By Dave Mason
Scripps Howard News Service, Dec. 17, 2002
Stereotypes about Muslims are quickly dispelled, and a better understanding of Islam results from Muhammad: Legacy of A Prophet. The enlightening documentary premieres Wednesday at 8 p.m. on WKNO-TV Channel 10.
Produced by Kikim Media and Unity Productions Foundation, this documentary is a well-researched reminder that Islam is about peace, love and the acceptance of other people’s beliefs – the same tenets as those in Christianity and Judaism.
Presented by PBS affiliate KQED in San Francisco, Muhammad gives a detailed insight into Islam through interviews with experts and those who practice the religion, including American Muslims.
Well, Muhammad isn’t an objective view of Islam; it doesn’t pretend to be.
Some of the funding for this program did come from Muslim foundations. But that’s OK. Narrator Andre Braugher, the Emmy-winning star of Homicide: Life on the Street, tells viewers in the first minute who’s paying for the documentary.
More important, producers Michael Schwarz, Michael Wolfe and Alexander Kronemer don’t shy away from the difficult issues about the religion. They examine women’s rights and charges of anti-Semitism rooted in conflicts of the Seventh Century.
Much of the documentary is a history lesson about Muhammad, the prophet who founded Islam. It’s honest about Muhammad’s strengths and weaknesses, and shows that the noble but illiterate prophet had doubts about whether God really spoke to him. But he rose above those doubts to give Arabs a moral code at a time when materialism and an eye-for-an-eye mentality were dominating their culture.
And while Muhammad wasn’t a feminist, he did help Arab women to get rights they didn’t have previously, including the rights to divorce and inheritance money. He was concerned about women being treated like objects.
If this documentary stopped right there, I would proclaim it an effective but incomplete public-relations report. But Muhammad goes beyond that to show the questions of modern American Muslim women about their religion. There are no veils on their faces as they ask questions about their religion, and it’s quickly pointed out that interpretations of Islam vary. But while the documentary spends some time on this subject, it should have presented views from more women. I saw the start of the debate, but not the extent of it.
Muhammad doesn’t hesitate to tackle another difficult question: Sept. 11, 2001.
The terrorist acts of that date were committed by an extreme terrorist sect, but many Muslims have been the victims of unwarranted prejudice in its aftermath.
In fact, one Muslim, Kevin James, talks about how he’s practicing his religion by serving as a Brooklyn fire marshal.
“The Koran teaches you that the saving of one life is as if you’ve saved all of humanity,” James said.
James, born of a Jewish mother and a father who was part American Indian and part black, converted to Islam as a young man.
“America is a racial nation,” James said. “Either you’re black, you’re white, you’re Italian, you’re Jewish, you’re this, you’re that. So coming from a mixed background, I’ve felt like I was kind of in a limbo.”
James said he discovered he liked Islam because of its religious roots with Judaism and Christianity and because it preaches racial equality.