In a much needed move to foster and further meaningful religious dialogue – particularly in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre – Egyptian filmmakers are working on an ambitious animated film depicting the life of the Prophet Mohammed, essentially, and finally, ‘responding to dialogue with dialogue’.
The film, titled Prophet of Mercy or “Nabi Al Rahma”, will attempt to address concerns about the perceived ‘acceptability’ of violence in Islam by showcasing the Prophet’s responses to obstacles and calamities that he faced – namely, highlighting the fact the Prophet did not respond with violence, but with tolerance and forgiveness. The film is intended to give voice to moderate and tolerant Muslims, in an attempt to shift mainstream representation of Islam away from 80s movie villains like ISIS.
The animated film is said to be targeted at non-Muslim foreigners, to combat skyrocketing Islamophobia in the West. Animation, while initially considered a controversial medium to showcase the work in a post-Charlie Hebdo world, was ultimately chosen to function twofold, according to Alaa Thabet, scriptwriter of the film.
“Animation is sort of the same weapon employed to criticise Islam in different countries, ” he told Al Masr Al Youm. “In addition, this film genre has always been an effective medium to convey any message in a simplified way, particularly to children whom we don’t want to be raised to hate Islam.”
Thabet argues that it’s beyond time to move away from self-righteous condemnations, ‘self-talking in Minbars’, and to move towards responding to criticism and attacks of the Prophet & Islam with respectable & authoritative dialogue and education.
But of course there’s one big problem: how do you depict the Prophet on screen?
To combat the issue, Thabet sought out the approval of Al Azhar. As it stands, while artistic representation of the Prophet is not explicitly prohibited, Al Azhar denounces it due to the fear that it can convey ‘false visualisation of revered religious figures’. As such, Thabet will represent the Prophet in various ways, such as a beam of light.
The film will be translated and screened in cultural centres in France, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Germany.