Friday, February 03, 2006

Teaching The Message

Today in my Medieval Islamic Civilization course we watched selected scenes which amounted to 2/3 of the Moustapha Akkad film The Message. I thought this would be a good way to introduce the traditional account of the founding of Islam, and indeed seldom have I seen a class pay such close attention to a film not accompanied by some sort of study questions. In fact, a handful of students asked me after class if we could watch some of what I left out, which consisted primarily of Abyssinia and some battle scenes. The Battle of Badr was an especially tough cut to make given its importance, and I may revisit it next class.

What's important to understand about this film, however, is that as the title indicates, it focuses on the message rather than the messenger. Students will see people reacting to Islam, suffering persecution, building the first mosque, and defending their faith, but they will come away knowing little about Muhammad's mode of life, the wives of the Prophet, and similar biographical details which are also important in the Muslim tradition. It also leaves out a lot of the politics in Medina, though some of that may be made in the longer Arabic version.

We haven't had our class discussion yet, but my initial impression is that showing this was a success, and when supplemented with appropriate readings and lectures can lay out Muslim doctrine in its narrative context rather than simply as a dry list of beliefs and rituals. I expect to use this again in the future.


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