DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Officials across much of the Muslim world said Thursday that the upcoming big-budget Hollywood film “Noah” featuring Russell Crowe as the ark-building prophet will not be shown in local theatres because it could offend viewers.
The decision comes after the film sparked controversy among conservative Christians in the U.S., which prompted Paramount Pictures to add a disclaimer to its marketing material saying that “artistic license has been taken” in telling the story.
Director of media content at the National Media Center in the United Arab Emirates, Juma Al-Leem, told The Associated Press that the movie will not be allowed in local cinemas because it contradicts a generally held taboo in Islam of depicting a prophet.
“There are scenes that contradict Islam and the Bible, so we decided not to show it,” he said, adding that UAE censors watched the film before deciding to ban it. “It is important to respect these religions and not show the film.”
Paramount Pictures told the AP that along with the UAE, censors in Qatar and Bahrain also have confirmed they will not release the film because “it contradicts the teachings of Islam.”
One of Islam’s most revered religious institutions, Al-Azhar in Egypt, issued an edict saying it objects to the film because it violates Islamic law by depicting a prophet and that this could “provoke the feelings of believers.”
Among Muslims, depictions of any prophets are shunned to avoid worship of a person rather than God. Many Muslim majority countries also criminalize blasphemy.
The Qur’an mentions only 25 prophets by name, including Noah. Muslims believe that Noah, who is referred to in Arabic as Nuh, built his ark after God charged him to do it as people in his community refused to worship God alone. While there are differences between the biblical and Quranic story of Noah, both mention a terrible flood and Noah’s vessel saving a pair of each kind of animal.
Officials in other Muslim majority countries said government censors probably will not approve the movie.
Mohammad Zareef, an official with Pakistan’s Central Board of Film Censors, said the government body generally does not approve films that touch on religion.
“We haven’t seen it yet, but I don’t think it can go to cinemas in Pakistan,” he said.
Tunisian Culture Ministry spokesman Faisal Rokh said the government does not authorize the screening of films that cover the lives of prophets due to local sensitivities. As is the case in Morocco, he says there have not been any requests by local distributors to show the movie.
There are many children’s films and cartoons created that tell the story of Noah in Islam without showing his face. However, there have been cases where prophets or their companions have been shown on screens in the Middle East.
Despite some objections, the popular MBC Arabic satellite network broadcast a television series in 2012 on the life of Omar ibn al-Khattab, one of the Prophet Muhammad’s most revered companions.
Mel Gibson’s “Passion of Christ,” which depicts the crucifixion of Jesus, was screened across much of the region, though it was not shown in most cinemas in Israel and parts of the Gulf.
In October 2011, a private television station screened the animated film “Persepolis,” which includes an outright portrayal of God. It sparked riots and demonstrations in Tunisia. The head of the TV station was later convicted of an “attack on the sacred” and fined 1,200 euros.
Like Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Gaza Strip does not have movie theatres. One theatre in the Palestinian West Bank says it has ordered the film.
“The fact that some countries in the region prohibit it makes it the more fun to watch” Clack Cinema manager Quds Manasra said. “The production is magnificent, the story is beautiful.”
Associated Press writers Paul Schemm in Rabat, Morocco; Asif Shahzad in Islamabad; Dalia Nammari in Ramallah, West Bank; and Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City, Gaza Strip; contributed to this report.