Moustapha Akkad's film failed to secure a release in the region on its 1976 release amid controversy and religious objections
More than four decades after it was banned, The Message is set for Eid release in UAE cinemas
The Message, Moustapha Akkad’s 1976 film that tells the story of the Prophet Mohammed will finally run in cinemas across the Middle East, 42 years after the movie first failed to secure a regional release due to religious objections and false rumours that the film depicted the Prophet Mohammed, in contravention of religious laws.
Mohammed's voice and image are actually not in the film, neither are his wives and daughters: the central characters are, instead, people who lived around him, including his uncle and his adopted son.
Akkad’s historical epic was, ambitiously, filmed simultaneously in Arabic and English with two entirely different casts. The English-language version starred Anthony Quinn and was Oscar-nominated. The Arabic language version, meanwhile saw Abdullah Gaith take on Quinn’s Hamza role, but to date has never been widely seen in cinemas in the Arab world, even though Akkad, himself a Muslim, consulted closely with clerics throughout the film’s production and won the support for his project from one of the region's most prestigious universities, Al Azhar in Cairo.
The film went through a fraught production process, with many of its backers, including the Kuwaiti government, pulling out when it was rejected by the Muslim World League in Saudi Arabia. The film was finally completed with funding from outside the region, as well as the governments of Morocco and Libya, who stood by Akkad’s project.
The finished movie, however, attracted a fierce backlash and was banned in some territories in the Middle East, despite opening with the disclaimer: “The makers of this film honour the Islamic tradition which holds that the impersonation of the Prophet offends against the spirituality of his message. Therefore, the person of Mohammed will not be shown (or heard).”
Now, over four decades later, the movie is set to release widely in cinemas across the Middle East and North Africa, in a digitally restored 4k format that was created to mark the film's 40th anniversary, in both its English and Arabic versions, to celebrate the end of the holy month.
Gianluca Chakra, head of Front Row Filmed Entertainment, the distributor which is handling the release, commented: “[We] are proud to present the masterfully restored classic The Message in both Arabic and English, an undisputed cinematic landmark, to audiences this Eid. Profound and brilliantly acted, the film remains an entertaining, exquisite and compelling experience, as moving and relevant as it was on the day of its original release.”