Regarding the movie ‘The Lady of Heaven’
I have just finished a 3-part series on sectarianism; this post needs to be understand in light of that khutbah (if you haven’t listened to these khuṭbahs, please do).
One point I mentioned is that sectarianism is potentially dangerous, and that clerics who insist on fanning the fuels of hatred against ‘the other’ need to be marginalized by their own communities. When one group points out the mistakes and excesses of such clerics, that in itself has the potential to turn sectarian, hence why it is important that each group keeps its own radicals in check. There is a time, place, language and context to bring up such differences.
And one such time and context is when a public episode, like the release of this movie, occurs. Here, there is no choice but to point out legitimate concerns, in a manner that seeks to correct the wrong without exacerbating communal tensions. And I do believe the entire drama caused by the release of this latest movie deserves for us to point out why we view this movie as unacceptable.
For those who are not aware, recently in the UK a movie has been released entitled ‘The Lady of Heaven’ which is meant to be a biography of Fatima, daughter of the Prophet . It is set in the context of an ISIS fanatical group’s killing of a lady named Fatimah, and her son being told by his grandmother the story of the lady Fatimah .
There are numerous issues with respect to this movie.
– The main producer and writer is a cleric whose extremism is so well-known that he has been expelled from Muslim lands, criticized by many senior Shi’ite Ayatollahs, and carved out a name for himself as the most fire-brand modern cleric of Twelver Shi’ism. It is factually correct to state that there is no cleric who has drawn more controversy in our era than this figure. I mean here Yasser al-Habib, a Kuwaiti cleric who has been banned from Kuwait and taken refuge in England. Therefore even before the release of this movie, his reputation precedes him and there was no reason to expect any positive outcome.
– To call the movie ‘blasphemous’ is actually an understatement. The purpose of the movie is to provoke a reaction from Sunnis. It is intended to cause sectarian hatred and foment division – there is no other way to understand it. The vulgarity of the story line and the ‘shock-and-awe’ factor of the movie is undeniable. The movie presents an alternative reality of history that does not have a shred of historical evidence to support it. Amongst its themes is the ludicrous claim that Aishahand Hafsa poisoned the Prophet and caused his death (shown in the movie!); that Umar burnt down the house of Fatima is actually shown in the movie – something that no mainstream movie has ever dared to do. While the producers claim that the image shown is computer generated, the fact is that a person is presented and an image is shown that is supposed to be the Prophet himself. Yet, for some bizarre reason, they didn’t show the image and figure of Fatimah herself, even though the movie is supposed to be about her.
– There is clearly a strong element of racism that runs throughout the movie. When presenting Alior anyone whom the Twelvers would admire, actors who are fair skinned and aesthetically pleasing are used. And when showing Abu Bakr , Umar , Aishah or any of the Companions whom the Twelvers don’t respect, for some strange reason the producer has chosen extremely dark skinned actors who would not, by mainstream standards, be judged aesthetically pleasing. Clearly, the producers feel that a darker skin indicates evil characteristics; in the process they have demonstrated nothing other than their own blatant racism.
– It is people like Yasser al-Habib, and movies like this that truly bring out the worst elements of sectarianism. We cannot allow the more radical elements of either side to dictate how mainstream Sunnis and Shi’ites interact with one another. Hence my appeal to mainstream Shi’ite clergy to dissociate from this movie and to make it clear that Al-Habib is a fringe figure who does not represent their stances. (It has been brought to my attention that more than one mainstream cleric has spoken out against this figure and the movie, and I appreciate this stance).
– On a final note, and in light of my recent khutbahs on sectarianism and this post, I do need to call out my critics from within Sunnism who can’t seem to understand my very clear stances, and who wish to misrepresent me and my views to the point of outright slander. Claims that I have become Shi’a (!!), or pro-Shi’a, or accept Shi’ism as valid, are so ludicrous in light of my numerous lectures and khutbahs, that I’ve never felt the need to respond (listen to my series on the Companions, or my talk on Karbala, or my Library Chat on Mukhtār, or any other talk on this issue!). The problem of fanaticism and hatred (of all stripes) is that it needs more and more targets, and starts seeing things in black and white. So my rhetoric of wise preaching, and seeking to unite for the greater good externally even while correcting mistakes internally, and pragmatic tolerance, simply doesn’t cut it for the fire-brand Sunnī fanatics who see nothing but their version of sectarian hatred. To try to preach Sunnī theology and correct Shi’ite misunderstandings with wisdom, while not exacerbating tensions and potentially bringing about violence, is not good enough for these firebrands. They wish to use the harshest adjectives and the most vile language, and to cherry-pick some ideas and some radical clerics (like al-Habib) and stereotype all Shi’ites with them. But the philosophy of “You’re either with us or against us” is from George Bush, and guilt by association is a tactic used by McCarthy and the Madkhalis, not our religion. Contrast this with the Quran, “O you who believe! Stand firm with justice, testifying to Allah. And let not the hatred of a people cause you to act unjustly. Be just, for that is the essence of piety!”
If preaching with wisdom, and correcting while trying to minimize hatred, constitutes being ‘pro-Shi’ite’, I would argue this is the Quranic and Prophetic methodology. But if they imply that I agree with a theology that disrespects the Companions or believes in an infallible person after the Prophet, this is an egregious lie and, as with all those who intentionally slander me, I will get my dues from these critics on Judgment Day.
Also, the awkward reality needs to be pointed out: the type of rhetoric that these critics employs is exactly the same that radical groups who promote violence also employ; hence on social media it is not surprising that these critics are followed by actual radicals and terrorist-prone individuals, as a simple search will reveal.
Enough is enough, and I hope my stance is crystal clear: there is a way to navigate sectarian differences without getting radical or fomenting hatred that leads to violence. Neither is Yasser al-Habib and his movie, nor the fringe Sunnī response from the radical right on our side, the solution.
May Allahguide us to wisdom, and the best of manners, and the truth. Ameen!
[This post was originally published here]
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Source: Muslim Matters