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Varanasi
Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Why has a film riled up Sunni Muslims?

The Lady of Heaven, a film by Shia Muslims, appears to have angered Islamists at it is the first film to put the ‘face’ of Muhammad onscreen. The film is about Muhammad’s daughter Fatima.

A review of the film by The Guardian notes:

While claiming, as per the title, to be about Muhammad’s daughter Fatimah, this is largely focusing on his cousin and successor Ali. Director Eli King and writer Sheikh al-Habib attempt to give the Islam origin story a contemporary parallel: it has a framing sequence in which Laith (Gabriel Cartade), a young boy from Mosul, is orphaned when his mother is executed by Islamic State soldiers for teaching him a blasphemous song. Laith is adopted by a soldier from Baghdad, and the serviceman’s mother comforts the youngster by telling him the tale of the saintly Fatimah, whose example of strength she promises will keep him going in dark times.

The strange thing is that the film, until its closing stretch, hardly features Fatimah – who in any case is the only Islamic luminary whose face is never shown, which along with an embarrassingly plummy vocal performance, hobbles our attachment to her. Instead, The Lady of Heaven gives a stilted walkthrough of the nascent outsider religion that is more drawn to her eventual husband Ali, a martial badass with vehement anime eyes. Only after Muhammad’s death, with the depiction of the emerging tyranny of his father-in-law Abu Bakr (Ray Fearon), does this flat-footed telling start to chime with present-day religious intolerance.

We are often told that there is no discrimination in Islam but the controversy kicked up by a mere film shows how deep the Shia-Sunni divide is, not to speak of other Muslim sects that are looked down upon. According to Sunni beliefs, Fatima was the youngest child of Khadija and Muhammad while Shias believe she was their only child.

The filmmakers are Shias and the depiction of Muhammad’s images has angered Sunnis who consider the act blasphemous. Islamists have also alleged that the film lacks research and has inflammatory content. Iran has banned the movie saying that it would create divisions in the Muslim society.

Even the UK has witnessed controversy around the movie with shows having to be canceled. People advocating freedom of speech haven’t taken kindly to the protests. “The most shocking thing for me has been the silence of the elites…They are sacrificing freedom to appease a tiny mob of religious fanatics”, opined political analyst Brendan O’Neill on the film being banned. Furthermore, videos have emerged on social media where Islamists are seen intimidating Cineworld staff forcing them to stop the film’s screening.

In fact, the makers of the movie have dared protestors to protest in front of them. “Why do you generalize your attack on all Shias? Why the chants of infidel Shias? We’re the ones who made the movie, come and protest here, not outside cinemas creating a state of panic”, questioned the film’s screenwriter Sheikh Yasser al Habib.

Even the UK government has taken stern action against people inciting others or opposing those who have come out in support of the film. The UK government removed Imam Qari Asim from the advisor’s post after he advocated that Lady of Heaven be withdrawn from theatres. The government has made it clear that Asim’s campaign to limit free speech is incompatible with the government advisor’s role.

The controversy also brings to the fore the intolerance of Islamists who often forget that others too have religious sentiments. While they are touchy about their beliefs, they don’t bat an eyelid before degrading or insulting others’ beliefs. Abrahamics have opposed any film they believe is insulting to their beliefs, be it Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code or Eli King’s The Lady of Heaven, despite the fact that they are made by their own people. In contrast, Hindus have been tolerant despite Bollywood’s constant degradation of Hindus and Hindu Dharma. The hypocrisy of the Islamists and their apologists is out in the open, yet again.

(Featured Image Source: The Guardian)

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