Synopsis by Mark Deming
This handsomely-mounted historical epic concerns the birth of the Islamic faith and the story of the prophet Mohammed -- who, in accordance with the tenants of Islam, is never seen or heard (any physical depiction of the prophet is considered a heinous sin within the faith). In Mecca in the 7th century, Mohammed is visited by a vision of the Angel Gabriel, who urges him to lead the people of Mecca to cast aside the 300 idols of Kaaba and instead worship the one true God. Speaking out against the corrupt political and military leaders who rule Mecca, Mohammed and his followers struggle to worship God as they see fit, which eventually leads them into exile in Medina. However, one day God gives Mohammed a message to return to Mecca and take up arms against their oppressors -- while recruiting as many followers as they can along the way. With the help of his uncle, a brave warrior named Hamza (Anthony Quinn), Mohammed and his followers return to Mecca to liberate the city in the name of God. The Message (originally screened in the U.S. as Mohammed, Messenger of God) proved to be highly controversial during its production and initial release. Unfounded rumors had it that Mohammed would not only be depicted in the film, but that he was to be played by Charlton Heston or Peter O'Toole. This resulted in angry protests by Muslim extremists, until director Moustapha Akkad hired a staff of respected Islamic clerics as technical advisors. The advisors butted heads with Akkad, and they quit the production, which led the Moroccan government to withdraw their permission to film in their country. In time, Akkad ended up shooting on location in Libya under the sponsorship of Muammar Qaddafi, which presented a whole new set of political and practical problems for the filmmakers. Finally, when the film was scheduled to premier in the U.S., another Muslim extremist group staged a siege against the Washington D.C. chapter of the B'nai B'rith under the mistaken belief that Anthony Quinn played Mohammed in the film, threatening to blow up the building and its inhabitants unless the film's opening was cancelled. The standoff was resolved without explosion or injuries, though the film's American box office prospects never recovered from the unfortunate controversy. The Message was shot in two versions, one in English and one in Arabic (entitled Al-Ris-Alah), with different actors taking over some of the roles due to language requirements.
battle [war], conflict, desert, freedom, genesis, God, holy, honor [recognition], Islam, leader, messenger, Muslim, oppression, prophet, religion, uncle, warrior