CAIRO -- A big-budget biblical epic has run into big problems in Egypt.
The Darren Aronofsky-produced “Noah,” with its depiction of the divinely inspired deluge and the building of an ark that saves surviving species, is the target of a fatwa issued by Al Azhar, a leading Sunni Muslim institution.
The fatwa, which is an Islamic ruling by religious scholars that is binding on believers, came amid ongoing controversy in Egypt regarding movies and television productions that depict prophets mentioned in the Koran, the Muslim holy book. Noah is among them.
"Such productions contradict the higher stature of prophets and messengers, and affect the constants of Islamic law," said a statement by Al Azhar's Highest Scholars Committee in calling on Sunni Muslims to not attend the film. “They also provoke believers’ emotions.”
However, the fatwa is not the last word on the matter. While it carries obligations for the devout, Egyptian law says no religious institute has the final say on what can be shown in theaters. The artistic censorship board, the only entity with the power to legally bar particular content, has yet to comment on the fatwa.
The movie, starring Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe, was scheduled to open in Egypt on March 26, and one day later in other countries across the Middle East, according to Paramount Pictures' website.
The censorship board had previously succumbed to pressures from the Egyptian Coptic Church's objections to releasing "The Da Vinci Code," and the movie was eventually barred in Egypt. However, some other films depicting prophets and other biblical figures, including Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," have not been censored or banned in Egypt.
Hassan is a special correspondent.