Persian Pilgrimages: Journeys across Iran

By Curtiss, Richard H. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Persian Pilgrimages: Journeys across Iran


Curtiss, Richard H., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Film

Persian Pilgrimages: Journeys Across Iran

PBS, VHS format, 120 mins. List: $29.98; AET: $25.

There have been several films on the Prophet Muhammad, and certainly I am no expert on the subject. But the week before Christmas, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) aired throughout much of the United States a film called "Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet." While I am in no position to compare this with other productions, I can say that this particular film is the best I have ever seen on the Prophet.

There were no breaks of any kind, commercial or otherwise, in the two-hour film. When it ended, I was left speechless.

The next day I sought out others who had seen the film. Everyone who had seen it loved it. The main problem is to give even more people the opportunity to see it. According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a mainstream Muslim organization, in addition to accolades for the film, PBS had received heavy pressure not to air it.

I expected that such a long film might lose viewers' attention. Producer and director Michael Schwarz dealt with this problem, however, by breaking the film into different segments and interspersing current events with historical ones. For example, he moved directly from a narrative about the Prophet to a contemporary New York fireman who was involved in the rescue efforts at ground zero on Sept. 11, 2001.

This fireman, Brooklyn Fire Marshal Kevin James, converted to Islam after being raised by a Jewish mother and a father who is both African- and Native-American. James found his own way to Islam out of his desire to find an inclusive, accepting religion. His religion also inspired his career choice, James said, and he tries to serve humanity as a fireman.

As he drove toward Manhattan's burning Twin Towers, he found himself praying that whoever was behind the awful crime against humanity was not a Muslim. Even as he worked to save others, he kept praying, "God, don't let the culprits be Muslims. We've worked so hard to make ourselves part of the American melting pot."

Of course, it soon became clear that the men who carried out the attacks in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania were all Muslims. Having reconciled himself to that, James pointed out that Muslims believe that to save one life is to help save all humanity.

Another person featured in "Legacy" is Najah Bazzy, a critical-care nurse in Dearborn, Michigan. She is committed to saving lives and easing the suffering of those she cannot save.

"How I walk," says Bazzy in the film, "and how I speak, and how I carry myself, and how I treat my husband, and how I treat my mother and father, and how I behave as a sister and a daughter and a nurse and friend and neighbor, that's all Prophet Muhammad in action."

Among those narrating the story of Muhammad is Karen Armstrong, who spent seven years as a Roman Catholic nun and later became a full-time historian. She carries much of the historical narrative, along with Dr. M. Cherif Bassiouni, professor of law at DePaul University; Seyyid Hossein Nasr, who was born in Iran and now teaches at Washington, DC's George Washington University; Reuben Firestone, a rabbi and Hebrew scholar at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles; Hamza Yusuf Hanson, translator of Arabic poetry and prose and leader of the Zatuna Institute; and Georgetown University professor John O. …

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