Iraqi cleric Moqtada Al Sadr has urged Saudi-owned MBC Group not to broadcast a TV series scheduled to run during Ramadan, which depicts the life of Umayyad caliph Muawiyah bin Abi Sufyan.
Muawiyah is reportedly the most expensive Arab TV drama series in history at a cost of $75 million.
“Broadcasting such series is contrary to the new, moderate policies pursued by the brotherly country of Saudi Arabia,” Mr Al Sadr wrote on Twitter on Tuesday evening.
“There is no need to hurt the feelings of your Muslim brothers in the east and west of the earth.”
MBC Group is the biggest broadcaster in the Middle East and North Africa. The show marks the directorial TV debut of Palestinian-Egyptian director Tariq Al Arian and is scripted by journalist Khaled Salah.
Production began in July in the Tunisian city of Hammamet with other scenes filmed in Kairouan, also in Tunisia.
The character of Muawiyah is played by Syrian actor Loujain Ismail, after veteran Palestinian artist Ali Suleiman withdrew from the role.
Actresses attached to project include Asma Jalal, Aisha bin Ahmed and Jamila Chihi, playing Muawiyah's wives. Jordanian actor Iyad Nassar portrays Imam Ali bin Abi Talib.
The Umayyad Caliphate ruled a large part of what is now the Middle East from 660 to 750 and was ruled under the first caliph Muawiyah. His son Yazid bin Muawiyah ruled as the second Umayyad caliph — the Prophet Mohammed's grandson, Imam Hussein, protested against his caliphate.
Shiites mark Ashura annually to mourn the death of Imam Hussein bin Ali, who was killed in a battle outside Karbala in modern-day Iraq in 680 AD by Yazid bin Muawiyah's army.
Although MBC has yet to respond publicly to Mr Sadr’s statements, MBC Media Solutions (MMS), the commercial arm of MBC Group, announced the company’s highly anticipated Ramadan 2023 line-up this week in Riyadh and Dubai.
“We all know by now the impact and reach of Ramadan and we are proud of our role as MMS in enabling brands to be a part of this special season’s stories and narratives year on year,” said MMS chief executive Ahmed Al Sahhaf in Riyadh.
Shows focusing on early Islamic figures following the Umayyad and Rashidun dynasties have been dramatised for TV in the past. Directed by the late and influential Syrian filmmaker Hatem Ali, MBC broadcast Saqr Quraish in 2002, tracing the rise and fall of the 7th and 8th-century Umayyad dynasty.
In 2012, MBC produced and broadcast the pan-Arab production Farouk Omar based on the life of Omar ibn Al Khattab, the second caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate.