The Lady Of Heaven producer blasts Muslim protesters

‘They need to take their heads out of the clouds’: The Lady Of Heaven producer blasts Muslim protesters and accuses ‘mob’ of ‘poisonous rhetoric, bullying tactics and propaganda’

  • Some cinemas have pulled the film from screens following multiple protests
  • Creators accused of blasphemy for depicting the Prophet and daughter Fatima
  • But executive producer Malik Shilbak hit back in heated Newsnight discussion

The executive producer of a controversial Islamic film branded ‘blasphemous’ by furious Muslims who have protested outside cinemas has told his critics to ‘take their heads out of the clouds’.

Showcase yesterday became the second silver screen chain to pull The Lady of Heaven, a film about the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, from its venues following an outcry from demonstrators.

The £12million movie was released in the UK over the Jubilee weekend, but Cineworld subsequently removed it from all branches after staff faced crowds of protesters outside venues in Bradford, Bolton, Birmingham and Sheffield.

The film and its creators have been accused of blasphemy for depicting Prophet Muhammad and his daughter Fatima. 

Most schools of Islam ban any depiction of the prophet as they believe it to be against the spirit of the religion, disrespectful and encouraging of the worship of idols.

The film has also been accused of inciting hatred between different sects in Islam. 

Created by Shias, it was nonetheless banned in Shia-majority Iran with the government saying it was aimed at dividing Muslims. 

The Sunni sect, which makes up 90 per cent of the global Muslim population, have accused the film’s creators of deliberately depicting an extremist Shia perspective of Islamic history to create tension.

But in a heated discussion with Roshan Salih, editor of Muslim media platform  5Pillars, on Newsnight, executive producer Malik Shilbak hit back.

Muslims protest outside Westfield Stratford’s Vue cinema over The Lady of Heaven

Cineworld has said it has cancelled all showings of the film nationwide ‘to ensure the safety of our staff and customers’. Pictured: A crowd of protesters gathered outside the Cineworld in Birmingham on Sunday, June 5, to protest the film’s release

How Prophet Muhammed cartoons have previously sparked controversy and violence 

Cartoon during RE lesson  

A teacher was forced into hiding following protests about a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammed he showed to pupils during a religious education class. The image, which was shown to children at Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire, sparked days of heated protests by parents and activists at the school gates.

The 30-year-old teacher, who was forced to flee his home, was suspended at the time but later cleared when an independent investigation found that he had not intended to cause offence. Earlier this year he was reported to still be in hiding.  

Charlie Hebdo 

French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was attacked by Islamist fanatics in January 2015, after posting cartoons which were said to have insulted the Prophet Mohammed. Twelve people were killed in the onslaught, including a number of cartoonists who were said to have continually mocked Islam.

The magazine is now published from a secret headquarters in Paris – one that is said to be under armed guard at all times. 

Samuel Paty  

Teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded outside the gates of the college where he taught in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, north of Paris, in 2020. The killing came after an online campaign led by Muslim parents who were angry at Paty for showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed to students. Paty had shown the cartoons – previously printed in magazine Charlie Hebdo – to pupils as part of a lesson on free speech. 

He said: ‘I think Roshan and others like him need to take their heads out of the clouds, the world doesn’t revolve around them. 

‘Islam is a very complex religion with various interpretations across the world. Hundreds of millions of Muslims agree with what’s in the film and believe in what’s in the film.

‘There are people across the world who are okay with depicting the Prophet, it’s just Roshan’s mob who don’t – they’ve bullied the world to believe that’s the only viewpoint, which isn’t the case.’

Mr Salih, who Mr Shilbak was responding to, is editor of 5Pillars, a controversial website funded by an organisation linked to Britain’s only state-approved press regulator.

It recently faced calls to repay a £3,000 grant after it posted a homophobic video online, while it has also published conspiracy theories about terror attacks, including an article suggesting MI5 may have arranged the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby in 2013.

He had earlier claimed: ‘There’s no such thing as unbridled freedom of speech in this country – we’ve seen that by the banning of Russian TV channels in the last few months. 

‘You can’t be openly homophobic or anti-Semitic or racist so you shouldn’t be openly Islamophobic as well. There’s a real danger of sectarian violence in this country and this film could very well provoke that.’

He added: ‘All [Mr Shilbak] does is provoke Sunnis because he’s a juvenile extremist, he’s the Shia Tommy Robinson.’

It comes after Health Secretary Sajid Javid weighed in on the controversy and said the cancellations were ‘an incredibly dangerous road to go down’. 

Made in Britain for £12million, the film opens with the invasion of Iraq by ISIS and features a graphic jihadist murder, before telling the story of Lady Fatima, one of the daughters of the founder of Islam.

Islamic tradition forbids the direct portrayal of religious figures, with previous depictions of prophets leading to protests and even murders amid accusations of blasphemy. 

Director Eli King depicts Fatima as a faceless character, shrouded by a black veil to avoid doing this.

But protesters have accused the filmmakers of inaccurately depicting religious history and negatively portraying three of Islam’s most important figures.

Cinemas have seen protests from Muslims claiming the film The Lady of Heaven is ‘blasphemous’. Pictured: Birmingham

Some cinemas made the decision to pull the film from theatres following the backlash. Pictured: Cineworld in Birmingham

A video from the weekend appears to show a manager at one cinema addressing a crowd confirming the film has been pulled, prompting cries of ‘Allahu Akbar’. 

The film features former Coronation Street actor Ray Fearon and was shown at the Cannes Film Festival last year, but was only released in the UK for the first time on June 3, this year.  

John Stephenson, who directed the 1999 film Animal Farm and 2004 movie Five Children and It, acted as a creative consultant.

And other critics have expressed anger that the negative characters were portrayed by black actors, rather than white, which they say ‘stems from the racial bias against darker skinned people’.

Why The Lady Of Heaven so controversial? How film touches on tensions between Sunnis and Shias

Controversial film Lady of Heaven has been banned from some cinemas in the UK after hundreds of Muslims protested against it. Large crowds appeared outside cinemas in Bradford, Bolton, Birmingham and Sheffield in recent days to call for the film to be pulled from theatres.

The film and its creators have been accused of blasphemy for depicting Prophet Muhammad and his daughter Fatima. Most schools of Islam ban any depiction of the prophet as they believe it to be against the spirit of the religion, disrespectful and encouraging of the worship of idols.

The film has also been accused of inciting hatred between different sects in Islam. Created by Shias, it was nonetheless banned in Shia-majority Iran with the government saying it was aimed at dividing Muslims. The Sunni sect, which makes up 90 per cent of the global Muslim population, have accused the film’s creators of deliberately depicting an extremist Shia perspective of Islamic history to create tension.

Sunni Muslims are unhappy at the way that some of Islam’s holiest figures are portrayed in the film, including the prophet’s third wife Aisha and two of his closest companions. Abu Bakr and Omar, who were the first two caliphs and are seen as two of the holiest figures among Sunnis, are depicted as deceitful, conniving and dishonest – characterisation that has caused significant anger among Sunnis.

Another complaint has been about how the companions, and Aisha, were portrayed by black actors, leading to accusations of racism. 5Pillars, an Islamic Media organisation, said: ‘Most Muslims will find the invective against three of the most beloved companions of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) shocking and disgusting. But it is also a deeply racist film with all the main negative characters being portrayed by black actors. What’s more, the film directly disrespects the Prophet (pbuh) by showing his face.’

There is also anger at the writer of the film, Sheikh Yasser al-Habib, who is a controversial figure in the Muslim world. A Kuwaiti Shia scholar based in London, he has previously angered Sunni Muslims by calling Aisha, the third wife of the Prophet Muhammad, ‘an enemy of God’. The cleric was previously jailed in Kuwait and had his citizenship stripped. Senior Iranian clerics have described him as a ‘mad man’ and accused him of inflaming tensions between Sunnis and Shia.

Executive producer Malik Shlibak said the film had gone to great lengths not to offend Muslims, adding that he was aware the movie was including characters that are ‘very holy for close to two billion people’. 

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