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The Lady of Heaven

During the past two weeks, the movie, The Lady of Heaven, was in the news for causing numerous protests in the U.K. There was an online petition signed by 133,000 people to remove the movie from U.K. cinemas. Consequently, a British cinema chain has pulled all screenings of the supposedly "blasphemous" film, while another British cinema chain decided to continue viewings at select movie theaters. So, what happened? The movie had its debut in the U.S about six months ago, and there were no protests that made the evening news.

At best, the acting, screenplay, and plot were mediocre. The movie did show at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. Upon public release, the movie earned a score of 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, the critics at The New York Times gave it a "C," Keith Loves Movies rated it 61 out of 100, Movie Nation ranked it 2 out of 4 stars, The Irish Times gave it a rating of 3 out of 5 stars, and The Guardian rated it 2 out of 5 stars. The film did receive an award for Best Visual Effects, but other than that, the movie did not stand out.

This protest was not your typical Muslim protest as the writer, and the production crew were Muslims and took pains to make the film conform to their Islamic beliefs. It seems that Muslim views are not the same everywhere. In the West, we are not as aware of the schism between the Shia and Sunni branches of Islam as we might be. The Sunni represents about 85 percent of the 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide and the Shia about 15 percent, with other sects being minuscule. The movie writer and production crew were Shiites and saw history differently than the Sunnis.

In the big picture, both Shia and Sunni believe in the Qur'an. However, the hadith the Shia believe in is somewhat different than the Sunni hadith. Most people think the hadith are simply stories and anecdotes of what Muhammad did and spoke. In reality, hadiths also include the Rashidun (first four) caliphs and Aisha, Muhammad's favorite wife. Consequently, sharia law is slightly different between the two sects. After Muhammad died in 632, some Muslims believed that Muhammad's family, mainly his son-in-law Ali, should be the caliph. Unfortunately, another group of Muslims who believed in upholding tradition or sunna (hence Sunnis) thought that his closest companion, Abu Bakr, should be the caliph. The Sunnis were able to designate the subsequent two caliphs as well. It turns out that Ali became the fourth caliph and then was later assassinated. The die was cast, and Shiites became a sect of their own. Shia is a term that stems from shi'atu Ali, Arabic for "partisans of Ali."

It turns out that four countries banned the movie but not all for the same reasons. Iran, a predominately Shiite nation, banned the movie, saying it divided Muslims, Sunni vs. Shiite. However, Pakistan, Egypt, and Morocco banned the film because of historical fabrications and religious blasphemies. Morocco's Supreme Ulema Council (remember, the ulema are religious scholars) listed five main reasons to ban the film:

1. The person who wrote the film is a Shiite of dubious reputation.

2. The film is a blatant falsification of facts.

3. The movie contains a "heinous act" (their words, not mine), namely the Prophet's incarnation. (In other words, the film has drawn the ire of Muslim activists for its digital representation of the face of Muhammad with computer-generated images of many different faces to depict the Islamic Prophet. In Shia Islam, images of Muhammad are acceptable. A fatwa given by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani of Iran states that it is permissible to depict Muhammad even in television or movies if done with respect.)

4. The movie slandered the first three caliphs (which happened to be Sunnis),

5. The film is used to divide and hurt the feelings of Muslims by stirring up their religious sensitivities.

I have covered why the film is being picketed, but I have not said anything about the plot. The trailer looks interesting, and I have attached it below. The movie is about Laith, an Iraqi child in the middle of a war-torn country at the hands of ISIS. Laith's mother is killed, and he finds himself in a new home with an older woman who tells him the story of Fatimah, the daughter of Muhammad. From the Shia perspective, Fatimah was the first victim of terrorism, supposedly from the Sunnis of that period.

Let me close with two observations. First, I can understand why the Sunnis do not want the movie to be shown. It makes their religion look terroristic. We must remember that the Islamic State and al Qaeda are still prominent terror groups, and they are Sunnis. However, in a liberal democracy, freedom of speech is protected. I am surprised by the cowardice of political leaders in the U.K. Islamist intolerance is unacceptable in a free-market economy.

My second observation is that the trailer makes the movie look exciting, and I intend to see it as soon as possible. Here is a film that makes a Christian want to know more about Islam. No matter, who the bad guys are, there is a nugget of purity in the outcome. Any adult is smart enough to realize that any movie will not be 100% correct or authentic, but to shut it down with protests is the moronic way to settle disputes. In a free-market economy, if a product is substandard, it will lose money without anyone protesting. These protests act as advertising, they draw attention to a product that I would have otherwise ignored. I understand it's on Netflix, which I do not subscribe to, but sooner or later, it will hit the public airwaves and I will catch it then.

Islam has rough patches, as did Christianity centuries ago. To a Christian, both Sunnis and Shiites are guilty of bloodshed. If either group wants to improve its image, eliminate the terroristic groups that fall under their religion's umbrella. In the meantime, the Sunnis should produce movies that show the kind of outcome acceptable to them. That’s how to do it in a free-market society.

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