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A friend said he was surprised that the Danish cartoons upset Muslims so much, because a 1976 movie starring Anthony Quinn as Muhammad had raised little or no protest. That sounded wrong, so I checked it out. Quinn was indeed in the movie The Message, but he played Muhammad's uncle Hamza. Muhammad was not seen or heard in the film.
The director, Moustapha Akkad, a Syrian-born Muslim, shot around the role of Muhammad, sometimes showing scenes from Muhammad's point of view, a technique familiar from Akkad's stalker-and-slasher movies.
Despite these precautions, many Muslims were irate, particularly because rumors that Quinn would appear as Muhammad proved unstoppable. A second controversy arose. Akkad was shooting in Morocco. King Faisal of Saudi Arabia apparently convinced Morocco's King Hassan that the set for Mecca built for the movie was too compelling and might draw pilgrims away from the real holy city.
So Akkad was expelled from Morocco, and the movie was shot in Libya.
Later, a group of black American Muslims attacked three buildings in Washington, D.C., taking 149 hostages. One of their demands was that The Message must not be released. In a 39-hour siege, a reporter was killed and many hostages were stabbed, beaten, or shot. The movie, in an Arabic version, was shown in the Middle East. The English version, never released, appeared for the first time on a DVD last November 1, not long after the appearance of the Danish cartoons.