fatwa

Prophet Muhammad movie in Indian homes is an edgy affair

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Nobody knows how the debut of movie “Muhammad, Messenger of God” in Indian homes next week would be reacted to by millions of Indian Muslims.

A new player in the Over The Top (OTT) streaming platforms, Don Cinema, run by an Indian Mehmood Ali, would release the movie on its App on July 21–a month which closes with Bakra Eid, or the Festival of the Sacrifice, considered holier than Eid al-Fitr, the two Islamic holidays celebrated world over.

The film’s score has been composed by that Mozart of Madras, A.R. Rahman, who had a fatwa issued against him on this movie itself six years ago, as it was on its Iranian film-maker Majid Majidi by a little-known Indian Islamic organisation, Raza Academy. Rahman was asked to read Kalima (The Word) again and re-solemnize his marriage.

The same organisation has issued a bugle again for this “intolerable” act by Don Cinema, wondering why Muslims are always the “target” even when it’s known that a “Muslim will die in honour than to see or hear even the slightest insult on his Holy Prophet.” The Academy has ended its appeal with the unveiled threat that it would cause “unrest” and “law and order” problem.

This movie on the Prophet of Islam was state-sponsored by Iran and released world over in 2015 but Saudi Arabia has banned it and so have a score of other Islamic countries who profess faith in Sunni Islam. As is known, Iran is the centre of Shia faith and Saudi Arabia of Sunni and the two have been violently divided over many a century over its purity.

The film took seven years in the making and has been hailed as a masterpiece by moviegoers yet the depiction of Prophet Muhammad, or anybody embodying him in art, cartoon or movies, is a taboo disapproved by Islamic theologians. Very few have crossed the redline and not paid the price.

In 2005, cartoons on the Islamic Prophet published by a Danish newspaper led to violent protests, attack on embassies and consumer boycotts and left scores of people dead.

In 2015, Islamic militants smoked out 12 lives at the offices of French magazine Charlie Hebdo for depicting the Prophet in cartoons which were termed blasphemous.

Salman Rushdie’s is an episode known world over as his 1988 book “The Satanic Verses” fell into crosshairs with Islam’s adherents and Iran’s late supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, calling on Muslims world over to kill the author.

Closer home, Kamlesh Tiwari, a Hindu nationalist politician, had his throat slit inside his home by two Islamic fundamentalists for calling the Prophet Muhammad as the first homosexual last year.

The movie which depicts the early life of Prophet Muhammad, claims to show Islam in good light and spread its message of peace and brotherhood which has been tarred by jihadis and terrorists in recent decades. It’s been mainly shot in Iran but when elephants were required for the movie, India refused permission to filmmakers who later opted for South Africa.

As it shaped up the storyline went thus:

An attack on Mecca is ordered to destroy the Kaaba by the order of Abraha, King of Habasha. One of his commanders lead a force of thousands of soldiers, horses and elephants. As the army reaches the gate of Mecca, the elephants halt and refuse to move on the divine order. Next, small birds in millions release a hail of stones onto the invaders and the army is wiped out. A month later, the Prophet Muhammad is born. This pre-Islamic Arabia is seen through the eyes of the Prophet Muhammad from birth to the age of 13.

The movie at no point shows the face of the Prophet. Only his hand and feet in the cradle as a baby, and a child from the back is shown. The identity of the boy who played the Prophet Muhammad has not been revealed so far.

The apprehension on reception of this movie in India is valid. The first attempt to depict the Prophet Muhammad in a movie called “The Message” happened 43 years ago. In 1976, Anthony Quinn played the Prophet’s uncle Hamza. The film didn’t depict the Prophet Muhammad’s face on screen but Muslims were offended nevertheless. The movie’s director, Syrian Moustapha Al-Akkad was killed in a 2005 suicide bombing in Amman. It’s not confirmed though whether the attack was related to the movie.

In 1977, gun-terrorists sieged the B’nai B’rith building in Washington DC and demanded the movie’s release in the United States to be cancelled or they would blow up the building. A policeman and a journalist died in the standoff.

Interestingly, this movie was released in 2018 in Saudi Arabia after a 42-year ban. It became the first Arabic title to get a theatrical release in Saudi Arabia. Since it was approved by the Middle East censors, many other Islamic countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Iraq, Lebanon, Ethiopia etc also released the movie. This is only one of the two movies ever made on The Prophet, the other being the present one by the Iranian director.

It’s not clear how the release of this Iranian movie would play out in India. It’s unlikely the radical Islamic elements in India would look the other way. Even though the Shias in India might keep their peace since the movie has the blessing of Islamic Republic of Iran, the Sunnis would take the leaf out of Saudi Arabia’s book and all hell could break loose. For all we know, Don Cinema could itself develop cold feet. One surely can’t take one’s eyes off the movie even before one has seen it.

 

 

Krishna’s aborted concert is no help to Modi or BJP

Carnatic vocalist Thodur Madabusi Krishna has been thrust into national consciousness because Airports Authority of India (AAI) has ducked its responsibility of hosting his music in the Capital. Look at it anyway, this shows the Modi government in poor light.

Krishna’s credentials in the music world are unquestioned. Also beyond a shadow of doubt is his spite against upper caste Hindus and the alternatives he looks for in Christianity and Islam. You could differ from him; but muzzling him is no alternative. If anything, it would only give him more traction and a gathering mass.

Salman Rushdie is a living proof that suppressing a voice only makes it more attractive. His “Midnight’s Children” might have been a tour de force but his global appeal lies because of the fatwa on him by the fundamentalist Islamic forces on his “Satanic Verses.” Most haven’t read him but everyone knows him. He kind of became a rallying force for free speech and freedom around the world.

The fundamentalist Islamic forces had laid down a line in the sand: you cross it at your own peril. No questioning of our religion, our tenets or holy book. They didn’t realize it showed Islam as regressive to the free world. That its’ reactionary forces were relying on “fear factor” more than a voice to reason.

Not that it didn’t work. Hardly anyone stood up for Rushdie. All the free world, top politicians, intellectuals, writers and thinkers were guarded in their support to Rushdie. Most admonished Rushdie that he should’ve been more sensitive to religious sentiments of millions. But the masses turned resentful to Islam and its’ hardline practitioners. It didn’t help Islam—only Rushdie and his bank balance. Possibly endowing him with an enduring fame.

More recently, journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered allegedly by the Saudi Arabia government in its consulate in Turkey. If the idea was to silence a dissenting voice, the matter has backfired spectacularly for Saudi government. The world has risen as one, making Saudis change their stances on a daily basis and coming out the worst for it. For one Khashoggi dead, there are a thousand Khashoggis rising in its wake.

History has shown that governments have always feared a powerful liberal voice at crossroads with them. That’s why you have the adage: “Pen is mightier than the sword.” It usually pits them in conflict. It’s also true that authority is the only loser in this war.

Few have any doubts that Krishna was shut out because of his ideology. Few also doubt that trolls went for him. There is also little escaping that AAI developed cold feet. The government may or may not have had any role to play in this both tactical and ethical disaster. But the conclusion was inescapable: a government institution has backtracked and its bosses can’t escape the inference.

Renowned classical dancer Sonal Mansingh, who was due to perform in the concert, hasn’t helped the matter. She has written an edit piece in Indian Express today, suggesting the political agenda which masks Krishna’s music. She has recalled Krishna’s deplorable attacks on Narendra Modi in the past. That Krishna himself is on record of being not in favour of mixing music with politics. She has termed Krishna immoral and hypocritical for acting “as a vicious political activist and claiming the privileges of an artist.”

All this might be true but it still doesn’t address the central question in everyone’s mind. It’s fodder to critics of Modi and BJP and it embarrasses millions who term them progressive. All it has done is to make Krishna more attractive and a potential tool in the hands of liberal mafia. A self-goal if ever there was one.