The Lady Of Heaven, written by Shia Muslim cleric Sheikh Yasser al-Habib and directed by Eli King, depicts the story of Lady Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. Many have called the movie blasphemous and say it is ‘spreading false information on Islam’
As India witnesses violent protests, which also saw the death of two people in Ranchi, due to comments made by Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the United Kingdom is also in the eye of a storm.
The UK has been seeing agitations over a film — The Lady of Heaven that critics have called “blasphemous” and “racist”.
The movie, released on 3 June, depicts the story of Lady Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, and is billed as the first ever film to do so. This story is intertwined with the tale of a young Iraqi child in modern times some 1,400 years later.
However, a famous cinema chain in UK pulled all screenings citing concerns for staff and customer safety. Moreover, the movie has been banned by Morocco, with Egypt, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq all denouncing it.
The movie has also led to the removal of an imam as a government advisor to the UK government.
What’s the movie about?
Written by Shia Muslim cleric Sheikh Yasser al-Habib, The Lady of Heaven is directed by Eli King and tells the story of Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad.
The movie shows two separate tales that span 1,400 years; the modern-day story follows Laith, a young Iraqi boy who is adopted by Bibi Fatimah after his mother is killed in the war.
Laith learns about Lady Fatima’s struggles through Bibi’s storytelling and gradually learns to cope with the challenges of his modern-day world.
As per the synopsis of the movie, Lady Fatima is described as ‘the first victim of terrorism’.
Malik Shlibak, The Lady of Heaven’s executive producer, told Sky News that the film tells the story of Lady Fatima’s “life, her struggles, the journey she went through”.
He continued: “We believe she is the best figure in history for us today to learn from, to know how to tackle things such as extremism, radicalism and corruption. And we felt it’s important to share this story with the world.”
He said the issue of the subject matter being provocative “depends on who you ask”, and added: “Any religious topic you tackle is going to have disagreements amongst different groups…
“We’re not presenting an over-romanticised version of history. We spent a year in pre-production making sure the history is accurate.”
What’s the row all about?
The movie has received massive backlash from the Muslim community, with many calling it blasphemous as well as racist.
One of the many problems with the movie is the depiction of Islamic prophets.
Though no actor has played the role of Prophet Muhammad or Lady Fatima (they are computer-generated images), this has caused furore among the Muslim community, which looks down upon and in many cases considers the visual depiction of the Prophet as blasphemous.
There has also been massive criticism of the film for its portrayals of several other characters, including the Prophet Muhammad’s companions, Abu Bakr and Umar ibn al-Khattab, the first caliphs of Islam.
The BBC’s Religion Editor, Aleem Maqbool, says the criticism centres on the way Yasser al-Habib, the scriptwriter, has portrayed prominent revered figures in early Sunni Islam, implying that there are comparisons between their actions with those of the Islamic State group in Iraq.
Anger against the movie
The movie’s release in the UK was met with massive protests with many demanding that cinemas don’t show it.
On 5 June, over 200 people gathered outside Cineworld in Broad Street, Birmingham and protested the movie’s screening.
Similar protests were also seen in Bolton, Birmingham and Sheffield.
Cineworld in Sheffield UK Cancelled screening of £12m Film Lady of Heaven based on Lady Fatima one of daughters of Рrоphеt after Radical МцsIims picketed outside theatre & branded it ‘blasphemous’. Manager confirmed film has been pulled to shouts of ‘Аllahц Аkbar’ #LadyOfHeaven pic.twitter.com/nTO82kpkzH
— Rosy (@rose_k01) June 8, 2022
A petition has also been set up by a user named Muslims UK and now signed by more than 126,000 people, asking for the movie to be removed from the big screen. It said that the film caused “heartache” and “spread false information on Islam”, and “directly disrespects” Prophet Muhammad.
Shahid Ali, a cleric who organised a protest against the film in Bradford, told Sky News that the movie presented a “false narrative of the early caliphs of Islam… of them being terrorists”.
The massive protests within the UK led to cinema chain — Cineworld — cancelling all showings of The Lady of Heaven. A spokesperson from Cineworld said: “Due to recent incidents related to screenings of The Lady of Heaven, we have made the decision to cancel upcoming screenings of the film nationwide to ensure the safety of our staff and customers.”
In Morocco, cinema authorities have banned the movie after it was condemned by the country’s religious council.
The Moroccan state media was reported as saying that the movie “is a blatant falsification of the facts and contains a heinous act that cannot be accepted by Muslims.”
The Iranian government banned The Lady of Heaven from being released, stating it was aimed at dividing Muslims.
Support for the movie
However, even as many protested the movie, there are others who have extended their support to the film and said that cinemas shouldn’t capitulate to the protesting members.
Malik Shlibak, the producer, said people were free to criticise the film and have their own opinions, but added that the protests had “over-stepped boundaries” and were an attempt to “censor other people with different views”.
Claire Fox, who sits in the House of Lords as Baroness Fox of Buckley, tweeted that the decision to cancel the screening showed the “creep of extra-parliamentary blasphemy law” was now censoring film.
Patrick Christys, a noted broadcaster and journalist in the UK, condemned the cancellation of the film Lady of Heaven and said ‘enough is enough’.
‘We need to stop worrying about offending a particularly hardline element of the Muslim community, put our foot down and say enough is enough.’
Patrick Christys condemns the cancellation of the film Lady of Heaven, after protesters across the UK called for it to be pulled. pic.twitter.com/IgBZTSCpGy
— GB News (@GBNEWS) June 10, 2022
Latest controversy over movie
Not only has the movie caused protests, but also led to the dismissal of an imam as a government advisor.
The BBC reported that Qari Asim, 44, was removed from his role as an Islamophobia consultant to the UK government for endorsing the campaign to ban The Lady of Heaven.
In a letter to Asim, it said: “We have no option but to withdraw the appointment and end your roles with government with immediate effect.
“Your recent support for a campaign to limit free expression — a campaign which has itself encouraged communal tensions — means it is no longer appropriate for you to continue your work with government in roles designed to promote community harmony.”
With inputs from agencies
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