Two limousines pulled up yesterday outside the United Artists theater in BrooklynHeights. There was no red carpet, not even a poster announcing the film that opened there and at 92 other theaters around the country.
But for thousands of Muslims who flocked to those theaters, the American premiere of the animated feature "Muhammad: The Last Prophet," was unquestionably a landmark cultural event.
The 90-minute movie, which recounts the story of the birth of Islam, began as the dream of a Saudi real estate investor, Muwaffak Alharithy, who said he felt that his children and other Muslim youth had been shortchanged by religious film offerings of Hollywood and decided to remedy the situation himself.
In 1999, Mr. Alharithy hired a veteran director of Hollywood animated films, Richard Rich, whose movies include "The King and I" and "The Fox and the Hound." Mr. Alharithy said he ultimately spent $12 million to produce the feature, only to find American distributors hesitant in the aftermath of 9/11.
"What we found out in making the film is how little anybody knows about that religion and Muhammad," Mr. Rich said in an interview. "Here we thought that this film would at least open doors for that to happen, and then 9/11 seemed to close those doors for a while."
Both local and national Muslim leaders said they hoped non-Muslims would see the film. Debbie Almontaser, a Brooklyn activist who teaches cultural tolerance in New York City schools and for the organization Women in Islam, said the fact that so many American theaters opened their doors was a good sign.
Dr. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute in Washington, said, "Islam is a part of America right now and America is increasingly becoming a part of the Arab and Muslim world."
He added: "This is what globalization is about. It's not a one-way sell. It's a two-way sell." (Elliott, "New York Times," November 15, 2004).
[TBC: It’s interesting to note that Muslim leaders realize they have to "sell" Islam].