With reporting by Ankita Menon
Updated on March 11th with comment from the UAE censorship board
Qatar, the UAE and Bahrain have decided not to screen upcoming film Noah at cinemas this month, saying the movie contradicts “the teachings of Islam,” Paramount Pictures have said.
The film is due for general release at the end of March and is based on the biblical version of the man’s life, as portrayed by Oscar-winner Russell Crowe.
It tells the story of the great flood from the Book of Genesis, in which Noah builds an ark to save his family and thousands of animals from the waters. Noah is revered as a prophet by Muslims, Christians and Jews.
‘Contradicting Islamic teaching’
The decision to ban the film in three Gulf countries comes after Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, which is considered the highest authority of Sunni Islam, issued a non-binding religious injunction – or fatwa – against the film on Thursday:
“Al-Azhar … renews its objection to any act depicting the messengers and prophets of God and the companions of the Prophet (Mohammad), peace be upon him. They provoke the feelings of believers … and are forbidden in Islam and a clear violation of Islamic law.”
Despite the widespread Islamic objection to portraying prophets onscreen, Qatar did screen “The Passion of the Christ” about Jesus in 2004 to a warm reception.
And in 2012, Saudi’s MBC Group presented “Omar,” a controversial TV series starring the second caliph of the Prophet Muhammad.
At the time, one Qatari hailed it as taking a “big leap forward, opening the door for the impersonation of all the prophets and unlocking potential for Arabic and Islamic dramas.”
It is unclear if the impersonation of Noah was the only problem Al Azhar took with the film.
Paramount Pictures told Reuters that censors in Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE have banned the movie because it “contradicts the teachings of Islam.” They added that they are expecting a similar ban in Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait.
The UAE’s National Censorship board announced its decision to ban the film on March 10th, stating that they’d made the decision on religious grounds, “as it (Noah) went against the teachings of Islam by personifying a prophet.”
Speaking to Doha News, the manager of Villaggio’s Cineco cinema confirmed that the film would also not be shown in Qatar, at the request of the censorship department at the Ministry of Culture.
Muslims are not alone in their condemnation of the film. Many Christian groups have also voiced concerns about the film’s deviation from the original bible story, turning a sacred text into a Hollywood action movie.
Last year, producer Scott Franklin told Entertainment Weekly:
“Noah is a very short section of the Bible with a lot of gaps, so we definitely had to take some creative expression in it. But I think we stayed very true to the story and didn’t really deviate from the Bible.”
And director Darren Aronofsky told Variety:
“The controversy is all about the unknown and about the fear of people trying to exploit a Bible story. It will all disappear as soon as people start seeing the film.”
Here’s the official trailer: