Views & Reviews From Writer Steve Miller
Formerly Reviews and Stuff at Rotten Tomatoes, 2005 - 2009.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

'The Message' is epic tale of Islam's founding

The Message (aka "Mohammed, Messenger of God") (1976)
Starring: Anthony Quinn, Michael Ansara, Michael Forest and Irene Papas
Director: Moustapha Akkad
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

This is the tale of the Prophet Mohammed and his early followers. from his first visions, to his persecution by the pagan merchant lords of Arabia, through the founding of the first Mosque in Medina, and his eventual triumphant return to Mecca at the head of an army of believers.

"The Message" is an interesting film that provides a window for non-believers into how Muslims view Mohammed, the founder of their religion. It's a little like "The Ten Commandments" crossed with "Ben Hur", but it is an interesting excersize in filmmaking aside from being a sweeping epic with the scenery, costuming and battle scenes the audience expects from films like this.

Due to the obsession modern-day Muslims have with portrayals of the Prophet Mohammed, director Akkad had to make his movie without showing Mohammed on screen or even allowing his voice to be heard. This leads to some very odd moments where characters react to seeing Mohammed or to things he says that we either don't hear or are repeated by other characters. In general, though, the film is an interesting tale of a conflict between a struggling new religion

Interestingly, the Islam presented in this film is very different than the one that seems to be practiced by the Muslims of nations like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan... any other Muslim-dominated nation where women are mistreated, brutality and oppression is the order of the day, and non-Muslims are mistreated at every turn. The Islam portrayed in this film is indeed the "religion of peace" that only applied violence when confronted with violence and that indeed did not oppress nor threaten or kill innocent people.

Mostapha Akkad has explained in interviews, in a making-of documentary, and in his very informative SAP commentary on the DVD that he hoped this movie would help inform Americans and others in the Western world about the truth of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed. Certainly, if Muslims are as moved emotionally by the tale of Mohammed as you will be by watching this movie--even with the quirky absence of its focal character--one can understand why they insist that he was a man of peace and why they claim the follow a religion of peace.

Many Muslims could probably benefit from watching this film and taking the messages it ascribes to Mohammed to heart. Unfortunately, from the very beginning, violent and crazed extremists were more interested in strangling free speech and even silencing the message of their own Prophet. American Muslims took hostages in Washington, D.C. when this film was released in 1977 to "protest" the film, murdering a journalist in the process. (This despite the fact that Akkad sought the blessings and permission to make his movie from leading Islamic religious scholars in Egypt and Syria.)

Heck, the violence over "The Message" can be equated to the idiocy that RevolutionMuslim recently engaged in over the "South Park" episode. Neither featured ANY portrayals of Mohammed... although this film did show his camel and the blade of his sword.

An even greater irony is that so many Muslims have either forgotten or choose to ignore their own religion's prohibitions against killing innocent civilians and women that Mostapha Akkad himself was murdered by a Muslim suicide bomber while attending his daughter's wedding in Jordan in 2005. Click here for the tragic details.

Regardless, if you enjoy epics like "The Ten Commandments" (or just "Hercules and the Captive Women"), you'll find a lot to like in "The Message." You might even find a little insight into why so many people idolize the figure of Mohammed. The large-scale battles sequences are especialy well done. Heck, you can even watch the film in Arabic if you want a "pure" version of it; the current release contains both versions that Akkad shot--two different films using the same sets and locations but with different actors.


  1. Why doesn't it surprise me that there were protests in DC back when this came out? I never saw this film. The music score is by Maurice Jarre ("Lawrence of Arabia").

  2. My guess is it isn't seen widely outside Arab-language broadcast TV. And you're right about the score... and it's one of his better ones. All in all, it's a very well-done movie that actually deserves to be seen.