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 Filmmaker details Prophet's life

Latest NewsFilmmaker details Prophet's life
The Toledo Blade

MUO lecture to explore Mohammed’s legacy

 Alex Kronemer was finishing up a documentary on the Prophet Mohammed, founder of Islam, when his neatly planned project was torn apart by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“The idea [for the film] was born in 1988, when [author] Michael Wolfe and I first discussed it, and production began in July, 2000. The film was finished in July, 2002,” Mr. Kronemer said in a recent interview from Cairo, Egypt, where he was attending the World Economic Forum. “Of course, a very important date happened in between — 9/11.”

Mr. Kronemer, who will give a lecture Friday sponsored by the United Muslims Association of Toledo, said he was forced to rewrite the documentary to include the terrorist attacks, but also to shift somewhat the perspective of his film, Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet.

Alex Kronemer

“We really did not intend to deal with war and jihad and battles,” he said. “We wanted to focus more on community building. But after 9/11, everybody was talking about wars and battles, and the film would have seemed irrelevant if we didn’t include those elements.”

Fortunately, the documentary was not finished when the 9/11 attacks shook the world and ...

Mr. Kronemer had time to make adjustments. The program premiered on PBS-TV nationwide in December, 2002, and has been rebroadcast more than 600 times on PBS affiliates.

Mr. Kronemer, 45, who grew up in western Pennsylvania, has a master’s degree in theological studies from Harvard University. In 1996, he was awarded a Joseph J. Malone Fellowship for Middle East and Islamic Studies, which funded a research tour of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

The filmmaker said he converted to Islam about 20 years ago and was interested in using his skills to tell the life story of founder of Islam, who was born about 570 A.D. in what is now Saudi Arabia.

It was a documentary that he felt would appeal to a general audience, not just Muslims.

“I didn’t know very much about his life and it is just a very interesting and sort of an exciting story,” he said. “It struck me that few people in America knew much about him, and he is one of the most important people who ever lived.”

Mr. Kronemer said that while Jesus, Moses, and other religious figures seemed to be always in control of the situation, “Mohammed comes across as very much a human being, a person we can relate to.”

His life story is fascinating whether one perceives Mohammed to be a prophet who received revelations from God or just a man, Mr. Kronemer said.

“If he was just a man, his life story is even more amazing in some ways,” he said. “Here is this person, illiterate, living in the middle of nowhere, attacked by just about everyone, and not only is he able to survive but he was able to craft a religion, with a holy book and all, that more than 1 billion people follow — not just Arabs, but Indonesians, Europeans, Americans, Pakistanis. That’s an amazing achievement.”

Individual stories help paint a fuller portrait of Mohammed, he said.

For example, Mohammed and small group of supporters from Medina once fought a larger army from Mecca who was planning to resume the fighting the next day and wipe out the Medinans.

Mohammed told his followers to build campfires and spread them out as across the desert as far as possible.

“They didn’t quite get it, but they did as he told them,” Mr. Kronemer said. “The Meccans saw all these campfires spread out across the desert and assumed that all the Medinans had come to fight when the sun rose. The Meccans didn’t want to fight all of the Medinans so they fled. It was a very clever plan.”

Mr. Kronemer has written articles about what Mohammed would say about terrorism.

In the Prophet’s day, he severely punished people who committed violence against a community. The word terrorism did not exist then, but there were “bandit men” who tried to spread fear.

“Mohammed was trying to revolutionize society, to impose laws and justice. Things that threatened society had the fiercest punishment because terrorism is more than the killing two or five or whatever, it is a way to undermine society. So those who commit terrorism are subject to the worst punishment,” Mr. Kronemer said. “Mohammed would condemn terrorism.”

Mr. Kronemer’s latest projects are documentaries about the rise and fall of Islam in Spain and a film titled Prince Among Slaves, which follows the true story of a West African Muslim prince sold into slavery in 1788 and released 40 years later through the intercession of an American president.

Alex Kronemer will talk on the topic, “Who Is Prophet Mohammed” at 7 p.m. Friday in the Dana Center, Medical University of Ohio, 3000 Arlington Ave. Admission is free; refreshments will be served. The lecture is presented by the United Muslims Association of Toledo.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.

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