|Mired in controversy … Anthony Quinn in The Message. Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/Tarik Film|
The Grosvenor Cinema in Glasgow was due to screen Moustapha Akkad’s Oscar-nominated film about the prophet Muhammad and the birth of Islam, next month. But officials decided to withdraw it after receiving an anonymous petition signed by 94 people, some of whom are from as far away as Nigeria, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
The withdrawal has been criticised by the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB), which had organised the screening, and the National Secular Society (NSS). The latter wrote to the cinema protesting what it called “a climate of censorship brought on by the unreasonable and reactionary views of some religious extremists”.
A spokesman for the ISB said: “As Scottish Muslims, we believe in the principles of freedom of speech and have worked for decades to promote the rights of people to make Islam relevant to British society. These protestors demonstrate the worst elements of our community, as they are imposing their beliefs on others.
“We will not be bullied by these people. We are also appealing for the Grosvenor to stick to the original agreement, and show the film.”
The Message, which stars Anthony Quinn and exists in both English and Arabic versions, has been mired in controversy ever since Akkad announced plans to shoot the film in the mid-1970s. It was ultimately financed by Moroccan, Saudi Arabian and Libyan leaders, after Hollywood refused to fund it and the Muslim World League spoke out against it.
In deference to some readings of Islam, the film avoids any depiction of Muhammad on screen, with Quinn playing the prophet’s uncle, Hamza. Scenes were occasionally shown from Muhammad’s perspective, but his voice was not heard and the only indication of his presence was the playing of light organ music. Even so, the film drew anger from some Muslims who had believed that Quinn was playing Muhammad.
Organisers of the petition against the screening of The Message, which had been due to take place on 15 November, are concerned over the film’s depiction of Muhammad’s companions by non-Muslims. They also object to the movie’s inclusion of occasional scenes featuring music and dancing.
Earlier this year, the big budget Iranian film Muhammad, Messenger of God drew criticism after including shots of the prophet’s hands and legs as a baby, and his back as a teenager. The film by Majid Majidi, who was the subject of a fatwa from Indian clerics in September, was chosen by Iran as its contender for the 2016 Oscars.
The Grosvenor Cinema has not made any public comment on the cancellation of the screening.