TV episode under fire ahead of Ramadan telecast

Calls to halt showing series during Holy Month

An historic Arab TV series covering the life of old Muslim leaders who had accompanied Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him) has triggered public opposition to the showing of the series during Ramadan on the grounds those great leaders should not be personified by mere actors.

Thousands of scholars, dignitaries and other people flooded their Facebook and Twitter pages with comments attacking the episode "Omar Al Farooq", better known as Umar ibn Al-Khattāb, the most powerful of the four Rashidun Caliphs and one of the most influential Muslim rulers in history.

Omar, who succeeded Abu Bakr Al Siddiq as the second Muslim Caliph before he died in 644, was a Sahabi (companion) of Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him).

He was an expert jurist and is best known for his justice, that earned him the title Al-Farooq (The one who distinguishes between right and wrong).

Under Umar, the Islamic empire expanded at an unprecedented rate, ruling the whole Persian Empire and more than two thirds of the Eastern Roman Empire.

His brilliantly coordinated multi-prong attacks against the Sassanid Persian Empire resulted in the conquest of the Persian empire in less than two years.

His legislative abilities and firm political and administrative control over a rapidly expanding empire marked his reputation as a great political and military leader.

The series, to be broadcast by the Saudi Middle East Broadcasting Company television, a private satellite TV venture, is a joint production by MBC and Qatar's TV.

More than 550 actors from most Arab countries take part in the series.

Umar is personified by Syrian actor Samir Ismail while Abu Bakr is acted by Ghassan Massoud, also Syrian, who acted as Saluhddin in the famous film "Kingdom of Heavens" which covers the conflict about Jerusalem.

"Calls for stopping this series are increasing every day. More and more people, including scholars, said they are opposed to this work which they say harm the image of Muslim Caliphs," the Saudi Arabic language daily Sharq said.

In Kuwait, a lawyer filed a suit asking the government to stop the showing of that series.

Duwaim Al Muwaizri filed the suit with the public prosecutor against the Ministry of Communication as the local agent for MBC television.

"I filed the suit on behalf of many people. This series hurts the image of our venerated Caliphs as they are personified by mere actors, who have been shown in previous TV work as bad persons.

“The episodes also present detailed situations and events during that era as if the actors, the writer, the producer and the director of this work had lived in that era and were with our Caliphs," he said.

"Personifying Al Farooq and other Muslim leaders by these actors is an attempt to downgrade them. When seeing these actors embodying the character of the Caliphs, viewers will establish a mental image linking that actor with Al Farooq. This is a big insult and such work must not be allowed."

In Qatar, an official involved in the production of that series defended the work, saying it is one of the best historical works ever shown on an Arab TV.

"I have seen all the episodes and I am confident that this is a very distinguished work and one of the best historical TV works in the region," said Faisal bin Jassim Al Thani, a member of Qatar's ruling family.

"Those who personify the Caliphs and other Moslem leaders are good actors and they performed their job brilliantly.

“We cannot bring mosque preachers or scholars to do this job.

Those who object to personifying the Caliphs should respect the opinions of others, who want to see this series."

He said the episodes, including historical events, have been approved by many prominent Muslim scholars in the Arab world.

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