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The Use of Religious Figures in Cinema

Undoubtedly one of the most effective means of communication in today’s world is the cinema… Not only entertaining and having a good time, but educating masses along certain lines and giving social and political messages are among the cinema’s most basic objectives. Acculturation or the export of culture is one of the cinema’s non-debatable roles. As a matter of fact, everyone knows that Hollywood, undeniably the greatest player in the world’s cinema sector, has taken on the important role of exporting American social and political arguments to the world in general.

Two different approaches regarding the use of religious figures and themes in the cinema stand out. The first is an attempt by circles that are aware of the important influence of religion on people to attract the interest of religious circles to the cinema with films of mainly religious motivation. The other is the usage of this effective weapon by religious communities aware of the influential role of the cinema in reaching people and establishing communication with them. In every situation today many religious traditions, figures and teachings - Buddhism to Christianity and Judaism to new religious movements – have been transposed to the cinema in some way; by this means various religious beliefs and arguments have reached the masses in an effective way.  For example, “The Message” which takes up the spread of Muhammad’s (pbuh) message, “Kundun” on the life story of the Dalai Lama, and “The Passion of the Christ” regarding Jesus’ (pbuh) life are among productions that left a deep impression on minds while transmitting basic teachings of Islam, Buddhism and Christianity to the masses.

It is known that the basic approaches of religious traditions have been influential in the usage in the cinema of founders of religions, prophets and similar religious figures. For example, it would be interesting to compare the traditions of Christianity and Islam on this subject. Giving an important place to the incarnation of divine existence in its theology, Christianity since its early history has given importance to the use of visual material in the representation of religious figures in its tradition. In line with this on almost every subject it used pictures, statues, and similar material and adorned churches, public squares and houses with pictures and figures representing Jesus, Mary, the angels and saints. Undoubtedly the basic reference here is the concept of god in the flesh seen among people. This concept gave birth to the tradition in Christianity of bringing the message to people face-to-face in a tangible way. Although some Protestant movements were cool to using such objects as pictures, statues and cross figures, most Christian communities appear to be persistently tied to this tradition today. This understanding in Christianity became a reason for using religious figures widely in such fields as the theater and cinema.

When we look at the Islamic tradition on this subject, it is interesting that Islam gives precedence to the message over historical personalities and that it builds its theology on more abstract concepts and values. Unlike Christianity, Islam does not accept the belief of reincarnation, but emphasizes Allah’s unity, uniqueness and absolute love. Along these lines in the Islamic tradition the representation of religious figures in pictures, statues and similar ways was opposed. However, this does not mean that Islam opposes the conveyance of religion’s message and values to people by means of pictures, theater and the cinema. The Islamic tradition only brings some curtailments on this subject regarding Islamic belief and teachings; for example, out of respect for them, the depicting of Muhammad (pbuh) as well as the other prophets and the first four caliphs, or their portrayal by actors in works of the theater and cinema was not seen as appropriate. Together with this, there have been a few rare exceptions like some miniature paintings.

 

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