Despite growing opposition from Sunni Muslims across the world, Shia-dominated Iran is all set to release a film depicting the life of Prophet Muhammad.
Though the depiction of Islam's founder in any form, picture or bust, is a taboo, the Shiite country has decided to go ahead with the $30 million "Muhammad, Messenger of God" movie, which will tell the story of the prophet's early life.
While many Muslims consider the film blasphemous, the film's director has argued that a high-quality film on Islam's most important figure would help in giving the world the right impression of him. "How should we introduce our prophet?" asked Majid Majidi in an interview with the Associated Press. "Many relay their messages to the world through cinema and pictures."
Even though Prophet Muhammad's face will not be shown in the film, the inclusion of scenes shot from behind has sparked angry reactions from Sunni religious leaders.
Egypt's Al Azhar, which is Sunni Islam's premier institution, condemned the film and has demanded a ban on it.
Depicting Muhammad, even through voice or faceless figures, amount to disregarding the prophet's "spiritual prestige" and is prohibited, according to Al-Azhar.
Previously, a 14-minute American film that mocked the prophet sparked violent clashes in Libya and Egypt in 2012. Angry Muslim protesters had stormed the United States Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and killed a State Department officer, while in Egypt, demonstrators stormed the fortified walls of the United States embassy.
However, Iran's current supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has given his approval to the film and in an unprecedented move even visited the film's set in 2012.
The move is a "clear indication that he is endorsing the project and thus seeks to pre-empt any opposition from other high-ranking clerics," wrote Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian studies at Columbia University in New York, in a commentary for Al Jazeera.
Amidst all the hue and cry over the morality of portraying the prophet, Qatar, which is a Sunni state, had decided to take a different approach.
The country has announced that it is also going to make a film on the prophet's life at the cost of $1 billion. "Lord of the Rings" producer Barrie Osborne is at the helm of the project, which will be a series of epics designed for a worldwide audience, the Guardian reported. It is not yet clear whether the Qatari project will depict the prophet or not.
Progressive Muslims, however, have welcomed the film as a way of learning. "There are about 250 films on Jesus, 120 on Moses, and 60 on other prophets, but only three on Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) made by Mustafa Akkad, Michael Wolfe and BBC," Mike Ghouse, an Internationally known Muslim Speaker wrote in World Muslim Congress.
"It is the message that is lasting and not the physical aspect of humans," Ghouse added citing Muhammad's message.
Iran is bracing for a large international release of the movie, at least in the English and Arabic speaking worlds.