Gibson's 'The Passion' a Hit Among Arabs
By NADIA ABOU EL-MAGD
Associated Press Writer
April 4 2004, 11:35 PM CDT
CAIRO, Egypt -- Hanan Nsour, a veiled, 21-year-old Muslim in Jordan, came out of "The Passion of the Christ" in tears and pronounced her verdict: Mel Gibson's crucifixion epic "unmasked the Jews' lies and I hope that everybody, everywhere, turns against the Jews."
The Quran, though, says Jesus's crucifixion never happened.
Such are the contradictions that are welling up as the Arab world deals with "The Passion," even as the film draws large audiences in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and other Arab countries that have approved it for screening.
In the Arab world, openly voiced anti-Semitism -- and by extension the warm reception for "The Passion" -- is bound up in the Arab conflict with Israel. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, after watching the film at his compound in the West Bank, was quoted by an aide as likening Jesus' suffering to the Palestinians'.
When the 1998 animated movie "Prince of Egypt" reached Cairo, censors banned it. One reason given: Islam reveres Moses as a prophet, and many Muslims recoil at seeing their prophets portrayed as flesh-and-blood characters.
Jesus is also a prophet to the Muslims, yet "The Passion" was OK'd by Egypt's censors with no changes. They have not explained why "The Passion" was allowed.
Governments and Islamic clerics are also sending mixed signals.
Kuwait bans any movies depicting any of the prophets recognized by Islam, but one of its top Shiite clerics, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Mehri, has urged an exception for "The Passion" because it "reveals crimes committed by Jews against Christ." The government has not yet made a decision on his call.
The dean of Kuwait University's Islamic Law College, Mohammed al-Tabtabai, has ordered Muslims to shun "The Passion" on the grounds that Jesus is a prophet.
In Jordan, a leader of the hard-line Islamic Action Front says Muslims should read the Quran or pray instead of watching movies, but he doesn't mind "The Passion" being screened in his country.
"The Jews are the most upset with the movie because it reveals their crimes against the prophets, the reformers and whoever contradicts their opinions," Hamza Mansoor said.