There are movies you watch, movies you live and which make you live, and there are movies condemned to fade away and be forgotten before they even pass out of the phase of being a mere idea or scenario. Some are ignored because of their shallow plot and their failure to reflect human values; others are popular for a while, but then end up in dusty archive rooms, because of their artificial and ephemeral themes. And then along comes a movie that touches you, teaches you a lesson, and makes you associate spiritually with its characters.
Of course you have been watching movies for years. Maybe you have subscribed to various cable or satellite channels so that you can watch even more movies. So, how many of them had the qualities mentioned above? How many of them, produced with enormous budgets and large casts and over-promoted, can you watch without finally becoming bored ? How many of them can fill you with indescribable emotions and make you resolve to follow in the footsteps of those characters?
One such movie is the masterpiece The Message. How many times have you seen it? I am sure that some of you have watched it ten, fifteen, or even more times. This would not surprise me at all, for we do not get weary of reading the Qur’an, which God revealed to humanity as the source of guidance and peace. Likewise, the lives and struggles of those who tried to live according to the Quranic teachings do not tire us. On the contrary, The Message refreshes your spirit each time you watch it.
There are two versions of this movie. The Message, directed by Moustapha Akhad and produced in the U.S., attracted attention due to the participation of some famous actors and actresses, among them Anthony Quinn, who “lives” the role he plays, Hamza, the Prophet’s uncle. Irene Papas, who played Abu Sufyan’s wife Hind, made this woman a prominent character, although historically Hind did not have an important part in the story.
The other film, the Arab made al-Risala, which has almost the same scenario, was watched mostly in Arab countries. Its most distinguishing feature is that the Qur’anic verses are recited in their original form (instead of in translation). This movie did not attract as much attention, because there were no movie stars in the leading roles. Nevertheless, the characters are portrayed quite successfully.
In both movies, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is not shown. Rather, he is symbolized through the staff he carries, the camel he rides, or the people who talk with him. Both scenarios begin by depicting the “Era of Ignorance” period in Arabia. Makka’s social structure and its culture are shown in some detail: the prevailing tyranny and injustice, the hundreds of deities being worshipped and the sacrifices offered to them, the annual fairs, and other activities are presented. This was the milieu into which the Prophet was born. His world was one in which poetry and rhetoric was favored, women and slaves were not regarded as human, where might was right, and where thousands of people died in blood feuds. In short, there was no one to stand up as a living monument of faith or courage or to speak up for the truth.
We read about the Prophet’s life or learn about it from the people around us. But how many times have we contemplated his struggles and difficulties in order to understand him better? These works fulfill an important duty in terms of informing those who do not have the time for such contemplation about the lives of these ascetic people, by taking them to the Makka of that time.
The revelation’s beginning is portrayed by reciting the first verses in the darkness of the Hira cave. First, the Prophet invites those who are close to him to Islam. Everything is done in great secrecy. The setting is the house of Ibn Arqam (where the early Muslims gathered) and the new converts devote themselves to this cause there. When there are 40 of them, the period of public preaching begins. Then we see another touching scene: the Muslim community is walking toward the Ka’ba with the Messenger in the middle. They are met with stones, spittle, clubs, and insults. One of the most spectacular scenes is close at hand: Hamza, whom the Messenger later nicknamed “the lion of God,” rescues these people, who could have been killed on the spot due to the provocations of Abu Jahl. He rides through the crowd and, to everyone’s surprise, dismounts and hits Abu Jahl with his bow. As a result of beginning to preach in public, the poor and weak Muslims are subjected to violence at the hands of the Makkan polytheists. The audience sees Bilal and Ammar ibn Yasar being tormented and tortured.
One of the most emotive scenes is the discussion held before King Negus between the first Muslims and the Makkan polytheists who followed them there. The Prophet, describing Negus as a just ruler, told the persecuted Muslims to take refuge in his land. So, Amr ibn al- ‘As, at that time a polytheist, was sent to bring them back and was given many gifts to bestow upon Negus. The king listens to their conversation for a long time, and for a moment thinks about handing them over, but decides to protect them after Ja‘far ibn Abu Talib recites the Quranic verses about Mary. These scenes are significant in that they show how the Christians of that time and area viewed Islam.
After a while, the Prophet and many Muslims emigrate to Madina. Another well-known scene is when the Messenger and Abu Bakr enter Madina. When the people, who have been waiting for days on the rooftops and in the trees, begin singing the hymn Talaal Badru to welcome him enthusiastically, a scene is created to touch the heart of all that witness it. And Madina’s Muslims, who beg the Makkan immigrants to stay with them, as well as the heartfelt embraces that are the product of the affiliation felt between the two groups, fill our hearts with emotion and our eyes with longed-for sights.
The following scenes depict the wars between the Muslims and the polytheists. Both movies give a detailed depiction of the battles of Badr and Uhud. The war tactics practiced around the wells of Badr and Mount Uhud are presented as comprehensively as possible. The peace of Hudaybiyah is pictured, but not focused on much. After the polytheists break the treaty, the Muslims, now more powerful than before, led by the Messenger and his followers, march upon Makka. Campfires are lit around Makka to intimidate the polytheists, Abu Sufyan tries to make peace and then coverts to Islam, we see the Prophet’s entrance to the city and witness him heading toward the Ka’ba…
Here come the scenes that fill you with emotion and move you so much. The Makkan exiles are once again walking along the streets of their hometown. Some embrace their relatives, kiss the ground, or similar actions. But the Prophet, who missed God’s House more than anything else, enters the Ka’ba … and we go inside with him. He uses his staff to topple the idols that have darkened the soul of humanity one by one, for they are nothing but stones and wood. We become so absorbed that, for a moment, we forget that we are watching a movie and wish that the camera would move a little so that we could see his blessed hand holding the staff, as well as his holy face. Bilal stands upon the Kab‘a’s roof and calls the faithful to prayer, just as the Prophet has told him to do. This call rings out in Makka … bliss fills the hearts, tears fill the eyes.
Then comes the final scene: the Farewell Sermon. One hundred thousand people fill the Uranah valley of Mount Arafat, and all eyes and ears turn upon him. At the end of this sermon, after he hears his community bear witness that he has fulfilled his duty, he says: “O God, Bear witness!” three times.
We see three blessed riders in the desert, representing the thousands of companions who went out into the world to invite people to Islam. After a certain point they separate, saying farewell to each other. Perhaps never to return, they are setting off for lands that are completely unknown to them in order to obey the Messenger’s command to tell others about Islam. Then the calls to prayer begin, one after another, recited in different tones, from mosques of different architectural styles, located in different lands.
This is how the movie ends , but you just keep sitting in front of the screen for a while. Though your eyes are still on the screen, fixed absently, your mind is there, far away in the deserts of Madina, thinking about the exalted guide who reminded people of their humanity, about the world which had been oblivious of humanity. Your soul is striving to follow on his path, and you leave your seat in a completely different mood.