I came across a trailer for the movie “The Lady of Heaven” and was floored by the cinematic quality. I became excited about the prospect of a Shia movie hitting the Hollywood big screen, but then…
When I looked into this movie a little further I found quite a bit of controversy. The main reason behind this controversy was the involvement of self-proclaimed Shaykh Yasser Al-Habib. Furthermore, the film seemed to portray a dangerous theme promoted by Yasser Al-Habib and the Shirazi clan. We will now examine these two controversial dimensions of the film.
Yassir al-Habib is a controversial Shia scholar who currently resides in the UK. He is the head of the Khoddam Al-Mahdi Organisation in London, an organisation who stormed the Iranian Embassy in the UK a couple of years ago. Before seeking refuge in the UK, Al-Habib was arrested in the early 2000s in Kuwait for inciting Sunni-Shia division by cursing Abu Bakr (R.A) and Umar (R.A). After being pardoned by the Emir of Kuwait in 2004 Al-Habib fled Kuwait, eventually landing in the UK. In 2010 Kuwait revoked his citizenship after he publicly called A’ishah (R.A), the wife of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.W), an “enemy of God.”
Yassir Al-Habib’s statements over the years have been used to cause disunity between Muslims and hatred of Shia. It has been reported that some of his clips are played during ISIS recruiting camps. One of his main themes is that ISIS is a continuation of Wahhabi thought, which in turn stems from the three caliphs revered by Sunni Muslims. The first part of the statement is true, ISIS does stem from Wahhabi ideology, but there is a huge difference between Wahhabi ideology and mainstream Sunni thought. To learn more about Wahhabism read Wahhabism: A Critical Essay by Dr Hamid Algar.
This is one of the main reasons behind the recent verdicts prohibiting supporting and viewing this movie. Verdicts have been reported from a number of maraja’, including Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, Ayatollah Nouri Hamadani, Ayatollah Ja’far Subhani, and Ayatollah Safi Golpaygani. Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi issued the following statement: “Without doubt, those who help to produce and release this film, as well as those who watch it have committed a mortal sin…It is quite likely that the enemies of Islam have a hand in all this and they have planned to incite a lot of bloodshed among the Muslims through this film. Therefore, all those who help in the production of this film will also be responsible for any Muslim blood that is spilled on its account…all Muslims must know that the messages intended to be conveyed through this film are neither the messages of Islam nor those of the Shia school.”
As a community, we should use this film as an opportunity to educate ourselves on the differences that exist within the Shia creed. We should also brainstorm responses to potential questions that are likely to emerge after this video is released. Sayyid Hadi Rizvi recently wrote: “Many by now have heard about the upcoming film about lady Fatima (R.A). We will find out how historically accurate the film is once it’s been released and reviewed by viewers and critics. There are sure to be elements that are agreed upon by many Shias today, and those disputed (in part or full). Also, there will be disagreements about what information should be shared, but much of that will be too late, as the deed would have been done. The money has been raised and the film will come out.
What’s important now is not simply expressing our views about the appropriateness of the information being available, but explanations about how we deal with that information. If not after this move, definitely following future ones, attempts to brush serious issues under the rug will not work, and uncomfortable discussions will have to be had…”
Furthermore, this film can be considered a source of motivation for mainstream Shia scholars and film-makers. The possibility of making a Hollywood quality movie with religious content. Imagine the story of Karbala depicted in this format. Sayyid Abuzar Wahedi recently suggested such an approach. We should recognise our faults in failing to utilise such mediums of exporting the message of Islam and become inspired to spread the message in a more effective way.
Hence, if we approach this movie in the right way we can use it to create growth within the community. Remember, and never forget:
وَيَمْكُرُونَ وَيَمْكُرُ اللَّـهُ وَاللَّـهُ خَيْرُ الْمَاكِرِينَ
“they plotted and Allah devised, and Allah is the best of devisers”. Quran: 8:30
The article was written by Dr Hamid Waqar.