There are currently more than 2 billion Muslims living around the world. This means we make up a significant proportion of the global population.
Despite this, many depictions of Muslim characters in western cinema are underdeveloped or perpetuate stereotypes. This can make finding a decent movie featuring Muslim characters a challenge. Fortunately, we’re here to help.
If you’re looking for something to watch this Ramadan then look no further! Read on out fifteen great western films that feature positive portrayals of Muslims!
1. Saladin the Victorious (1963)
Also known as just Saladin, this was one of the first blockbuster films about Islam.
It chronicles the life of the ruler Saladin during the Third Crusade around Jerusalem. Over the course of the film, Saladin seeks to reclaim the holy lands from the hands of Christians who are slaughtering the Muslim population.
Though some have criticised its historical accuracy, Saladin the Victorious is certainly an epic. It also shows another side to the historically white-washed western crusades.
2. The Message (1976)
The Message was one of the first Hollywood films to show multiple positive representations of Muslims on screen. Perhaps one of the reasons for this was its direction by Syrian-American director Moustapha Al Akkad.
The movie is told from the perspective of Hamza ibn Abdul Muttalib (played by Anthony Quinn.) It follows the life of the Prophet Mohammed however, in accordance with Islamic tenets, the Prophet’s face and voice are never heard.
To get around this, Al Akkad filmed scenes from the Prophet’s point of view. Throughout the film, Hamza and other characters also repeat words spoken by the Prophet.
3. Lion of the Desert (1981)
Another film from Moustapha Al Akkad, Lion of the Desert takes place in Libya just before the outbreak of World War II.
Over the course of the film, Libyan Omar Muktha must come face-to-face with the Italian Royal Army (the Regio Esercito.) Much like Saladin the Victorious, it is a film about a country’s native population fighting back against a western invasion.
As the title might suggest, Lion of the Desert takes place against Libya’s dramatic desert backdrop. The film was praised for the way it captured historic and cultural events. However, in Italy, it was banned from 1982 right up until 2009!
4. Malcolm X (1992)
Malcolm X features one of Denzel Washington’s most iconic performances as the African-American activist. Director Spike Lee worked hard to create an authentic and accurate depiction of Malcolm X’s faith.
In particular, Washington took the time to study the Quran in depth. He even followed Islamic practices during filming. This included abstaining from pork and alcohol and learning how to pray in Arabic.
This blockbuster follows the rise of Malcolm X in American activism. It spans from childhood to his years in incarceration right up to his assassination in 1965, but the film doesn’t just focus on his political work. It also explores his personal life and his faith, including his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964.
5. The 13th Warrior (1999)
This film demonstrates that positive depictions of Muslims in western cinema don’t have to be based on historical facts. The 13th Warrior follows the story of a Muslim traveller who is hired by Vikings to help defend their homeland.
Ahmad ibn Fadlan, the man in question, is smart, perceptive, and dignified. At the beginning of the film, he is working as a court poet in Baghdad until he is exiled for having an affair with a nobleman’s wife.
Once in exile, he frequently refers back to the Islamic prayers that guide him. He even uses one to teach a Viking how to write. The film depicts a wonderful coming together of cultures in a way that is was rarely seen on film in the 1990s.
6. Ali (2001)
This biopic follows the ten years in the life of one of America’s most famous Muslim athletes, the boxer Muhammed Ali.
Over the course of the film, Will Smith portrays Ali as he captures his heavyweight title, is banned from boxing and returns again in 1971. It also features his conversion to Islam and his refusal to join US forces fighting in the Vietnam War.
Ali is set against the extremely volatile social and political background of America in the 1960s and 1970s. Both Will Smith and co-star John Voight received Academy Award nominations for their performance in this film.
7. Babel (2006)
This multi-narrative drama features a stunning ensemble cast led by director Alejandro González Iñárritu. It follows multiple stories lines around the world in Mexico, Morrocco, Japan, and the United States.
The Moroccan storyline follows two brothers Yusseff and Ahmed who are attending goats in the Moroccan mountain. While playing with their father’s gun, Yusssef accidentally shoots an American tourist from long range. Unaware of who is responsible, the event becomes an international incident and is condemned as terrorism by the US government.
Babel won the González Iñárritu the Palme d’Or for Best Director. It also received seven nominations for Academy Awards and won the Best Picture Award at the Golden Globes.
8. Body of Lies (2008)
This political thriller follows CIA Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) working in Jordan. Over the course of the film, he attempts to lure terrorist organisation, Al-Saleem, out of hiding. To do this, he must create his own, fake terrorist organisation with the help of Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe.)
However, as the film progresses we come to question where Hoffman’s loyalties lie. As the story continues, Ferris becomes more embroiled in the personal challenge of operating on the ground.
It’s a story that looks at modern spycraft, espionage, and the price that real people pay for it. Body of Lies is also brilliantly tense and will keep you on the edge of your seat!
9. AmericanEast (2008)
AmericanEast takes place in Los Angeles and follows the lives of three Arab Americans following the 9/11 attacks. This film focuses on the misunderstandings and misgivings that many in America have about Islamic or Arabic culture.
In particular, it explores the way in which Muslims are treated with suspicion following the September 11 attacks. It also looks at the effect that this newfound pressure has on Arab-Americans living in the United States.
10. The Infidel (2010)
The Infidel is a hilarious comedy about identity and faith. It follows the story of Mahmud Nasir a Muslim business owner working in London.
Upon the death of this mother, Nasir finds out that he is in fact adopted. Not only that, but he is also Jewish!
As the film progresses Mahmoud tries to understand more about the Jewish faith and come to terms with this new identity. Despite the subject matter, The Infidel has a lot of heart and even more laughs.
11. Four Lions (2010)
Four Lions walks the careful line between comedy and tragedy as it follows the lives of four young Muslims in Sheffield, England. Led by Riz Ahmed, these men wage Jihad and begin putting together a (frankly inept) plan for how to become suicide bombers.
After a disastrous practice at a training camp in Pakistan, the men return to England with their target set. They intend to bomb the London Marathon while dressed as charity fun runners. As you can already imagine, things do not go to plan.
While full of laughs, Four Lions also explores the human side of radicalisation around the world.
12. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011)
Unlike many other films on our list, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a fun story about bringing fly fishing to the deserts of Yemen.
The film stars Ewan McGregor as a fisheries expert (Fred) alongside Emily Blunt and Kristin Scott Thomas. Amr Waked plays a sheikh determined to share his passion for salmon fishing with the local community.
Although reluctant to take on the challenge, Fred quickly finds himself enamoured with the desert landscape. This lighthearted romp is sure to bring a smile to your face.
13. Theeb (2014)
This period drama, directed by Naji Abu Nowar, follows a young boy surviving in the Wadi Rum desert during the Great Arab Revolt. Set against the backdrop of war, this extraordinary coming-of-age story is one of survival against all the odds.
Theeb is a critically acclaimed film around the world. It received multiple nominations, including an Academy Award nomination in 2014.
14. Victoria & Abdul (2017)
Another period drama, Victoria & Abdul depicts the unlikely friendship between Queen Victoria and an Indian peasant, Abdul Karim.
In the later years of the queen’s reign, Abdul travels from India to present her with a mohur coin. He finds a lonely, isolated queen who sees something in him that sparks her interest. Over the course of the film, they become close and he teaches her Urdu and the Quran.
Throughout, their friendship is challenged by courtiers who are jealous of the potential power this man has. They are unable to see that Abdul’s intentions are personal, not political.
15. The Furnace (2020)
Last but by no means least we have The Furnace. This film, which was only released last year, is set in Western Australia in 1897.
It follows a young camel caravaner, Hanif Gilal Abdullah, who forms an alliance with Mal Riley, who is in possession of gold bars owned by the Crown. Together the two men must travel through the wilderness to reach a furnace that they can use to remove the Crown’s stamp. So begins a race against the local police and troopers.
One of the most noticeable things about this film is the nod it gives to relations between Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and indigenous Australians at this time.
Check Out These Great Films Featuring Positive Portrayals of Muslims
While positive portrayals of Muslims in western cinema are seriously lacking, these fifteen films are sure to hit the spot!
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