By Mike Derderian
Innocent lives sometimes get butchered and offered as human sacrifices in the name of religion; lives like that of Moustapha Al Akkad—killed by the hands of men, who misinterpreted the “Book” that he so much loved and wanted to help spread its word: The message of God.
Born in Aleppo, Syria in 1930 Al Akkad had a passion for cinema ever since he was a child. And at the age of 19 he packed his things and with his father’s blessings was on his way to the United States, arriving to the country where his dream came true with only a Holy Quran and $200 in his pocket.
Thanks to this visionary man the story of Islam was brought to the silver screen for the first time. Al Akkad died along many people, who were simply at the wrong place, at the wrong time and for the wrong reason. The Arab-American-Muslim director met his creator after sustaining wounds from the November 9, 2005, Amman suicide bombings.
There is no reason in the world that would justify the killing of another soul, a notion clearly visible in Al Akkad’s 1976 enduring classic Al Risalah (The Message).
The Message is a brilliantly executed movie that relies on the weight of its storyline “message” more than any other cinematic element. The Cinematography, the narration (perfectly delivered byRichard Johnson), the acting and Maurice Jarre’s haunting musical score were superb but what mattered most to Al Akkad was the story itself.
For a movie that did not show the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), either in form or voice, Akkad did a pretty good job, using a dreamy and tranquil musical theme that served as the prophet’s (PBUH) screen presence, in addition to the camera’s position and motion that implied his vision. It was Akkad’s great technique that managed to present a film without the physical portrayal of God’s messenger.
Restricting the role of the protagonist into a hidden presence in other movies might have had disastrous consequences but being a movie about the message of Islam and the Prophet’s (PBUH) deeds rather than just an autobiographical narrative boasted the film’s viewpoint among Muslims and audiences of different religions through out the world.
As a Christian I must have seen it a dozen times yet it still draws my attention every time it is broadcasted on television. It has a magical allure that beckons a person into a seat for more than three hours. Is it the story, the narration or the music? I proudly say it is all of the above.
For instance if people say that the star power of Anthony Quinn in the role of Hamza, the prophet’s uncle, was one of the main reasons that led to The Message’s success, they are wrong. Quinn was just a part of what Al Akkad wanted to convey to the Western world and that is how Islam was delivered by Mohammed (PBUH).
The English version starred Irene Papas, who portrayed Hind, the bloodthirsty pagan wife of Abu Sofyan, while in the Arabic version it was portrayed by Syrian actress Mouna Wasef. Both actresses gave outstanding performances—menacing would be a more appropriate word given the nature of Hind.
Michael Ansara portrayed Abu Sofyan; Johnny Sekka (English version) and Ali Achmed Taram (Arabic version) portrayed Bilal, the first prayer announcer. Michael Forest and Mahmoud Said, portrayed Khaled Iben Al Waleed, who was once dubbed the “bitterest sword” against Islam but during the course of the film becomes an avid Muslim and a believer like most of the tenants of Mecca, once a city of paganism and idolatry.
If you have missed it on television all you have to do is go to Down Town Amman, where you’ll find out that a lot of DVD shops have it in both versions and we are not talking about a dubbed version here. Akkad in a genius cinematic move shot the English and Arabic movies with different actors cast in the lead roles simultaneously.