Blockbuster hollywood film ‘Noah’ has been approved for screening in local theatres by Egypt’s censorship board, reported Mada Masr.
The film, starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, and Emma Watson, had been prohibited from screening in Egypt and the Arab World by the top Sunni Islamic Authority, Al-Azhar.
However, Egypt’s new constitution states that only the censorship board may approve or disapprove the screening of any cultural or artistic works, including film.
Prior to the censorship board’s decision, the Culture Minister had emphasized the importance of freedom of expression, particularly in art.
According to the film’s website, Russell Crowe stars as Noah in the film “inspired by the epic story of courage, sacrifice and hope.”
The film’s disclaimer states that “The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide.”
However, Egypt’s top Islamic body, Al-Azhar, has declared that portraying a prophet “contradicts the stature of prophets and messengers…and provokes false visualizations [of the messengers].”
Al-Azhar added that it specifically prohibits the screening of a film which characterizes Noah and “any production that characterizes Allah’s prophets and messengers.”
Top Islamic figures in Egypt have also cried out against the screening of the film, stating that it violates basic principles of Islam. A top Salafist leader even stated that depicting prophets is a crime, even if it is through art.
Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain have also expressed similar views. The censorship boards of those countries have ruled against the local release of the film. Egypt’s censorship board is yet to make a decision.
NOAH’S IMPORTANCE IN ISLAM
In Islam, Noah is recognized as a prophet and one of the most important figures in the Qur’an. According to the Qur’anic version, which is identical to the Biblical one, Noah was commanded by God to preach the belief in one God and submission to God.
In the Qur’an, God had told Noah to warn the people of impending ‘doom,’ and that they should join him in accepting one God instead of worshipping idols and behaving barbarically. Noah called on the people to join him in the Ark which he was building, but he was mocked and called delusional.
Noah’s Ark was completed to accompany pairs of every animal in the world, Noah’s household, and 76 people who accepted the oneness of God. All others who had mocked Noah or refused to believe, including a son of Noah, ended up drowning and dying in the floods.
NOT THE FIRST TIME
In 1976, the Quran’ic blockbuster ‘The Message’ starring Anthony Quinn was banned in Egypt for chronicling the life and times of the Prophet Muhammad, despite not portraying the Prophet in any way.
The film followed the beginnings of Islam in Mecca, during which Muslims were persecuted, leading to their exodus to Medina. Several historic events in Islam were depicted in the film, but the story was told through the point-of-view of Hamza ibn Abd Al-Muttalib (the uncle of the Prophet Muhammad).
The film’s director had specifically created the film “to honor the Islamic tradition” by not impersonating any prophets or messengers, yet it was still banned in the country.
Nevertheless, Egypt and the Arab world did allow the screening of Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ which depicted Jesus. The highly controversial movie had drawn large crowds in the Middle East.
While this depiction would be banned under the Azhar’s recent statements, analysts have stated that Al-Azhar did not ban the film as Jesus is depicted in religious art across the Middle East by Christians.
It remains to be seen whether Egypt’s censorship board will ban Noah, which is set for release on March 27, 2014.