30th Anniversary Edition
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Producer-director Moustapha Akkad made a true labor of love out of The Message, which seeks nothing less than to tell the story of the origins of Islam. Originally released in the U.S. as Mohammad, Messenger of God, the film has the appeal of most biblical epics: persecuted true believers, a revolutionary prophet scorned by the powers-that-be, and the miraculous triumph of faith. It also has the cheesiness of many biblical epics, with nose-flaring performances and awkward dialogue, but the whole mish-mash is generally entertaining (and informative for those unversed in the "origin stories" of Islam). Akkad had one major hurdle; he couldn't portray the person or voice of Mohammad himself, as such things are traditionally forbidden in Islam. To say the least, this presents an interesting narrative challenge. Akkad tackles it by having characters address the camera-as-Mohammad, or having disciples step out of Mohammad's tent to repeat what the prophet has just said. It's a weird device, but the surprising thing is how often you forget about it. Akkad is aided by some topnotch technicians, including cameraman Jack Hildyard (The Bridge on the River Kwai) and composer Maurice Jarre (whose score was Oscar-nominated); Anthony Quinn, Irene Papas, and Michael Ansara lead the cast.
Also included in the two-disc set is the Arabic-language version of the film, which was shot at the same time with different actors. (It comes without English subtitles.) It runs about 20 minutes longer than the English version; Akkad explains, in a helpful 44-minute making-of documentary, that Arab styles of storytelling (including pacing) and acting are quite different than in the West. Akkad would also make Lion of the Desert and executive-produce the Halloween pictures. He died in the November 2005 terrorist bombings in Jordan. --Robert Horton
- Disc One:
- "The Making of an Epic: Mohammed - Messenger of God"
- Audio commentary with producer/director Moustapha Akkad
- Disc Two
- Arrisalah--Arabic language
- Arabic audio commentary with producer/director Moustapha Akkad
- Feature and extras are not close captioned
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There are glaring omissions throughout the movie- such as the wives and concubines of Mohammed (pbuh), Mohammed's (pbuh) raids during the months of truce, and the raids he initiated on caravans throughout the year, the Battle of the Trench, and the presence of strong Jewish tribes in Yathrib (later Medina). Often issues that would not paint a sympathetic view of Mohammed (pbuh) were obscured or left out. The movie suggests that the followers of Mohammed (pbuh) would not initiate attacks and tried to avoid fighting- but this directly contradicts the historical record, the Qur'an, and the Hadith! Indeed, the Muslims became strong through the acquiring of wealth from raids, an accepted practice of the time, as long as it did not occur during the months of truce. The movie portrays his followers as going so far as to say that they are men of peace. At the same time the attacks on Mohammed's (pbuh) followers in Mecca are greatly exaggerated, as there is little evidence of real physical persecution. In the movie Mohammed (pbuh) is seen immediately as the leader of all of Medina, with all Medinans immediately submitting to Islam. But the town was called Yathrib, a Jewish name, for a reason- the Jewish tribes remained there until they were expelled much later by the Muslims. And Mohammed (pbuh) was seen as the leader of his followers only and as an unbiased arbitrator within Yathrib for a long time, as first among chiefs rather than ruler, gaining true civil authority only towards the end of his life.
Lastly the act of not showing the image or displaying the voice of Mohammed (pbuh) greatly detracts from the artistic merit of the movie, making many scenes confusing and frankly silly, as everyone looks in the direction of the camera for the unseen audience to respond. The end result is ironically to create an almost god-like portrayal of Mohammed (pbuh) as he is an unseen powerful presence throughout the movie.
If you are looking to spend an evening viewing fiction and only have to spend a couple bucks, this movie is OK. But if you want to truly understand Islam, I'd recommend the Qur'an,the Hadith, and Montgomery Watt's Mohammed.
And that is one of my biggest problems with the film - it is at odds with every scholarly history of Islam I've read. Because most of the surrounding tribes already believed in one God, Mohammed was tolerated by most neighboring tribes. It was mainly with his own tribe, one that was polytheistic, that he had the problems shown in this movie. He was more accepted in Medina, with its large Jewish population, and used his years there, after his protector-uncle died, (622-632) to consolidate his power. Those who challenged Mohammed's claim to being a prophet, and his dogmas, were dealt with harshly - with the loss of their property, enslavement or execution. So much for his doctrines of charitable treatment of people, humility, etc. Eventually, when he had gathered enough followers to form an army, he went to a neighboring tribe and demanded that they convert to Islam. When they refused, the historical record reports that his army killed about 10,000 tribesmen. Then, his followers used this example of what happens to those Mohammed viewed to be infidels to convince other tribes to convert to Islam.
This movie accurately shows that Mohammed's people were frequently, if not almost always, fighting for their religion. What is dishonest about the movie is that it was mainly against his own tribe he fought for defense; in virtually all other cases he was involved in offensive battles to further Islam. This is an attribute of Islam that continues to this day; just look at the declarations of fundamentalist Moslems today.
Violence in Islam is not only focused on non-Muslims; just look at the different factions of Islam in any newspaper today. Indeed, in the history of Islam, there have been only one or two Caliphs who died a natural death; all others were murdered. [This would be somewhat equivalent to only one or two Popes dying a natural death; all others being killed by a Cardinal who then made himself Pope.] So, my main objection with this movie is that it shows Islam as just trying to survive in a hostile world, when in reality it was Islam that used violence and barbarity to advance its cause.
Therefore, if one is interested in a good yarn, one can watch this movie in that light and enjoy it. One can watch it to get some sense of what life might have been like in Seventh Century Arabia. However, if one is interested in historical accuracy, they should read the many scholarly histories of Islam.