TV show stirs argument across Arab world
The 30-episode controversial series that cost tens of millions of dollars is watched on satellite television across the Arab world.
A television drama about the life of a seventh century Muslim ruler, Omar Ibn al-Khattab, is polarizing opinion across the Arab world by challenging a widespread belief that actors should not depict Islam’s central figures.
Conservative clerics denounce the series, which is running during the region’s busiest drama season, the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Scholars see an undesirable trend in television programming; the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates has publicly refused to watch it.
But at dinner tables and on social media around the region, “Omar” is winning praise among many Muslim viewers, who admire it for tackling an important period in Islam’s history. Some think it carries lessons for the Arab world, which is grappling with political change unleashed by last year’s uprisings.
Mostly filmed in Morocco, the show was funded by the Dubai-based but Saudi-owned MBC Group, a private media conglomerate, and state-owned Qatar TV. The 30-episode series, which an MBC spokesman said cost “tens of millions of dollars” to make, is being watched on satellite television across the Arab world.
It has been praised for its elaborate sets and costumes, visual effects and battle scenes which involve elephants and hundreds of extras.
But for many viewers, the production values have been outweighed by the fact that actors in the series play Omar and three other close companions of the Prophet Mohammad who were the first rulers of an empire that expanded out of the Arabian Peninsula. Historically, Muslim scholars have discouraged the depiction of revered figures in art, and some argue it is expressly forbidden, on the grounds it could be misleading or encourage idolatry. This is why mosques are adorned with elaborate plant and geometric patterns instead of human and animal images.