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Last Updated: Monday, 15 November, 2004, 14:26 GMT
Animated Islam comes to US screens
By Salim Rizvi in New York

Still from Mohammed: The Last Prophet
Screenings began on Eid - the end of Ramadan
After the turbulence that followed the attacks of 11 September, 2001, Muslims in America are making efforts to reach out to the rest of the country.

An animated film of the life of the Prophet Mohammed is the latest attempt to improve the interaction of Muslims in US society.

The movie, Mohammed: The Last Prophet, began screenings on the religious holiday, Eid, when Muslims celebrate the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

According to the film's distributors, the idea behind the movie is to educate and entertain both Muslims and non-Muslims about Islam and its history.

"It's not about what the box office generates, but about how much interest and benefit the people can get out of it," says Usama Jamal, of Fine Media Group, the film's distributors.

'Learning environment'

He says the film was scheduled to be released in the United States around 2002 but was put off because of the 11 September attacks.

Still from Mohammed: The Last Prophet
This is an exciting opportunity for parents and children of all faiths to learn more about an historic figure like Prophet Mohammed
Nihad Awad, Council on American-Islamic Relations

"People were not in the mood to go to the movies," says Mr Jamal, a 50-year-old Lebanese man who emigrated to the United States in the 1980s and has since become an American citizen.

Muslims are quite hopeful that this will give an opportunity for more interaction between Muslims and other Americans.

Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says: "This is an exciting opportunity for parents and children of all faiths to learn more about an historic figure like Prophet Mohammed and events that shaped today's world.

"The release of this film in theatres also offers a chance to interact with American Muslims in a learning environment."

Some theatre chains were doubtful of the response to the film and refused to screen the movie, which forced distributors to rent the theatres and sell tickets on their own.

Still from Mohammed: The Last Prophet
The movie had to be authenticated by Islamic scholars

The 90-minute film will run for a week in nearly 40 US and Canadian cities, including Toronto, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

The film, which chronicles the early life and teachings of Mohammed, has been produced for Badr International by RichCrest Animation Studios, the creators of animated classics such as The King and I and The Fox and the Hound.

Directed by Richard Rich, who also directed The Fox and the Hound, the film had to be authenticated by scholars from the University of California at Los Angeles, Georgetown University and the Al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy in Egypt.

Since visual representation of religious figures is prohibited in Islam, the animated film has a narrator reading words from the Koran.

The movie hopes to follow the success of similar features such as The Prince of Egypt, the story of Moses, which earned more than $100m in theatres in 1998.

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