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Sunday, November 28, 2004

Is Islam Exclusive to Us?

Saturday, 27, November, 2004 (15, Shawwal, 1425)

Tariq A. Al-Maeena,close_encounters@gawab.com
Islam is a faith embraced by over 1.2 billion people around the world,
from Alaska to Adelaide. And it is flourishing by the numbers across
all continents by people drawn to the reverence of total submission to
the will of Almighty God.

In this context, a Saudi businessman recently financed the production
of a movie that was released on Eid day in selected theaters across
America. The movie “Muhammad, the Last Prophet” portrays the early days of
Islam through the eyes of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and was
completed in cartoon caricatures. With a budget in excess of $12
million, this was one Saudi’s attempt to educate the Western public including
the Muslim expatriates on the simplicity and oneness of this faith.

To ensure theological accuracy, the financier brought on board four
Islamic scholars who were to see that there were no distortions or
misrepresentations of facts during the making of this film. Additionally, the
famed Jamaat Al-Azhar Al-Sharif in Cairo provided input during the
production phase, thus ensuring accuracy.

From early reviews the film has generated a lot of interest among the
theatergoers in the US. Plans are now being made to enhance the
distribution through the mainstream theater operators, as well as tailor it to
foreign markets outside the US.

The Saudi financier also turned toward our own authorities to discuss
the possibility of getting approval to release the film on DVD, since we
have no movie theaters here. But he was turned down. While approval was
given by the Ministry of Information, there was a flat rejection by the
Supreme Ulema Council of this country.

No valid reason was provided by these clerics, except a vague reference
to a similar precedent handed out 27 years ago banning the distribution
of “The Message” for reasons known only to them. The businessman even
offered to tailor the movie to Saudi standards, provided he knew what
the guidelines were but he was given nothing, except a firm rejection.

And herein lies a nagging issue. Why would a movie acceptable to the
Muslims in the West, and to scholars from reputable Islamic institutions
find resistance from our own clerics? Saudi Arabia is the cradle of
Islam, but we Saudis should have no exclusivity on this faith. It belongs
to the entire world, and when decisions such as the refusal by our
ulema to allow this film into the country are taken, they do all of us a
great disservice.

Or are we a higher standard of Muslims than others? Judging from some
of the edicts handed out in recent years applying the badge of sin on
some issues, maybe we are on an altogether different track than the rest
of the world. Pokemon was decreed a sin, and so were camera-equipped
mobile phones. As was the application of physical education for girls in
schools. And now, “Muhammad, the Last Prophet”?

Islam flourished and spread 1400 years ago because of its message and
tolerance. It spread quickly then from Europe to the far corners of
Asia, at a time when the fastest means of transport was on horseback. Those
who accepted the faith did so because of their acceptance and
submission to Almighty God. They were not coerced nor bribed into following this
faith. And it has continued flourishing ever since.

Therefore, when we in this country are quick to reject any new idea by
adopting a holier than thou attitude, and with no authentic religious
precedence, we are either telling the world that we are better Muslims
than them or we are simply fooling ourselves.

Today, the media is the best means of carrying out the message, and
attempts by some quarters to stifle new and creative means in the pursuit
of our faith is a cause of alarm. It only leads to intolerance and
subsequent rejection of all others who do not see eye to eye with us. And
in today’s world that should be unacceptable.


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