By Tariq A. Al-Maeena
It is regrettable that instead of promoting authentic retelling of Islamic history through a new medium, some Islamic institutions have teamed up with fundamentalists in seeking to deny them that knowledge
The present generation has been weaned on multi-media. From video to graphics to animation or live TV, most of them have used this channel of communication as an oracle of learning and information source. This is the fodder for today’s generation that gets most of its knowledge and news from an instrument held in the palm. Even earlier generations have been swept away in this fast-paced and stimulating medium of information. Plain text books no longer hold the same appeal. It was perhaps with this intent that a Saudi-owned television network — MBC — released a TV series depicting the life of one of Islam’s most central and admired personalities, Omar Ibn Al Khattab, a close companion of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and the second caliph in Islam.
The series, a historical journey of the most powerful and influential caliphs of Islam, was timed for release with the advent of Ramadan this year, the peak ratings season for TV programmes in the Middle East. This television series has set records by virtue of being the largest-ever Arabic television production, with some 30,000 extras and a multi-national production team from ten different countries. It had taken them more than 300 production days to shoot and complete the 31-episode series.
Immediately after its airing, the show stirred up a storm of controversy and criticism as complaints began to pour in from some clerics and fundamentalists who did not appreciate the life-like portrayal of Islamic figures, claiming that such acts violate the principles of Islam. According to the network, thousands of calls jammed the phone lines as viewers across the Middle East called for MBC to cancel the broadcast. Many others also denounced the show and the network on social network sites.
Although there is no clear-cut ban on the visual depiction of Islamic figures, fundamentalists believe that such portrayals must not be allowed to be screened as it could lead to viewers idolising the actors. Their arguments also extend to drawn portraits or pictures that may depict such figures.