Sunday, June 12, 2022

Gove sacks government advisor over "Lady of Heaven" protests

The film The Lady of Heaven is a 2021 drama written by the Shia cleric Yasser Al-Habib, depicting the life of Fatima, daughter of the Prophet Mohammed.

Al-Habib says of the film that 

"This film conveys a message of love and peace. It is a call to a better mindset when dealing with challenges. I am certain that should humanity follow in the steps of The Lady; peace, justice, and equality will prevail and triumph. I pray for this to happen."

However, the film has been heavily criticised by some other Muslims, particularly but not exclusively from the majority Sunni tendancy within Islam. An example of such a view, from the 5Pillars website, would be the opinion that, 

“The film Lady of Heaven is deeply offensive and inflammatory and has caused much distress to Muslims across Britain.

“The film directly disrespects Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and spreads false information on Islam. The aim of the film seems to be to cause hurt and pain, as well as cause divisions and sectarianism,  ...

Muslims are understandably very upset about the derogatory depiction of the Prophet (peace be upon him), and the compassions (may Allah be pleased with all of them).”

Not all of the criticism comes from Sunnis, the film has also been criticised by Shia scholars in the UK who fear that it may exacerbate sectarian tensions between Muslims in the UK.

It would appear that there is a debate within the Muslim Communities in Britain and we must be careful to avoid assuming that the most strident voices within that debate speak for everyone in those communities.

Both those who support the film and those who criticise it are fully entitled to put forward their views in a peaceful and non-violent manner. What no group has the right to do is to suppress views with which they disagree. That applies whether the book or film concerned is "Monty Python's Life of Brian," "The last temptation of Christ," "The Satanic Verses" or "The Lady of Heaven,"

All of these upset people: there were calls to suppress all of them. But none of these four works can reasonably  be seen as an incitement to violence or racial hatred, which would be the only basis on which a democratic society would ban a film or a book. 

Some of the protests against screenings of "The Lady of Heaven" do appear to have been dangerously close to going over the line between peaceful protest and intimidation. 

The Department for Levelling Up has had to remove one Imam as a government advisor because his social media output (since amended) appeared to support attempts to suppress the film.

Here is the open letter that the department sent him explaining this decision.

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