Iran prepares for premiere of film on Prophet Muhammad

Tehran’s Fajr film festival will show country’s own version of how Islam’s most revered figure lived

As controversy swirls on how the Prophet Muhammad is depicted, a multimillion-dollar biopic about his youth – Iran’s most expensive and lavish film to date – is set to premiere on Sunday.

Tehran’s Fajr international film festival, which coincides with the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution, is scheduled to show the country’s own version of how Islam’s most revered figure lived. To protect the prophet’s dignity, the film will be shown out of competition.

Iran has been a vocal critic of the prophet's portrayal in the West, recently condemning the Charlie Hebdo cover cartoon in the aftermath of the deadly attacks in Paris, which depicted Muhammad weeping and holding up a sign reading "Je Suis Charlie".

Secret project

The film, to be released as


Muhammad, Messenger of God

in the festival’s opening ceremony, is made by

Majid Majidi

, a leading pro-establishment Iranian director who has worked for more than five years – with a great deal of secrecy – to produce what is only the second big-budget feature ever made about the prophet.

The first film was Moustapha Akkad's 1976 The Message, starring Anthony Quinn, which sparked controversy despite not showing the prophet on screen to avoid offending Muslim sensibilities.

Mr Majidi has had his own doubts about Mr Akkad’s biopic, which he said failed to do justice to Muhammad’s life by showing “only Jihad and war” and also because “the image of Islam in that film is the image of a sword”.


Mr Majidi’s state-sponsored film, which is the first part of an ambitious trilogy about the prophet’s life, tells the story of Muhammad from his birth until he reaches the age of 12, ending with his first visit to Sham [Syria] where Bahira, a Christian monk, is believed to have predicted he would one day become a prophet.

Iran is bracing for a large international release in March, at least in the English and Arabic world.

Muhammad's face will not be shown on screen and the Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, the three-time Oscar-winner for masterpieces such as Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris and Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, has worked on various combinations of light and darkness to make religious depictions in the film possible.

But the biggest issue will likely be that it is produced by Shia Iran. Compared to Sunnis, Shia Iranians have a relatively relaxed attitude towards visualising religious figures, which has caused controversy in the past. – (Guardian service)