Scholars split on Ramadan series

Some issue fatwas advising against watching the TV programme telling the story of the second Caliph.

Provided photo from MBC1's "Omar" drama series.
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ABU DHABI // Islamic scholars are divided over whether Muslims should watch a big-budget Ramadan biopic series depicting a companion of the Prophet Mohammed during Ramadan.

Omar portrays the life of Omar Ibn Al Khattab, the second Caliph and one of the 10 who have been promised the heavens.

It tells the story of how Omar, played by the Syrian actor Samir Ismail, expanded the Islamic empire.

The 30-part series, said to be the biggest Arab production ever, took two years and US$50 million (Dh183.6m) to make, and will air on the Dubai-based MBC network.

Islamic scholars across the region have been divided over whether the show's depiction of Omar is acceptable.

Some have issued fatwas advising against watching it, while others including Sheikh Salman Al Odah of Saudi Arabia and Qatar's Yusuf Al Qaradawi have approved it.

A mufti at the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, who asked not to be identified, said it would be best to avoid such shows in the Holy Month and to dedicate the time to prayer instead.

The mufti said it would be acceptable to watch the show if it were worthy of Omar's status, and not otherwise, but he predicted problems if Ismail took lesser roles in future.

"Your son would say, 'Dad he was Omar, and now not'. This would be contradictory and not right for Muslims to see," he said.

He added it was inappropriate to depict Omar sitting next to an uncovered women.

"It is better to stay away from this," the mufti said.

"Instead of spending an hour on the show, you can recite the Quran instead. And all these shows are repeated after Ramadan anyway."

He said Muslims would be better advised to learn about Omar's life from Islamic texts.

An MBC source said the network was aware of the controversy and respected people's views, but added they should watch the show before condemning it.

It was shown to a group of Muslim scholars and clerics, who checked that its depiction was accurate.

"We call upon everyone to watch the series, then to judge," the source said.

Omar will also be shown in Turkey and Indonesia, with talks under way for it to be dubbed into English for Europe and America.

Such a global audience, the network source said, was unprecedented and a reason to be proud of the show.

He said the channel had a responsibility to help as many people as possible learn about the Prophet's companion.

It went "beyond barriers of language and geography", he said.

But some scholars remain concerned that the show might be the thin end of the wedge.

Dr Sheikh Khalid Abd Alim, an Islamic scholar in Dubai, said he was "shocked and surprised" that the programme was being shown.

"It will take away from the Caliph's charisma," Dr Sheikh Khalid said.

"Their work is sunnah [should be emulated]. These are not like other people."

He warned it would not be long before someone made a similar series about the Prophet.

Sheikh Abdullah Al Kamali, a scholar from Dubai, this month said there should be no connection between Ramadan and watching television.

He said it was not acceptable to watch the show, let alone make it.

He was particularly against a portrayal of Omar's wife and for Muslims to accept watching this.