Broadcasting Iranian blockbusters “the Messiah”, “the prophet Joseph”, and “Virgin Mary” on Maghreb channels, such as Nessma and Hannibal, has stirred many debates and controversies!
Some believe that these historical series are “based on Shia fatwas that allow the depiction of the prophets”, which is something the Sunnis do not approve.
However, beyond the traditional dilemma of images in Islam, lies the eternal strife between Sunnis and Shiites, and the fear of the cultural expansionism of Iran and its imperial project that has fueled political passions.
In fact, it would be difficult to find an “image theory” in the Qur’an, or at least a clear position on this issue, unlike Judaism where iconing is at the heart of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth,” states the Bible.
The depiction of prophets and holy figures is a taboo that is respected at different degrees in the Muslim world:
This ban was defied in the Arab world several times. The most famous examples of that are: the film “Arrisala” in which some companions of the Prophet, such as Hamza and Bilel, were depicted; the film “the Emigrant” by Youssef Chahine, telling the story of the prophet Joseph; and the series “Al Kâakaâ Ibn Amrou Attamimi” that was aired on MBC, and which did not only dare to depict Al Kâakaâ who was a companion, but also Abu Baker Essiddik who was one of the ten companions to whom the Prophet promised paradise.
The unease generated by these series shows several cultural and political deadlocks that deserve more attention:
- The lack of knowledge about the Iranian culture, revealed by the globalization of images, its deep and particular religiosity, and its structural syncretism.
- The ambiguity of inter-religious dialogue that often obscures differences to focus on a few common things.
- The image and representation of democracy for the Maghreb elites: this democracy is more than political, it’s ethical; it is not a mere political tool, it’s a value.
- The respect of traditions and standards must exist both ways. The great foundations of free expression and freedom of creation, for which thousands of people sacrificed their lives, should also be respected.
- The establishment of a common public space where no one would feel wronged because of their specific characteristics, and where individual freedoms would be respected, guaranteed and protected.
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