The BBC’s airing of the Life of Muhammad, a first-ever documentary on the life of the Prophet Muhammad screened in the western world generated animated discussion even before its broadcast on Monday night.
The three-part series, commissioned by head of Religion & Ethics Aaqil Ahmed, was the target of attack by Iranian authorities in the month prior to its broadcast on British state-run TV.
While fessing up to the fact that he had not even viewed the series, Iranian minister of cultural and Islamic guidance Mohammad Hosseini had threatened the BBC with ‘serious action’ upon its screening, referring to the film as a vehicle for “ruining Muslims’ sanctity.” Despite Iranian mistrust of the BBC’s intentions, for the moment at least, there is quiet on the Iranian front.
A BBC press release on the project, nonetheless, stressed that, "In line with Islamic tradition, it does not depict any images of the face of Muhammad, or feature any dramatic reconstructions of Muhammad's life."
Following the airing of the first of three hour-long episodes narrated by Middle Eastern correspondent for Al Jazeera English Rageh Omaar, there have not been the heated discussions that some commentators foretold.
In response to executive producer David Batty’s assertion that “[the BBC] felt [they] had to look at all the big issues, all the controversies with Muhammad’s life, of which there are many, and deal with them like we would any others,” a review in The Telegraph acknowledged that “there weren’t too many of those in the first episode,” attributing this to an effort on the broadcaster’s part not to offend.
With regards to the initial Iranian reaction however, there has been the suggestion that Iran, with a predominantly Shia population, was concerned that the documentary would present a Sunni view of the life of the Prophet of Islam.
But Aaqil Ahmed told the Guardian that they had consulted a Shia scholar for the programme.
"We had a number of consultants for the series including a Shia academic but what is important is that we wanted to tell a history of Muhammad and more specifically a general history of that period," Ahmed said.
Indicating from the outset that the details about the life of the Prophet of Islam are little known outside the Muslim world, TV presenter and journalist Omaar maintains that “outside of the Islamic world, almost nothing is known of Muhammad, whereas for Muslims he is the ultimate role model and his life is known in every detail,” and articulates his aim to explore the many complexities of Muhammad’s life story.
From the director/producer of the acclaimed Seven Wonders Of The Muslim World, Faris Kermani, the second and third episodes of the series are yet to screen on BBC Two.