- The Washington Times - Monday, April 5, 2004

CAIRO — Hanan Nsour, a veiled, 21-year-old Muslim in Jordan, came out of “The Passion of the Christ” in tears and pronounced her verdict: Mel Gibson’s crucifixion epic “unmasked the Jews’ lies and I hope that everybody, everywhere, turns against the Jews.”

The Koran, though, says Jesus’ crucifixion never happened, leaving Muslims to believe another man was crucified in Jesus’ place.

Such are the contradictions that are welling up as “The Passion” draws large audiences in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and other Arab countries that have approved it for screening.

In the Arab world, openly voiced hatred of Jews — and by extension the warm reception for “The Passion” — is bound up in the Arab conflict with Israel. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, after watching the film at his compound in the West Bank, was quoted by an aide as likening Jesus’ suffering to that of the Palestinians.

When the 1998 animated movie “Prince of Egypt” reached Cairo, censors banned it. One reason given: Islam reveres Moses as a prophet, and many Muslims recoil at seeing their prophets portrayed as flesh-and-blood characters.

Jesus is also a prophet to the Muslims, but “The Passion” was approved by Egypt’s censors with no changes. They have not explained the difference.

Governments and Islamic clerics are also sending mixed signals.

Kuwait bans any movies depicting any of the prophets recognized by Islam, but one of its top Shi’ite clerics, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Mehri, has urged an exception for “The Passion” because it “reveals crimes committed by Jews against Christ.” The government has not yet made a decision on his call.

The dean of Kuwait University’s Islamic Law College, Mohammed al-Tabtabai, has ordered Muslims to shun “The Passion” on the grounds that Jesus was a prophet.

In Jordan, a leader of the hard-line Islamic Action Front says Muslims should read the Koran or pray instead of watching movies, but he doesn’t mind “The Passion” being screened in his country.

“The Jews are the most upset with the movie because it reveals their crimes against the prophets, the reformers and whoever contradicts their opinions,” Hamza Mansoor said.

And in Egypt, the head of a department at Al-Azhar University that often advises the censors on these matters also is taking a hands-off approach.

“My understanding is that it is about the last 12 hours in the life of the Christ, which involve Christians and Jews. Muslims have nothing to do with that,” said Sheik Abdel Zaher Mohammed Abdel-Razeq.

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