Controversial film about Muhammad to premiere tonight

ReutersDirector Majid Majidi says he hopes the film will help improve the image of Islam.

A controversial film about Muhammad's life is to premiere in Iran tonight, despite expected criticism from Muslims angered by its depiction of the prophet.

Muhammad, part one of a trilogy,was partially funded by the Iranian government and cost more to make than any other film in the country's history; an estimated $40million. It has caused controversy because while the Quran does not explicitly forbid visual images of Muhammad, many Muslims – Sunni Muslims in particular – believe that it encourages idolatry.

Director Majid Majidi told Middle East Online that he decided never to show the prophet's face in the film because of this. Instead, Mohammed is shown in profile, or with his back to the camera. At other points, the events of the film are shown through his eyes.

"Everyone is curious to see the prophet in the film, but you cannot see his face," Majidi said.

However, some have still denounced the film. A statement from Al-Azhar University, the largest theological centre of Sunni Islam in the world, said that it "objected to portraying prophets and messengers in art", branding it "tantamount to belittling their spiritual status".

"The actor who plays this role may later play a criminal, and viewers may associate these characters with criminality," spokesman Abdel Dayyem Nosair added.

Majidi, however, remains hopeful that his film will help to improve the image of Islam, the name of which he says has been "stolen" by extremists groups like Islamic State.

"An incorrect interpretation of Islam has emerged that shows a violent image of Islam [in the Western world], and we believe it has no link whatsoever" to true Islam, he explained.

"Definitely, some countries like Saudi Arabia will have problems with this film but many Islamic countries – including Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia and many others in Southeast Asia – have asked for the film," Majidi said.

Muhammad will open the Montreal Film Festival tomorrow.