I’ve had the Koran sitting on my bookshelve for the past ten years; I have no idea how The Message has alluded me until this past weekend.
While the historical accuracy of the film and its brilliant acting took center stage, there were explicit elements of both the production and storyline I found especially intriguing.
For instance, Islamic law forbids portraying either the voice or likeness of the Prophet Mohammed (that concept would put Christianity straight out of business), so when certain scenes called for interaction with The Prophet, director Moustapha Akkad made the call to turn the camera into Mohammed’s silent point of view.
The cast of followers spoke directly to Mohammed, yet they were simultaneously engaged in conversation with the audience, providing us with the positioning of The Prophet. In 1976, this may not have been viewed as a compelling technique, but in the age of first person shooter video games—where we directly engage and interact with the narrative, driving the storyline as we gaze into the eyes of AI avatars—the technique shifts meaning over the years. Very retro-cool.
In terms of the story, both the politics and marketplace of Mecca circa 600 AD were fascinating and generated numerous offshoots of thought.
The film reveals that the ruling class of Mecca kept the populous in-line, and themselves profitable, through establishing a marketplace of ~360 idolic “Gods”—wooden or clay figures, sold to individuals and families alike to provide good luck. The families blindly worshiped them as their personal saviors (talk about instant, add-water religion) and left the ruling class alone to continue their manipulation of the market and society.
When Muhammed returned from the mountains and began sharing his first poetic drops of the Koran, amongst the numerous stanzas (of eventual Islamic law), the message that forbode the worship of other gods was explicit. “There is only one God” quickly became the righteous chant of all classes of men who followed Muhammed’s revelations. Upon experiencing this shifting of inclusion (of social classes) and exclusion (of idolic gods), the local merchants/governors took this challenge of authority as a direct threat to the well-greased mechanism of Mecca’s economy, class and power structure and responded with force.
The mere concept of “There can only be one God” was more revolutionary than any number of armed men storming the city because their God could not generate a profit.
After digesting the film, my mind’s eye kept returning to the current global struggles between Islam and the West, asking the question as to whether or not we’re going through a historical recurrance on a global scale.
I mean, the World Trade Center was considered to be the most prolific iconic representation of the American (and Western) financial system. Could Ramzi Yousef and Osama bin Laden possibly have targeted the WTC in ’93 and 9/11, respectively, in an attempt to make a deep seeded philosophical connection with fellow fundamentalists, tying the traits of modern day global capitalism to Mecca circa 600 AD?
Yeah, the film was that deep. Now I’ve got to check out Reza Aslan’s recently published book entitled “No God But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam.” Based on Jon Stewart’s interview with him last night and the reviews of Islamic bloggers, it’s bound to be enlightening on numerous fronts.