Faith and war in “Bilal: a new breed of hero”

Last night I went to the cinema to watch this (in its Arabic version!!fussha, to be precise):

Before we delve into deeper topics here is some official info about this movie from the UAE, which currently has a score of 7.1/10 on IMDb  and 74% on Rotten Tomatoes.
From Wikipedia (clearly not up-to-date):

 Bilal: A New Breed of Hero is an upcoming English-language Emirati 3D computer-animated action-adventure drama film produced by Barajoun Entertainment. The movie depicts the life of Bilal ibn Rabah (Sahabah (companions) of the Islamic prophet Muhammad) and is the first feature-length animated film from the Dubai-based Barajoun.[2][3]

Bilal will premiere on Animation Day at the Cannes Film Festival 2016 alongside other heavyweight international names. It has also been selected for Annecy 2016, the biggest Animation Market and Animated Film Festival in the world.

Also, three quick personal notes that are still fairly superficial though very heart-felt:

  1. Visually, I found “Bilal” to be extremely compelling and utterly beautiful. My eyes were oh-so-happy 🙂
  2. I loved the musical soundtrack too. Very moving and appropriate for the scenes. My ears were doing happy dances as well 🙂 🙂
  3. Remember when I watched my first movie in Arabic, which was actually in Egyptian, and only understood ten words in total? …weeellll, ok this is an animation movie and it is all in fussha, as already mentioned, so it makes absolute sense that I would understand more; and I’ve also been here for a bit now. But hey it was SUCH A SATISFACTION to grasp bits and pieces here and there throughout the whole two hours of “Bilal”!!!! Here are some of the words I remember picking out: how are you?, mum, but remember this, sword, good man, my sister, that, to begin, still, don’t, didn’t, will, won’t, the night, far away from my town, in your heart, only, I didn’t understand, why?, what?, to go to, because he, the people, which, that isn’t a good idea … more than fifty words already! Hooraaaaayyyyy 🙂 🙂 🙂

But now. Let’s try and unpack this story and at least some of the meanings it carries. Its official synopsis reads as follows:

A thousand years ago, one boy with a dream of becoming a great warrior is abducted with his sister and taken to a land far away from home. Thrown into a world where greed and injustice rule all, Bilal finds the courage to raise his voice and make a change. Inspired by true events, this is a story of a real hero who earned his remembrance in time and history.

Now, that last sentence especially is a GIANORMOUS understatement and I just wonder how consciously whoever wrote it decided to leave out the fact that Bilal is -as I luckily learnt from the friend I watched the movie with- a major character in Muslim history. My friend summed it up for me real quick and repeatedly highlighted the fact that the movie is, of course, a movie and doesn’t follow the whole thing as exactly as it is told -I believe- in the Qur’an. But still, the idea (I apologize in advance for any mistake here) is that Bilal and his sister were enslaved by the wealthy polytheists that controlled Mecca and its surroundings at his time, because of their ethnicity I think. Note: Islam was just at its beginnings back then, Bilal was one of the first Muslims EVER! So anyway, these evil guys also tortured him more than once (that, I had understood from the movie as well 😛 – not exactly my idea of something I’d show to children, but alright…) in the attempt to make him disavow his Muslim faith; but he never did! Then slowly slowly other people started converting to Islam as well, inspired by its message of equality among all, independently from caste and wealth, and of course that upset the rich polytheists even more because it challenged their status of superiority. So there were two major battles, and other stuff etc etc and then in the end (I cried at this point!!) Bilal basically became the first muezzin of history, using his beautiful beautiful voice to call his fellow Muslims to prayer from the top of a building, after they had won the final and decisive battle and gained control of Mecca and the Kaaba 🙂 Yay!

Good story, hey? It made me think. It made me think a LOT. I don’t think I’m actually done thinking here, but I would like to throw a few questions out there, and please do share your thoughts if you like and if you have any:

  • is it random that people decided to make and release this movie now, at a time when Islam and its believers are more and more often connected by the media to negative concepts such as extremism, terrorism, suicide attacks, death, destruction and are, in general, undergoing pretty tough timesI don’t think it’s random. 
  • But then, if it isn’t random, are the movie-makers 100% sure that the way they portrayed the whole thing is conducive to a better image of IslamI mean, Muslims were definitely “the good ones” in the movie, but so much war and so many deaths were shown that I’m not totally convinced this erases the stupid “war of religion” idea that is often (SO erroneously of course!!) connected to what’s happening nowadays. 
  • What kind of message did the movie want to convey, exactly?
  • Again, what about that choice not to include the words Islam, Muslim or any other similar word in the official synopsis of the movie?
  • Was it a marketing strategy to get a bigger audience and thus teach stuff to people who wouldn’t normally want to approach certain topics?
  • If the answer is yes, is that a legitimate tactic or not?
  • And did it work or not? Me, I would’ve wanted to watch the movie even more if I had known from the beginning it was about the early history of Islam. But yeah, I don’t know about other people and about their final thoughts on it…
  • Finally… “breed”: isn’t that a curious term to use, here in the title of the movie? What’s that there to suggest??

I should probably watch the whole thing again in a language I fully understand, that’s for granted hahaha AND study the history of Islam more. I really want to read the Qur’an one day… just can’t decide if I should do that before or after I properly read the Bible 😉

Bottom line though, I’m very very happy I watched “Bilal” – it was a truly great input and an extremely enjoyable experience for my senses 🙂

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