Cineworld has cancelled all screenings of The Lady of Heaven, a controversial new film focusing on the life of Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad.
Protests erupted outside a Cineworld in Sheffield earlier in the week, with the video circulating online of the cinema’s manager announcing into a megaphone that the film had been cancelled as the crowd chanted “Allahu Akbar” outside.
A screening was cancelled in Bolton after 100 people showed up, and 5Pillars, a Muslim news site, tweeted a photo claiming to show 200 people protesting outside a Cineworld in Birmingham. Over 120,000 people have now signed a petition calling for The Lady of Heaven to be pulled from UK cinemas.
200 Muslims protesting the sectarian hate film Lady of Heaven outside Cineworld in Broad Street, Birmingham now. pic.twitter.com/V1an3O0wuW
— 5Pillars (@5Pillarsuk) June 5, 2022
The Lady of Heaven was written by the Shia Muslim cleric Yasser Al-Habib and directed by Eli King. It claims to be the first film to put a face to the Prophet Muhammad, though no one actor is credited with playing him and any faces that do appear are computer generated.
The film’s website argues, “no individual represented a Holy Personality”, with characters instead achieved “through a unique synthesis of actors, in-camera effects, lighting and visual effects”.
The Bolton Council of Mosques described the film as being, “underpinned with a sectarian ideology” that “misrepresents orthodox historical narratives and disrespects the most esteemed individuals of Islamic history.” But Claire Fox, now a House of Lords peer, called the decision for Cineworld to pull the movie as “disastrous for the arts [and] dangerous for free speech.”
Speaking to the Guardian, Malik Shlibak, executive producer of the film, said, “I think cinemas are crumbling to the pressure, and taking these decisions to quell the noise.” Cinemas should “stand up and defend their right to show films that people want to see,” he added.
“This is an artistic endeavour talking about and elaborating on history and religion, which always has a plethora of different takes and interpretations. That’s normal and healthy. We welcome this and we welcome people to express themselves, whether they’re for or against the film.”
Yasser Al-Habib has proved a controversial figure within the Islamic world, drawing criticism from both Shia and Sunni leaders. His denunciation of the wives and companions of Muhammad – who are revered in Sunni Islam and who he claims murdered the prophet – drew him a 35 year prison sentence in Kuwait in 2003.
In 2004 he was mysteriously released and fled to Britain. He has diverged from mainstream Shia belief by labelling the Iranian regime “repressive” and opposing Hezbollah’s ideology, while supporting their fight for Palestine.
In a statement, Cineworld said, “Due to recent incidents related to screenings of The Lady of Heaven, we have made the decision to cancel upcoming screenings of the film nationwide to ensure the safety of our staff and customers.”