CAIRO (Mustapha Suleiman)
Egypt’s al-Azhar called for the banning of an Iranian series about Prophet Joseph on the grounds that it violates the prohibition of impersonating prophets in Islam.
The Center for Islamic Research (CIR), affiliated to al-Azhar, the world’s leading institution of Sunni Islam, voiced their objection to the Iranian series Yusuf al-Sediqq (Joseph, the Honest) aired on Melody Drama on the Egyptian satellite Nile Sat.
" The role of the CIR is to issue recommendations and provide explanations, but we cannot impose the banning of the series "
The center renewed in its monthly meeting Thursday its concerns about the impersonation of prophets and expressed its reservations on the new Iranian series, said CIR Secretary General Sheikh Ali Abdul Baqi.
“We reject the airing of the series on any Egyptian channel in compliance with earlier decisions taken by the center and which prohibit the impersonation of prophets TV drama,” he told Al Arabiya.
Despite calls for banning the show, Abdul Baqi explained that decisions made by CIR members are not obligatory.
“The role of the CIR is to issue recommendations and provide explanations, but we cannot impose the banning of the series.”
The impersonation of all prophets is prohibited in Islam, said CIR member Dr. Mohamed Rafaat Othman.
“The CIR made this statement 30 years ago when director Mustafa al-Akkad submitted the script of his movie al-Resala (The Message) which impersonates several of the prophet’s companions,” he told Al Arabiya.
“Since then, our stance has not changed.”
Othman pointed out that the Iranian series violated this rule by impersonating Joseph and his father Jacob as well as the archangel Gabriel.
“The fact that the series is Iranian does not make the action any less prohibited. Our duty is to lobby for applying this rule regardless of the country.”
Veneration of prophets
" Also if an actor plays the role of a prophet then later plays the role of a drunkard for example, this will be extremely disrespectful "
Dr. Mohamed Rafaat Othman
Othman explained that prohibiting the impersonation of prophets is out of veneration in the first place since the actors playing their role would never be able to portray their characters as they are.
“Also if an actor plays the role of a prophet then later plays the role of a drunkard for example, this will be extremely disrespectful.”
The fact that there are no paintings or sculptures that show how prophets looked like, Othman added, makes it almost impossible to offer a genuine portrayal of them.
“How then can we say that a certain actor is qualified for playing that role?”
Dr. Amna Nosseir, professor of theology at al-Azhar University, said that the fatwa prohibiting the impersonation of prophets was issued based on thorough studies conducted by senior religious scholars.
“I personally agree to the fatwa,” she told Al Arabiya. “Yet some Islamic sects allow the impersonation of prophets and this is seen in shows produced in several countries in the Arab and Muslim world.”
These sects, she added, have to set rules for this practice so that it does not get out of hand.
“Although these sects are different, they still have to control these kinds of TV productions.”
The CIR has been categorically rejecting any impersonation of Prophet Mohamed, his family, or his companions. For example, the center turned down the request of an American company to make a documentary on the prophet’s genetic information and refused to approve an Egyptian TV series about al-Hassan and al-Hussein, the sons of the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Taleb.
Muslim Brotherhood MP Dr. Mohamed Fadl submitted an urgent questioning to the Egyptian Minister of Information calling for the banning of the Iranian series.
“The show crosses many red lines and the approval of its airing meaning disregarding the scholars who issued the fatwa,” he said in his complaint.
Ban since 1926
" These rules were set since 1926 when actor Yusuf Wahbi wanted to make a movie about Prophet Mohamed and al-Azhar rejected "
Renowned Egyptian critic Tarek al-Shennawi called for revising the rules banning the impersonation of prophets in cinema and TV.
“These rules were set since 1926 when actor Yusuf Wahbi wanted to make a movie about Prophet Mohamed and al-Azhar rejected,” he told Al Arabiya. “Since then, al-Azhar issued a decree banning the impersonation of not only prophets but also their companions and family members.”
This ban, Shennawi added, was also applied on the script of The Message by Syrian American director Mustafa al-Akkad.
“Despite the ban, the movie is regularly screened on several religious occasions on Egyptian satellite channels.”
Yusuf al-Sediqq, produced by the Iranian company Sima Film, traces the life of Joseph since his birth and covers his relationship with his father and brothers as well as his seduction by Mrs. Potiphar.
The filming of the series took four years, from 2004 till 2008, and the script was written by 20 people.
(Translated from the Arabic by Sonia Farid)