Siskel and Ebert they ain’t, but Islamic scholars, supremacists, jihadists and pressure groups have made their views known, often in quite colorful ways, about numerous motion pictures that you may want to catch. So grab some popcorn and some old tomatoes: it’s movie time down at the mosque!
5. Thumbs down: Noah
Russell Crowe’s lavish Biblical epic Noah is about to be released in the Middle East, and Muslim scholars are enraged. It has been banned in Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. Cairo’s Al-Azhar, which Barack Obama has praised as “a beacon of Islamic learning,” issued a statement denouncing the film as un-Islamic and calling for it to be banned. Some Muslim scholars in Egypt have even called for the destruction of any theater that dared to show the film.
The film has aroused such fury because, as Al-Azhar explained, depicting a prophet of Islam (as Noah is; his story is told and retold in the Qur’an, and he gives his name to the Muslim holy book’s 71st sura) “contradicts the stature of prophets and messengers … and antagonises the faithful.” Mahmoud Mehanna, a member of Al-Azhar’s Senior Scholars, added that “prophets, their voices, and even their shadows cannot be depicted,” helpfully explaining that “prophets are holy people.”
This is, of course, why we have not seen Muslims make laudatory films about Muhammad, even for proselytizing purposes: the story of a prophet who cannot be shown, even in shadow, and whose voice cannot be heard makes for a dramatic vacancy the size of a movie directed by Peter Jackson (the perpetrator of the interminably turgid Lord of the Rings series). Those who dare transgress against these strictures and depict a prophet face the prospect of being declared a blasphemer, which could mean demonstrations, riots, death fatwas, and worse.
This is true of Russell Crowe, even though his film depicts a lesser prophet. He may have started out trying to be the next Charlton Heston, and could wind up instead being the next Salman Rushdie.