The Depiction of Prophets in Islam: Between the Absence of the Koranic Texts and the Fatwas.
In its endeavors to clarify a number of religious questions and to cope with the technological developments, the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy organized a conference around the question of representation of Prophets in cinema between the absence of text and the presence of Fatwa on the Friday October the 28th.
Mr. Radwan Masmoudi, President of the Center, welcomed the participants and indicated the importance of this question and the extent of Fiqh and artistic problematic accompanying it.
Mr Sami Braham started his intervention by stressing that his paper is a contribution that aims attriggering a « healthy debate » according to him, in the framework to the substantive knowledge that helps in understanding this controversy between Fiqh and Art.
Prof. Braham indicated that the absence on the level of the koranic or prophetic texts led to the intervention of the tatwa rational, which produced intellectual orientations that were splitin two: those who allow the representation of prophets and those who do not.
Those who allow the representation of Prophets in dramatic and cinematic works relied in their arguments on the idea of artistic, expression and belief freedom. In this sense, the dramatic work is a fictitious work and is not a replication of reality with the subjugation of the work to precision. In other words, balancing between the fictitious nature of drama and the requirements of Fiqh precision. They considered that live picture (cinema) is true and real and today it is no longer possible to ban any type of expression stressing that the current era is that of the picture. Even if these movies were banned in Arab countries, they will be spread abroad on a larger scale because of this ban. Those who permit this question (representation), presented a religious interpretation as the Sunna and Koran stress the humanness of the prophet Mohamed (PBUH). Equally, the representation was even mentioned in the legal texts as the best example for that was the Angel Gabriel in the image of a normal man. In addition to the forgoing, they have as well dwelled on the acceptance of the Jewish and Christian religions, and even the Shia, of the idea of representation and embodiment whatever the artistic means.
Second, the scholars of Islam did not allow the embodiment of Prophet (PBUH), Mohamed from a position of principle despite using some of the artistic means such as revealing his voice and hiding his face or through the author’s voice.
Three, the emotional value and the spiritual aura are threatened. The masses may become under the influence of the cinematic work and not the content of the legal texts as the koranic verses and the prophetic hadith to the extent that the exemplar image of the prophetis distorted and shrinks because of the embodiment.
Fourth, there is no religious source that can provide a coherent story to any prophet as there are many parts spread over books and historical stories and as a result the artistic work will be filled with untrue events, which will lead to distorting the image of prophets.
Fifth, the artistic field, in the perception of religious scholars,is intermingled with moral misbehavior, which contradicts the holiness of the topic.
Finally, the differences in life of the prophets can lead to Fitna (instigation), as Mohamed (PBUH) was portrayed by the Shiaa as being betrayed by his companions and forbidden from writing his letter in his last days. However, Mohamed of the Sunna is the Prophet surrounded by his companions. He is the one who gave custody to Abu Baker and then went to the Allah.
In this way, Mr Sami Braham ended his paper asking many crucial questions that can open horizons and discussions: Can there be a complete embodiment of the prophets’ life within an artistic vision and according to technical condition without the interference of any religious side in the work? Or should the representation be accommodating to the religious orientations of Muslims by putting barriers to art and artists?
During the debate, one of the participants intervened to shed light on the conference’s title as he considered that the term « Absence of the Text » is not right and suggested that it is better methodically to use « Al- Dalela » (proof) because the text are few and limited and the realities are numerous and infinite. Another participant indicated that prohibiting the embodiment of Prophet Mohamed (PBUH), means that we elevate his human and holy image, which can be regarded, from another perspective. Most of the participants agreed on the necessity to focus on the impact of this type of artistic works on the masses and to study the topic from the perspective of the benefits and drawbacks.
In the end, Mr Braham concluded the conference by pointing to the necessity of a compromise between coping with development of the sound and image and the respect of the nature of creativity to the legal limits instead of a clear-cut break between the two.