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The Message: The Story of Islam, Directed by
Mustapha al-'Aqqad

Alzahraa K. Ahmed, Intern, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters

Posted: Tuesday, July 3, 2012

«"In the name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful, from Muhammad the Messenger of God to Heraclius the Emperor of Byzantium, greetings to him who is the follower of righteous guidance. I bid you to hear the divine call. I am the Messenger of God to the people. Accept Islam for your salvation."»

According to Islamic tradition, these words were sent in a letter from the Prophet Muhammad (570–632) to Heraclius (r. 610–641) in the year 628 A.D., inviting the Byzantine emperor to embrace Islam. Tradition also tells of a long response on the part of Heraclius, who reportedly asked: "Was it like this when John the Baptist came to King Herod, out of the desert, crying about salvation?"

The Prophet Muhammad sent the same message to Muqawqas (Cyrus), the patriarch of Alexandria, and to Kesra (Khesro), the king of Persia. The account of these messages is the first scene in the 1976 film The Message: The Story of Islam, produced and directed by Mustapha al-'Aqqad, a Syrian American. The film depicts the life of the Prophet Muhammad (without showing his image, though it does portray his family and companions). The movie faced obstacles at various stages of production, but was subsequently shown throughout the Islamic world and beyond. Two versions of the film exist, one in Arabic and one in English. The well-known English version, starring Anthony Quinn, was shown and released in Europe and America, and it not only captures the story of Islam, but also depicts Arabia as a cultural, intellectual, and economic center, providing a glimpse of its well-established commercial relationships with the Byzantine Mediterranean, the Sasanian empire, and Ethiopia. Although it is difficult to relay an entire epoch in a three-hour film, The Message offers a vivid glance of not only Islamic history, but also of daily life in the world of seventh-century Arabia and beyond.

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About the Author

Alzahraa (Zizi) K. Ahmed is an intern in the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. She is also a research assistant for the New York office of the Abydos Archaeological Projects in Upper Egypt, and a master's candidate at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, where she studies the art of Byzantine and Islamic Egypt.

About this Blog

This blog accompanied the special exhibition Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, on view March 14–July 8, 2012.