NEW DELHI: Saudi Arabia and Iran,not exactly the best of friends, have crossed swords yet again, this time over a movie Muhammad: Messenger of God that has been in theatres in Iran. “Hostile act” said the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia Abdulaziz-al Sheikh. “Not at all”, responded Tehran.

At the centre of the controversy is Majid Majidi, Iranian filmmaker, who announced the $30 million venture in 2011, and has completed the ambitious project four years later. Sharing a part of the controversial spotlights with him is music director A.R.Rahman who has composed the music for this movie. The movie depicts the childhood of the Prophet and the trailer establishes it as a sensitive effort. The face of the child is not depicted through the movie, as per the Islamic edicts.

Majid Majidi, Iranian Filmmaker, announced his (at that time) $30 million venture Muhammad: Messenger of God in 2011 and now four years later when the movie has been finally released in Iran he finds himself at the centre of a controversy forced by Saudi Arabia and a little known group in India. And along with him of course is A.R.Rahman who has composed the music for the movie.

“This is a mockery of the prophet and a degradation of his (Prophet) status,” said the Saudi Grand Mufti earlier this month. The Iranian Embassy in India now has responded to a controversy raised here by a little known organisation Raza Academy echoing the Saudi position with, "The film of Majid Majidi is an artistic work and any opinion about it should be expressed only after seeing it... launching hot discussions before seeing the film may be wrong, illogical and incorrect."

The embassy made it clear, "No insult has been committed to Islamic values in the film... The system of the Islamic Republic of Iran, from the very beginning, has always been the standard bearer in the defence of Islam."

The Raza Academy based in Mumbai stepped in and circulated a fatwa obtained from a local Mufti against the film. The Academy Secretary Syed Noori told The Citizen that they had obtained the fatwa from the cleric, and were now going to meet Minorities Affairs Minister Najma Heptullah to press for a ban on the film. The Academy claims to be Sufi, but does nothing for Sufism. Instead, an organisation of Barelvi Muslims it spends its resources in publishing religious text. Noori claiming to speak for Muslims---strongly resisted by Islamic scholars---said that Muslims should protest against the film, and that the director, Rahman and others associated with the film should be declared ‘infidels.’ He admitted that he had not seen the film, and nor had the Mufti from whom he got the fatwa.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan was particularly critical of the Raza Academy and has been quoted in the media as saying, "You can argue with enlightened people but not with those who don't believe in reason and argument. It's very easy to be judgmental and reject something if it doesn't suit one's likes." He added that dawah or invitation to understand Islam was the duty of every Muslim, and a film can play a crucial role in dawah.

The Raza Academy was last in the public glare on 11 August 2012 when it organised a protest against violence in Assam and attacks on Muslims in Myanmar at Azad Maidan in Mumbai. Two persons were killed, and 54 injured. Noori gave the impression to the media that the Academy had issued the fatwa but when questioned about its legitimacy by The Citizen he said that it had merely raised the question to the concerned Mufti who had then given the ruling against the movie.

Composer Rahman has himself posted a letter on his Facebook Page:

Majidi is known in Indian film circles as a sober, and good filmmaker. He has made several films including the acclaimed The Song of the Sparrows. He had pulled out of a Danish film festival in protest against the cartoons published there against Prophet Mohammad. He wrote at the time, "I believe in God and live with my beliefs in every single moment of my life. I would like to protest against insulting any religious belief and icon. For this reason, I would like to announce my withdrawal from your festival."

The Shia Muslim Personal Law Board in India has stepped in to support the film, with the Saudi Arabia versus Iran rivalry reflecting in some of the more hardline local bodies representing the two sects here as well. However, the more influential and better informed clerics of both sects have kept out of the controversy till now.