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PBS to Air Prophet Mohammad's Life Story

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    PBS to Air Prophet Mohammad s Life Story BY CATHLEEN FALSANI RELIGION WRITER How do you make a two-hour documentary for PBS about a historical figure whose
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 30, 2002
      PBS to Air Prophet Mohammad's Life Story


      How do you make a two-hour documentary for PBS about a
      historical figure whose image you cannot show?

      That's what filmmakers Alexander Kronemer and Michael
      Wolfe had to figure out before they made their film,
      "Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet," which tells the story
      of the life of the Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam.

      Much like Judaism, Islam forbids the use of "graven
      images," and the likeness of the Prophet is almost
      never seen in Muslim religious art. The idea is that
      images can easily become objects of worship.

      "The problem for the documentarian is that there are
      none," Kronemer said, referring to images of Muhammad.
      "What will people be watching for two hours? . . .
      It's not like telling the story of Jesus, which is
      usually done through various reenactments with

      After some contemplation, Kronemer and Wolfe thought
      they could tell the story of Muhammad's life in a kind
      of travelogue. Sort of an in-the-steps-of-Muhammad
      kind of thing.

      So, off they went to Saudi Arabia to film. But, sadly,
      most of the historical sites from Muhammad's life
      1,400 years ago are gone--destroyed by the sand of
      time or purposely by one despot or another.

      There are only so many "evocative images of the
      desert" that an audience is willing to sit through,
      Kronemer said. The sun rises over the desert. The sun
      sets over the desert. The sun rises over the desert.
      You get the picture.

      Plus, filming in the desert has its drawbacks. For
      instance, Kronemer recalled one excursion into the
      desert in Saudi Arabia to scout locations that ended
      with a truck with failed brakes stuck in the sand and
      two of the most frightening things the filmmaker says
      he's ever heard:

      "Save the water," and, "This is where the hyenas

      So the travelogue idea was scratched, along with the
      working title, "Muhammad: In the Footsteps of the

      Kronemer and Wolfe, who are both white American
      converts to Islam, had more thinking to do and began
      to deconstruct the story of Muhammad.

      "In many ways, the story of the Prophet Muhammad is a
      quintessential American story," Kronemer said. "He
      started with nothing as an orphan," and rises through
      faith and hard work to do something great and
      historic. Rags to riches. Up by the bootstraps. Rocky

      "Americans love that story," Kronemer said.

      The Muslim tradition is based on what is in some cases
      minute details of the Prophet's life, he explained.
      The way Muslims pray--the physical postures of their
      praying--and many other practices in the everyday life
      of a Muslim anywhere in the world are dictated by
      descriptions of how Muhammad acted when he was alive.
      The descriptions of the Prophet's life are kept in a
      collection of writings known as hadith.

      "For example, Muhammad always preferred the right hand
      to the left hand," consequently, more than 1,000 years
      later, many practicing Muslims will enter a room with
      their right foot first, pass food to another with the
      right hand, and always allow the person to their right
      to go through a doorway first, Kronemer explained.

      Those kinds of things got the filmmakers thinking
      about a better way to tell the story.

      "This is not just the story of a man who was alive
      1,400 years ago, but a man who is alive today," in the
      lives of Muslims, he said. "Muslims bodily, in their
      actions, are repeating what he did and how he did it."

      The result of that epiphany is a riveting documentary
      that tells the story of the Prophet by telling the
      story of Muslim Americans today.

      The filmmakers tell the story of Muhammad's flight
      from Mecca to Medinah to escape the Meccans, who
      wanted to kill him for his beliefs, through the
      journey of a man who immigrated to the United States.
      The man was fleeing religious persecution in his home

      An African-American congressional aide, standing on
      the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., helps
      tell the story of Muhammad's law making.

      A Muslim-American nurse in Dearborn, Mich., talks
      about how her profession fulfills her faith
      tradition's command to help others, and also helps the
      filmmakers tell the story of the end of Muhammad's

      To explain what the Prophet said in the Quran--that to
      save the life of one person is to save the whole
      world--the filmmakers profiled Kevin James, a
      Muslim-American firefighter for the New York Fire
      Department who was one of the thousands of
      firefighters who risked their lives to save others at
      the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.

      The documentary, which is set to air on more than 300
      PBS stations nationally on Dec. 18, cost $2.5 million
      to make and took nearly five years. It was funded
      through grants and 5,000 private donations.

      "This is a story Muslims have been telling for 1,400
      years," Kronemer said. "My biggest enemy in this was
      indifference. After 9/11, people aren't indifferent

      For more information, visit www.theislamproject.org.


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