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'Islamic Jesus' hits Iranian movie screens

TEHRAN - Agance France Presse | 1/14/2008 12:00:00 AM |

A director who shares the ideas of Iran's hard-line president has produced what he says is the first film giving an Islamic view of Jesus Christ, in a bid to show the "common ground" between Muslims

A director who shares the ideas of Iran's hard-line president has produced what he says is the first film giving an Islamic view of Jesus Christ, in a bid to show the "common ground" between Muslims and Christians.

  Nader Talebzadeh sees his movie, "Jesus, the Spirit of God," as an Islamic answer to Western productions like Mel Gibson's 2004 blockbuster "The Passion of the Christ," which he praised as admirable but quite simply "wrong." "Gibson's film is a very good film. I mean that it is a well-crafted movie but the story is wrong – it was not like that," he said, referring to two key differences: Islam sees Jesus as a prophet, not the son of God, and does not believe he was crucified. Talebzadeh said he even went to Gibson's mansion in Malibu, California, to show him his film. "But it was Sunday and the security at the gate received the film and the brochure and promised to deliver it," though the Iranian never heard back. Even in Iran, "Jesus, The Spirit of God" had a low-key reception, playing to moderate audiences in five Tehran cinemas during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in October.

The film, funded by state broadcasting, faded off the billboards but is far from dead, about to be recycled in a major 20 episode spin-off to be broadcast on state-run national television this year. Talebzadeh insists it aims to bridge differences between Christianity and Islam, despite the stark divergence from Christian doctrine about Christ's final hours on earth.

Iran has tens of thousands of its own Christians who are guaranteed religious freedoms under the constitution – mainly Armenians, though their numbers have fallen sharply since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Every Christmas, Ahmadinejad and other officials lose no time in sending greetings to Christian leaders including the pope on what they describe as the "auspicious birthday of Jesus Christ, Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH)."

In this year's message, Ahmadinejad said, "peace, friendship and justice will be attained wherever the guidelines of Jesus Christ (PBUH) are realized in the world." Shiite Muslims, the majority in Iran, believe Jesus will accompany the Imam Mahdi when he reappears in a future apocalypse to save the world. And Talebzadeh said the TV version of his film will further explore the links between Jesus and the Mahdi – whose return Ahmadinejad has said his government, which came to power in 2005, is working to hasten. Shiites believe the Mahdi's reappearance will usher in a new era of peace and harmony. "We Muslims pray for the 'Return' (of Imam Mahdi) and Jesus is part of the return and the end of time," Talebzadeh said. "Should we, as artists, stand idle until that time? Don't we have to make an effort?"  

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