A movie drama about the life of the Prophet Mohammad is to go into production soon, and will be only the second English-language film of its kind ever made, according to details unveiled in Dubai Monday.
"The Messenger of Peace" will be a remake of Moustapha Akkad's "The Message", a 1977 Hollywood classic starring Anthony Quinn which is often applauded by Muslims as an example of how commercial Western cinema can respect Islam.
Oscar Zoghbi, who worked with Akkad on "The Message," said he the "utmost respect for Akkad's work but technology in cinema has advanced since the 1970s and this latest project will employ modern film techniques in its renewal of the first film's core messages."
The new film "is not about division and conflict but will focus wholly on the rich values common to all Muslims, like compassion and tolerance," Zoghbi said.
Having worked with Akkad Zoghbi said he appreciates the sensitivities and challenges linked with the subject of Islam.
In the original "Message", the Prophet and his companions were heard speaking off-camera but never directly shown, in accordance with Muslim conventions forbidding their visual depiction.
"Since 9/11, Islam's image has suffered tremendously," said Hajja Subhia Abu Elheja, an international film financier and executive producer of the new movie. "Now more than ever it has become important to bridge the gap of understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims."
"It is telling that only one great historical film has ever been made about Islam, a religion with 1.5 billion followers, whereas Christianity has been the subject of over 30," he said.
Hollywood director Ramsey Thomas, also linked with "Halloween" and with other films like "Boiling Point", will write the script for the new film, which will be shot in English but dubbed into other languages, in particular Arabic.
"In the 21st century there is a real need for a film that emotionally engages audiences on the journey that led to the birth of Islam," a media statement quoted Thomas as saying.
The events of the Prophet's life took place mainly in the holy Islamic cities of Mecca and Medina, which are now located in modern Saudi Arabia.
Akkad, the Syrian-born executive producer who also produced Hollywood's "Halloween" horror films, was killed in a suicide bomb attack by al Qaeda on a luxury hotel in Jordan's capital Amman in 2005.
Since 9/11, Islam's image has suffered tremendously…Now more than ever it has become important to bridge the gap of understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Hajja Subhia Abu Elheja