who became a friend, was trying to convert me from being Catholic into a Muslim (Sunni).  This may sound a bit strange, but I found almost all Muslims felt it their duty to Allah to try to convert all non-believers.  This was never a pressure-sale kind of thing, it was simply an attempt to share the joy of his / their faith.  In any case, my first viewing had the benefit of having an English speaking Saudi there with me to elaborate on parts of the movie.  Obviously, I didn’t have this luxury for this second viewing.
To start off with, the movie is just under three hours long.  I think this is partly an effort to stay true to the story and partly for the production value of making the film into an “epic” like “Lawrence of Arabia” or any of the Cecil B. DeMille Hollywood Jewish / Christian epics.  Due to life getting in the way, I had to break up the viewing this week into chunks of 30 minutes, 60 minutes and 90 minutes.  I don’t believe the viewing (or this review) suffered from this as I now do this quite often.  The nice thing is the movie is free on YouTube, so you only have to write down where you stopped and you can go right back to that spot or a couple of minutes earlier with no problems at all.  I must admit to finding viewing of older movies (particularly made for TV movies) on YouTube to be a lucky fortune for me.
So, is the film any good?  Is it accurate?  Did I learn anything about Islam which I didn’t already know?  Yes, yes and yes (well, kind of).  This is not a “great” movie in the sense of great cinema.  It is a great movie in the sense of relating God’s will for mankind.  I don’t mean God / Allah seeking to turn everyone into a Muslim as much as God’s will to have men live in peace, respect women, help the poor and those less fortunate, and most of the doctrines of the other two religions of the book (“the Bible”).  Given the length, the movie has slow parts, but it also has some fairly well done battle scenes (for its time and special effects).
Is the movie accurate?  Not being an expert on Islam, I can’t definitively speak to this.  I can only say my friend felt it accurate enough to recommend to me (and view with me) and to relate that Wikipedia says the historian advisors worked on the entire filming while the religious experts did not.  The religious experts quit before the movie was completed.  It should be pointed out the film took over half a decade to get completed and was shot with two different casts (one for Arabic and one for English).  Part of this delay was due to the difficulty of keeping funding and part was due to location issues – some of the countries involved in shooting pulled their permissions over religious grounds.
Did I learn anything?  Yes, but not really anything “major-new”.  I was reminded of things and certain parts were emphasized in this second viewing (and background reading), and I think that was a good thing.  My Saudi friend either wasn’t aware of the political issues, the funding / duration issues or the multiple version issues, or if he did know about them, didn’t feel they were important enough to mention them to me.
I would say, that if you are coming into Islam blindly by stumbling onto this film, you will certainly learn a lot about the faith.  However, it should be recognized the similarities between Islam and Christianity are cherry-picked to hi-light the beliefs most closely aligned, and the differences are virtually ignored (unstated).  I don’t have any problem with this because I am aware of some of the differences.  They might be more problematic for someone less informed.
Final recommendation: strong to highly recommended movie.  It is an older movie and it shows in the production values.  A historically based epic, I think the movie faithfully relates the story-line of the beginnings of the Islamic faith.  As such it is recommended viewing for anyone interested in comparative religious studies, Middle-Eastern history or, more specifically, the Islamic faith and its origin in Saudi Arabia.
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Each religion, by the help of more or less myth, which it takes more or less seriously, proposes some method of fortifying the human soul and enabling it to make its peace with its destiny.
      —  George Santayana
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For me, religion — no matter which one —  is ultimately about people wanting to live humble, moral lives that create a harmonious community and promote tolerance and friendship.  All religious rules should be in service of this goal.  The Islam I learned and practice does just that.
Violence committed in the name of religion is never about religion — it’s about money.
…It’s just business.
Nor should we blame U.S. foreign policy as the spark that lights the fuse.  Poverty, political oppression, system corruption, lack of education, lack of critical thinking and general hopelessness in these countries are the spark.  Yes, we’ve made mistakes that will be used to justify recruiting new drones.  But we shouldn’t kid ourselves that the recent report detailing our extensive and apparently ineffective use of torture led to mass terrorist volunteers.  The world knew we tortured.   The only thing the report revealed was how bad we were at it.  More important, if recruits were swayed by logical idealism, they would realize that the fact that we conducted, released and debated such a report is what makes the U.S. admirable.  We don’t always do the right thing, but we strive to.  We admit our faults and make adjustments.  It may be glacial, but it’s movement forward.
 …
Ironically, terrorism is an act against the very religion the perpetrators claim to believe in.  It’s an acknowledgment that the religion and its teachings aren’t enough to persuade people to follow it.  Any religion that requires coercion is not about community but leaders who want power.
We can’t end terrorism any more than we can end crime in general.  But I look forward to the day when an act of terrorism by self-proclaimed Muslims will be universally dismissed as nothing more than a criminal attack of a thuggish political organization wearing an ill-fitting Muslim mask. To get to that point, we will need to teach our communities what the real beliefs of Islam are.  In the meantime, keep my name on speed dial so we can get through this together.
    —  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
From his commentary / editorial: “Paris Was Not About Religion
In Time Magazine, January 26, 2015
[Time Magazine charges $.20 per issue to those paper subscribers who also want to view articles on-line.  I refuse to pay this.  Yes, I am a dinosaur who still receives the paper edition.  I have been a subscriber to Time for over 40 years (off and on (mostly on)).  It costs Time virtually nothing to allow paper subscribers to have on-line access, but this is the business model they choose.  The bottom line is that I am unable to provide you with a link to the actual full version.  My apologies…  Please visit your local library if you wish to see the entire column.  —  KMAB]
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Religion is a part of every society.  It is a cultural product of mankind, a tool for survival.
 …
What is Japanese religion, then?  In a word, ancestor worship.
 …
In this patriarchical value system, there could be no room for the concept of an “Almighty God,” as in the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  On the contrary, Japanese kami (gods) are not considered separate personalities from men.  In need of salvation and help, people turn to the superiors of ie (that is, their ancestors), who are believed to be gods.  Another traditional belief in Japan is that the dead go to the place of their ancestors and become kami. …
  …
Maintaining its hereditary good name and continuing its ancestors’ glorious work was the most important responsibility of a family.  The religion also set up certain ethical standards for family members.  However, no provision was made for the salvation of the individual, instead, the ultimate destiny of an individual was to lose his identity and merge with his ancestral spirits after death.
   —  Mitsuyuki Masatsugu
From his book: “The Modern Samurai Society
[I believe this is the first time I have ever heard of religion as being a “cultural product” or as a “tool for survival“.   This is an interesting way of viewing “religion”.  —  KMAB]
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