Film a surprise hit

Published June 1, 2004

Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ has become a surprise hit in the Arab world, among both Muslims and Christians, who often have different motivations for viewing the controversial movie.

While Christian Arabs, including Palestinians, are examining questions of faith, many Muslims appear to be taking an interest because of an upsurge in hatred against Jews now sweeping the Middle East.

Muslims took notice after Jews began protesting against the film, fearing it would re-awaken questions about alleged Jewish responsibility for Jesus’s death. When Israeli cinema chains refused to screen the film, Palestinians took the initiative and held screenings in their own areas. James Shammas, a Syrian Orthodox Christian, showed the film for several weeks at his hotel and the proceeds of the tickets were given to local charities.

Mr. Shammas said that the film was true to biblical accounts but he did not believe it would spark hatred amongst Palestinian or Arab Christians against Jews.

In Kuwait, a top Shiite Muslim cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer al-Mohri, urged his government to allow screenings of the film, claiming it exposed the role of Jews in killing Jesus, who is a minor prophet according to Islamic beliefs.


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