General Quality of Movie: 6
Islamic Teachings: 3
Overall Benefit: 7
Imams MUST Connect with the Masses
When I first heard this movie was being released, I asked the laymen of our community – young and old – if they were going to see it. Actually most of them said they would either go out of curiosity or go in thinking it would be a morally based form of entertainment. The praise is God’s that He guided us to make a real connection with the average Muslims who are struggling with spirituality and are actually looking for guidance. This silent majority among us often feels shunned and/or alienated from religion by the chastising judgmental “conservative” Muslims whom I call the HARAM police. Many Imams pander to these peoples’ narrow and often rigid understanding of Islam. Sadly, if a status-quo Imam asked a layman about something, the answer of which could in any way be perceived as immoral, they will lie in fear of blame. This disconnect from the guidance of inclusive understanding of spiritual leadership is hindering the healthy growth of the Muslim community. Surely the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) knew the evils and vices of Makkah, but outside of polytheism and grave immorality he would not deal with the new Muslims with a judgmental attitude which is precisely why many chose to continue to so devoutly follow him even with such grave consequences. The Sunnah is:
“It was an act of God’s mercy that you were gentle and easy going with them. Had you have been rigid or harsh hearted then they wouldn’t have followed you…”(3:159)
It is of the utmost importance for Imams to not only connect with the masses, but to also build an environment that is conducive to spiritual growth. An environment that respects differences of opinion to encourage and empower all facets of the community.
Watching a Movie Depicting a Prophet
I have discussed this issue with some of my teachers and read the fatwas (rulings) of others. The basis of the majority position of prohibition is not that the Qur’an or Sunnah forbade it per say, but rather, they fear the harmful response which could be caused by the ignorance of the Muslim world.
I would say that this particular movie stayed true for the most part to the biblical Noah (peace be upon him) which, as we will see in the review, is quite contrary to the Qur’anic Noah (pbuh). So the point of this movie was by no means to make jest or speak ill of the life or person of Noah. Rather it was an attempt at capturing his greatness according to the Bible with a modern Hollywood touch to get the current generation to appreciate Noah and his story.
I can’t speak for the eastern world because I don’t understand their circumstances and how this ruling would apply to them. For the educated, diverse place I was raised in and live in, I would say that the concerns of the scholars in the East do not apply. For example, I grew up watching the 10 Commandments and Jesus of Nazereth. At no point did I believe that the actor was really the prophet and I have never seen anyone with a picture of those actors in their homes. I have never met or heard of an American who worshipped a picture of anyone. Finally, there are some hardline people here, Muslim and non-Muslim, who didn’t like the movie and disagreed with its depiction. None of those people caused any real harm as a result in terms of rioting and vandalism.
I would only advise a Muslim planning to see it or those who have seen it that if you don’t know the true story of Noah as depicted in the Qur’an then you shouldn’t take it as some sort of learning experience since it is far from the Qur’anic message of Noah (pbuh).
The Need for Muslims to Enter the Real World of Influence
Back in the 1950’s, when cinema and TV started to take root, the vast majority of scholars across the Muslim world addressed the issue of acting and filming as prophets, companions, or the great sages and leaders. They agreed that none of these should be portrayed. In the 1970’s, the scholars of Azhar agreed that there is a benefit to be derived from making some sort of depiction of the Seerah (the life of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ). So they agreed that neither the Prophet ﷺ nor the major companions who were given glad tidings of heaven could be depicted, but that they will make an exception for Hamza and Bilal radi Allahu `anhum (may God be pleased with them). This didn’t make much sense because indeed these were of the greatest companions, both of whom were also given the glad tidings of paradise, according to the Qur’an and Sunnah. So a few years ago, a group of prominent scholars including Sh. Salman al-Ouda gave their blessing for the content and plan to make a series on Umar’s (ra) life. Sh. Salman has given talks and advised Muslims to use film/television for da`wah (making people aware of Islam). Here is one of those: http://en.islamtoday.net/artshow-431-4760.htm
In another article he says, “Fatwas have never stopped the general Muslim public from watching romantic movies and television series, most of which were imported from Turkey, South America, and Korea. The Gulf States were the largest market for such films, with almost no oversight or monitoring. At the same time, gifted Muslims with creative vision and a noble message to convey were being stifled. Investors were hesitant to support their projects because of the questions surrounding Muslim drama, and this potentially huge market was being left untapped.
“If poetry had been the repository of Arab culture in the old days, then film/tv has become the repository of culture of most of the nations of the Earth today. It is in these movies and television series that people’s customs, lifestyles, and approaches to problem solving are depicted. It is where their fears, anxieties, and dreams are given expression.
“It has an enormous potential to express ideas, effect change, and form public opinion. It engages multiple senses, not just hearing or sight in isolation, and it addresses all human interests. It entertains, educates, and persuades all at the same time.”
Detailed Review of “Noah”
As a movie among movies, it was often boring, seemingly long, and drawn out. There was some good action sequences and some awesome special effects. The plot and main character was dark and hard to stomach, but the ending was good.
As far as general compatibility with our morals and values, it was void of profanity or any considerable nudity other than what you might see in public. Strangely it seemed not to endorse the institution of marriage as Noah’s son just made relations with his adopted sister and thus they were considered a couple with no sort of marriage. The violence was intense, but not so graphic. There was a segment where a spiritual experience was induced by some sort of hallucinogenic drink and in the end the lead character got drunk to relieve the pain of his depression.
The biggest concern for a Muslim regarding this movie is the major difference in the depiction of Noah (pbuh) and his message between the Bible and the Qur’an. First and foremost is the source of the conflict. The movie is depicting all of the people as believing in God, The Creator, whereas the Qur’an teaches that Noah’s people had deviated into polytheistic beliefs. Similarly the movie depicts a group of fallen angels whom God punished by turning into rock creatures. The Qur’an teaches that angels, by nature, act in full accordance to God’s will without exception and they are not tested with choice. Thus there is no such thing as a fallen angel in Islam.
The movie’s plot is that God has decreed irreversible damnation for the people’s corruption and iniquity from the get-go. It depicts Noah, not as a messenger of God, but rather as a servant to carry out His will in saving life to start over without humanity. The Qur’an teaches that God sent Noah as a messenger of divine mercy to teach his people pure monotheism and morality in order to save them from destruction and damnation. The movie makes the mission of Noah as an outsider nomad; there with his family simply to build the ark to save the means for future life on Earth without people. The Qur’an teaches that Noah lived integrated among society calling them to monotheism and submission to God. Only after hundreds of years of obstinate rebellion does Noah express his hopelessness in his people and God responds by informing him to build the Ark.
The movie depicts Noah’s people believing in Noah’s warning of a flood and so they devised a plan to survive by taking the ark by storm. The Qur’an teaches that the people mocked and ridiculed Noah while building the ark and even when the rain and floods began they still saw it as coincidence and sought to survive on the mountain. The movie depicts the end of humanity with no followers of Noah whereas the Qur’an teaches that there were many believers who embraced the prophethood and message of Noah and thus joined him on the ark.
The movie is in accordance with the Qur’an in that Noah himself was a very strong and devoutly obedient servant of God. The movie depicts him as a dark, semi-confused man who sees no hope for anyone from the very first time he receives revelation, whereas the Qur’an teaches that he was a merciful man who worked hard calling people to repentance and divine forgiveness. The movie depicts Noah as getting drunk to alleviate the pain of his confusion in understanding God’s will. The Qur’an teaches that all prophets of God are blessed and strive spiritually to moral excellence, and although capable of human error and minor sin; none committed a major sin. They are God’s emissaries on Earth and are the best human examples of piety.
The movie depicts a worldwide flood that destroys everything except what is on the ark. Some Muslim scholars made that common Biblical interpretation as the verses could be interpreted as such, yet they stipulate the condition that Noah’s message had reached all of mankind and they rejected it. Otherwise many Qur’anic commentators cite various points in the linguistics of the story that show the flood to be localized to the vicinity of Noah’s people.
The Overall Benefit
I saw huge benefit in this movie in that it confirmed my faith in the Qur’anic version that fits a comprehensive form of reasonable morality. This movie emphasized why people struggling with faith talk about “the god” of the Bible being illogical and merciless. Obviously we believe that God revealed the original scriptures that now make up the Bible, but it is clear through the miracle of the Quran, historical evidence, and common sense that man has altered its message.
The second lesson is in the huge potential of conveying the message of Islam, if we were to take Sh. Salman’s guidance and if many prominent scholars and donors can get over the scripturally baseless ruling prohibiting people from acting as prophets. It would be hugely advantageous to Islam and the Muslims if we made high-quality, well-funded, scripturally proper, and well-acted depictions of the prophets and our great history.
These are just my personal honest and sincere reflections, and God knows best.