Travel restrictions in the decades spanning the turning of the millennium have kept me from journeying to the two primary centers of Islamic culture in Saudi Arabia, Mecca and Medina. A visit to the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount in Jerusalem was a chance to see the third most sacred site, from which Mohammad departed on his Night Journey to speak with Allah. Saudi Arabia is one of the few destinations on this website for which I must give my report in absentia, relating secondhand what the movies have to teach, and what they omit. Other trips, to Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, and Mughal India, have offered experiences in the realm of Islam.
From the Caravan Journals: In February of 2009, we took a trip to Tunisia primarily because it was offered as an opportunity to understand and appreciate the positive side of Islam, and to get some perspective on the the political, historical, and social realities of the Islamic world. This was not my first introduction to the realm of the Koran, but it was the deepest. I was determined to approach it without preconceptions. As it happened, our trip to Tunisia came only a short time before the Arab Spring had its explosive beginning in this tiny country sandwiched between Libya and Algeria.
Learning about the life and ministry of Mohammed is complicated by the prohibition against showing the Prophet on film. There are, however, two very good movies starring Anthony Quinn that do a fine job of educating the world about the inner workings of Islam. In one, he plays the uncle of the Prophet acting as a kind of foil for the teachings, and in the other, he plays a Libyan national hero who is a teacher of the Koran and defender of the faith. Additionally, I found an animated film on Netflix that was intended as a teaching tool for Muslim children. It tells the story of Mohammed with charm and simplicity and is a great aid to the beginning learner, such as myself.
I have included Lawrence of Arabia in this section because of the light it sheds on relations between Arabs and the West. Outside of Arabia, there is a movie of special interest called The Wind and the Lion, starring Sean Connery as a Berber chieftain. See North Africa/ Tuaregs & Berbers. There are also a number of movies set in Iraq and Iran, and more distant Afghanistan, in the time of the wars over the last several decades. See Mesopotamia / Movies from Iraq and Iran. Among these films are some that are deeply human and afford the opportunity to look at the world from a different perspective.
There is another domain of Arabian folklore that is far more familiar to Western audiences. It is the collection of stories derived from the Arabian Nights, however loosely. It can be entertaining to see Douglas Fairbanks, father or son, leaping the walls of Baghdad or mounting magic carpets shouting “Allah be praised.” It was a time of orientalist romanticism.