doaskdotell MOVIE REVIEW of Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet, Inside Mecca, Spartans, Islam: Empire of Faith House of Saud , Islam: What the West Needs to Know, Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West; Not Without My Daughter, Ever Again, The Stoning of Soraya M. ; Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think


Title:  Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet

Release Date:  2002

Nationality and Language: USA and UK, English

Running time: about 120 minutes

MPAA Rating:  not given ( PG )

Distributor and Production Company:  PBS; Kikim Media

Director: Omar Al-Qattan

Producer: Michael Schwarz and Liz Gray

Cast:  (n/a) 


Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site: religion and culture



Movie Review of Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet


PBS presented this documentary film on Dec 26 2002 along with a special 2-hour "Frontline" afterwards, which presented the problem of radical Islam and violence.

This documentary, however, presents in a straightforward manner the story of the prophet Muhammad (Mohammed) in the 6th and 7th Centuries. Mohammed had lived as a rather ordinary man in his tribal society near Mecca, Arabia when he had a vision or encounter around his 40th birthday. Subsequently he would we his teachings into his culture, which badly needed a system of ethics to deal with all of the social problems of a tribal culture. The history, including the period in Medina and return to Mecca, is well presented. Islam is presented as a religion with at first had a civilizing effect on its society.

The "Frontline" program presented Islam in the modern world, as it is practiced in a number of countries. Some, for example Malaysia, are relatively progressive but use Islamic law for civil or family matters. The problem of radical Islam is presented particularly in Nigeria, where a cleric is warning his followers, "the purpose of the law is not to punish you but to make it unacceptable to deviate from what is acceptable behavior for the community." One can see the layers of philosophy that lead to radicalism. The religion is presented as one of rules, works, ritual, and strict adherence to authority, all of which does in a certain social context lead to a kind of stability and community "justice." But with no allowance for Grace, there is not the opportunity to allow for individualism as a philosophical construct. Literal obedience becomes the exercise of faith. Leaders can misuse this for political ends (as with any religion), and some leaders may try to justify violence against non-believers as part of the religion, a highly questionable conclusion as far as reasonable translation fo the Qu'ran (Koran) is concerned. In one scene, the harsh penalties are enumerated: for homosexuality it is death. Yet, at one time, the religion had served as a vehicle for stability and social equality and justice.

Another PBS British-made documentary on August 2003, Spartans (180 min), provides a interesting account of how an ancient civilization—the Greek city-state Sparta—set up social institutions that seem to support the modern debate on family values. For Sparta was indeed a utopian society centered on some perfectionistic, collective idea of utopian, meritocratic glory, perhaps in a way that anticipates Nazism. Boys were taken from their mothers at age seven and went through years of trials and forced pain to carry out an ideal of survival of the fittest. Men who “made it” were given land and slaves at age 30, but still had to live according to a strict social code that emphasized communitarianism and a curious idea of citizenship as a contract balancing rights and obligations. Young adult men mentored boys and developed homosexual relationships that were considered an important stage, to the extent that men then had to undergo bizarre rituals to prepare for mandatory marriage and baby-making. Women also had their system of meritocracy to produce superior babies. Yet, it is clear that the whole system prevented the development of freedom and individuality as we know it, for that does require family. See also 300 (link below).

The National Geographic/PBS film Inside Mecca (60 Minutes, 2003, WB Home video), documents the Hajj, the pilgrimage that all Muslims make once per lifetime if able. Here a divorced woman from Texas who converted to Islam, a black man from South Africa, and a family man from Kuola Lumpur, Malaysia make the journey. The eight day ritual, culminating in walking around the Kaaba seven times, goes through many steps. The event is to be egalitarian, with men wearing two-piece white garments and doing no grooming until the last day, when they shave (and may have heads shaved). Modern infrastructure has been built up around many of the paths (as for the stoning rituals). Muslims believe that the rituals purify them, and the social context seems to be acceptance of a subordinate station in life for some.

Islam: Empire of Faith (PBS/Devilier Donegan, 2000, dir. Robert Gardner, 166 min, narrated by Ben Kingsley) is a documentary tracing the history of Islam from the time of the prophet Mohammed through the rule and campaigns of Ottoman emperor Suleiman in the 1400s. Islam brought its domain into the world’s highest standard of living in the late First Millennium, from Baghdad all the way over to Cordoba, Spain while the rest of Europe floundered in feudalism during the Dark Ages. The Crusades contributed to its downfall, although the film slights these (emphasizing the problems posed by Saladin in Jerusalem) and it could have spent more time on how tolerant Islam really was during its period of prosperity. But become corrupt it did. Maybe there was too much government.

House of Saud (PBS, 2004; website: )

Provides an interesting history of Saudi Arabia, and goes into some little known facts about critical points in history. For example, after the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, the United States considered invading Saudi Arabia to open the oil fields by force, and the diplomacy used to open the fields to Aramco by April, 1974 included playing the Communism card.  The U.S. and fundamentalist Islam were allies against the Soviets in 1980 against Afghanistan, which help up the situation we have today. The possibility that the current regime could fall and be replaced by terrorist-sympathetic extremely Wahhabist regime brings back the possibility of shut down of the oil fields again. The holy shrine of Mecca (site of the hajj) was taken over by radicals in November 1979 for a short period.  


Islam: What the West Needs to Know (2006, Quixotic Media, dir.Gregory M. Davis, Bryan Daly), 98 min, NR but would probably be PG-13) (subtitle: “An Examination of Islam, violence, and the fate on the non-Islam world”). This is a sobering documentary that presents as series of video clips from our political leaders making politically correct statements about Islam as a faith of peace, interspersed with some violent video, and then many interviews with various ex-Islamic scholars. (These include Walid Shoebat, author of Why I Left Jihad (ISBN: 0977102114, Check, Robert Spencer (The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)) and Serge Trifkovic (Defeating Jihad: How the War on Terrorism Can Be Won – Despite Ourselves); The basic thesis is that Islam, even in its own “mainstream,” is a lot more than a religious faith; is also a political and social ideology, however theocratic, that requires hegemony, that insists on setting itself up all over the world as controlling government and politics as well as religion. Other religions might co-exist (as they did in Spain, around Cordoba early in the last millennium) but practitioners of other faiths must always have second-class status. The speakers present the evidence of history, as at least twice in history (in the 8th Century in France and in 1683 with the Siege of Vienna) Islam’s attempt at world domination is coming back.  Indeed, September 11, 1683 is a critical date for that siege, a fact certainly on the mind of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda hijackers. The speakers also (at the beginning of the film) go back to the Koran and show textual validation of the mandate to slay unbelievers and infidels. They discuss abrogated texts in the Koran (Qur’an), and suggest that the conclusive texts justify violence. They claim that the Prophet Mohammed’s own behavior in Medina justifies this belief. Even so, the idea of a formal hegemony seems hard to explain when Islam does not have a hierarchal priesthood as does, for example, the Roman Catholic Church. The decentralization of Islam has curiously worked to its advantage when trying to advance radical political ideology.

Now, obviously there are a lot of questions. Most religions have extremist factions. We know that it is possible to read many passages from the Christian and Jewish Bibles with extreme interpretations (as with respect to homosexuals). We know that there are cults within Christianity determined to spread violence. What is the difference? The film claims that this indictment of Islam as a dangerous ideology (comparable to Communism and Fascism) is supported by history. They deny that Israel is responsible, or that Israel’s behavior (with West Bank settlements and the takings of Palestinian lands) is the explanation by itself. That is just a recent development.  Lebanon was almost a Christian nation and now it is Muslim. Toward the end there is a video clip of a radical speech given in Baghdad in February 2003, one month before President Bush started his invasion.

Radical Islam today claims its intentions to reclaim a caliphate (an idea satirized in opera, as with Adrien Boieldieu’s The Caliph of Baghdad!) from southern Europe to Indonesia, and gradually to encroach upon Europe and America as it gains strength. Because “The West” has lower birthrates (due to modern cultural competition with old-fashioned family values, lineage and procreation), in the long run this could become a dangerous possibility, ideas that some conservatives have already noted.

The second class citizenship idea is disturbing in another way. We know of many other parallels in our own culture. For example, in many areas of society today homosexuals are supposed to be second-class citizens, at the behest of people raising families through biological marriage.

There is one other observation that is disturbing. Why would an ideology insist on this kind of world domination. It gets back to the old truism: in a world where average people have little opportunity to make their own ways as individuals, moral self-righteousness, forced upon others by the muzzle of a gun, sounds pretty attractive; democratic consensus sounds like a cover for sin or failure. The film does discuss the psychology of suicide bombers (you have to “apply” to become one), the religious promise of virgins in the afterlife (the film even says it cannot be explicit about what is promised to heterosexual young men), and the idea that the end of this life, if necessary, is preferable to living with a sense of shame that one’s cultural identity has been overtaken by others (or, in the West Bank, that one’s property was taken).

The sudden escalation of tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border around July 13, 2006 illustrates the point of this film, ironically in the first few days of its Washington DC showing. It appears that the Lebanese government, however the Bush administration characterizes it as democratic is captive to Hezbollah and extremist ideology. It also seems that this latest skirmish was fueled by Iran as a deliberate diversion. It appears also that Iran has intentions to use Hezbollah to capture Israeli soldiers to its own territory as an oil producing country, in order further inflame emotions.  It’s alarming to remember Israel’s zero-tolerance policy, and that in 1981 Israel attacked Saddam Hussein’s Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq, and Iran is trying to get ready to make nuclear weapons…. 

The course of the “war” in Lebanon suggests that Hezbollah has asymmetric power that exceeds that of the government or state itself.

I saw this at Landmark E Street Cinema in Washington DC on a Saturday night, and the auditorium almost sold out. Many people were adults of various ages (often young) who came alone, without dates.  

 Another site is


Tom Blankley has an important editorial “Just another coincidence? World public remains baffled by Islamic threat” in The Washington Times, July 26, 2006, p A17.


Even given all of this, it is well to compare it to Islam’s own account, as in Yahiya Enerick, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Islam (2002, Alpha), a franchise guide that seems to present a morally reassuring account of the beliefts of Islam. The book discusses jihad on p. 166 and claims that the word means a striving for something, not a holy war (as often indicated in dictionaries), and it says that it is not within the prerogative of the individual to wage a “holy war.” The Wikipedia entry is instructive.




On September 2, 2006, media outlets reported a 48-minute video from Ayman Al-Zawahiri and an American from California, Adam Gadahn, telling all Americans that they have a “last best chance” to convert to Islam. CNN shows a little of the video on its website. The video apparently maintains that natural conversion of Americans to (radical) Islam is a threat to non-Muslims.  On the other hand, an Oct 2006 CNN report presented an American female convert to Islam who claims that the "rules of engagement" in the Koran do not permit aggression, nor to they permit denial of women their rights.


Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West (2006, G-Machine / Clarion, dir. Wayne Kopping, 60 min), compares radical Islam to Nazism, and claims there are historical connections. Blogger entry.


Not Without My Daughter (1991, MGM/Pathe, dir. Brian Gilbert, book by Betty Mahmoody and William Hoffer, 116 min, PG-13) is the true story of Betty Mahmoody (Sally Field), raised in Michigan, who marries an Iranian physician Moody (Alfred Molina) when they are living around Alpeena, MI. He loses his job and decides to take his family back to post-Khomenei-revolution Shiite Iran (in 1984, several years after the Cater-years hostage crisis). Once there, he confronts her with the fact that he wants to convert his entire family to strict Islam. From the Swiss embassy, she finds out that she has no legal rights. The patriarchal culture of Islam is shown, with the psychological dimension that men get their sense of worthiness from their domain over family and women, and that life is a communal affair in which the individual is suppressed for the sense of religious well-being of the group. This idea is by no means limited to Islam, of course. One person’s claim for freedom becomes someone else’s diminution, and life is a zero-sum game of collective destiny  One line expresses the idea that the Iranian people feel pride in being descendants of original followers of Allah. (The Shiite issue complicates things.) She finds that even if she can break away from her husband, he will keep her daughter. For a while, she plays along with him, and seems to get more “freedom.” Eventually, she arranges an escape with her daughter to Turkey.   This film has been objected to my moderate Muslims (as with Yahiya Emerick’s “Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Islam”) as biased and overstating the oppression of women.  Though from a major studio, this movie has the style of a “Lifetime” cable movie.


Ever Again (2006, Moriah/Simon Wiesenthal Center, dir. Richard Trank, 72 min, UK, sug PG-13) presents modern anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment in Europe, with a focus on radical Islam, but also neo-Nazism. Kevin Costner narrates, and Alan Dershowitz is often interviewed. The film opens with shots of Auschwitz, and a take-off on “Tanzen macht frei” (Dance makes free) and an imaginary disco party in the Birkenwald buildings. The title of the film, of course, comes from “Never Again” and the Holocaust Memorial Museum was involved in production. Nevertheless, the main focus of the film is the agitation caused by radical imams and mosques in Britain, France, and the Netherlands, particularly in suburban areas around Paris where many Muslims live. The film questions freedom of speech, whether in satellite broadcasts or on radical websites, as, given the emotionality of the target population, the material tends to inflame unstable young men into violence and sometimes into suicide bombings. The Madrid train attacks in 2004 and London subway attacks in 2005 are revisited, as is the collapse of the WTC towers on 9/11 (2001) in the U.S. The shame and humiliation of the Muslims youths is discounted as a motive for the violence, and the radical religious ideology is offered as an explanation instead. Neo-Nazism is more active in Germany than most of us thought (given Germany’s anti-Nazi laws); it might be a good time to make a film about the same movement in the U,S. (with McVeight and Rudolph). It was a surprise to me (after 9/11) how critical a force religion could become (in view of the ideas I had looked at in my own DADT book, where I saw fascism, communism and extreme nationalism as threats), yet I can see my own kind of pseudo-religious fervor even in my own mind at times. 


The Stoning of Soraya M. (2009, Roadside Attractions, dir. Cyrus Nowrasteh, 117 min, R) A French journalist Freidoune Sahebjam (James Caviezel) gets the scoop on a framing and stoning of a woman in rural Iran, in a film that examines Islamist patriarchal values. Blogger. In the stoning scene, one of the most horrificly violent scenes ever, she is changed to a mass of pulp while still alive.


Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think (2010, Unity Productions, dir. Robert Gardner, 58 min) presents a Gallup poll showing much more moderate attitudes in Islam. Blogger.


Related reviews: 9/11 films   300


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