The Hurt Locker: The (Mis)use of Sacred Muslim Symbols

The Hurt Locker: The (Mis)use of Sacred Muslim Symbols

Posted On: March 7, 2010
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After watching Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker I felt it was necessary to write about what I found to be a careless use of sacred sound design. The Hurt Locker is an Oscar nominated film about a US army bomb disposal unit in Baghdad during the early stages of the US occupation of Iraq in 2004. The film contains various intense scenes encountering IEDs, car bombs, and explosive vests disarmed by the film’s protagonist, a young die hard bomb expert Sergeant First Class William James.

My greatest criticism with The Hurt Locker is its inconspicuously (conspicuous for Muslims) offensive use of the Muslim call to prayer and the Quran as a device to prelude a scene of violence. The sound of the “Adhan” (call to prayer) or verses from the Muslim holy book are heard before every scene discovering an explosive device.


However, the film’s overall portrayal of Muslims and/or Iraqis is not completely homogeneous, unlike 95% of American films about the Middle East, but by no means is it a huge step forward. Iraqi characters range from militant Muslim gun men, pornography selling merchants, and innocent Iraqis living in a war torn Iraq.

The film as a whole I feel has no intention of painting Iraqis and/or Muslims as evil people. However, the use of Islamic symbols in the form of the Adhan and the Quran are used specifically to connote the presence of violence and danger. The use of these symbols as dark, exotic, and evil forces is not new to cinema (see The Exorcist), however, we should expect more from a film produced in 2008. Non-Muslim film producers somehow fail to see that these verses are sacred in Islam, a religion followed by over a billion people worldwide. Any use of these symbols to connote danger alienates the non-Muslim world from seeing Islam as a faith tradition rather than a doctrine of violence and hate.

I hope I’m not the first to tell say that this “critically acclaimed” work needs a lot more… work. I think it’s time filmmakers stop pretending that they “understand” and start admitting that pretentious portrayals of the world only expose their ignorance.