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DUBAI: The Message, Syrian-American director Moustafa Akkad’s epic film about Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), will be screened for the first time in Saudi cinemas on Thursday — four decades after an initial ban.

“Knowing that there were so many difficulties [...] now that they’re showing it in the theatres; I couldn’t be happier,” Akkad’s son said.

The 1976 film has been widely watched in the Arab world since its release. But it was banned in the land of Islam’s holiest sites and boycotted by conservatives for its depiction of the prophet and his companions.

Saudi Arabia lifted a longstanding ban on cinemas last year, part of an easing of social restrictions pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi theatres will now screen a restored version of the 1976 epic, produced from the film’s original negatives. “Even if you’ve seen the film, you’ve never seen it look this good,” said Akkad’s son. The late director “always intended it to be a big-screen event. And that’s the way to see it”, he added.

Profits from the screenings will support a scholarship fund for film-makers from the region to study at Moustafa Akkad’s alma mater, the University of Southern California.

The Aleppo-born director perished with his daughter in the 2005 Amman hotel bombings claimed by Al Qaeda that cost dozens of lives.

Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2018