A new uproar over The Da Vinci Code

Protests about the book and movie spread to the Muslim world, uniting disparate believers.

Najiba Abdellaoui | Jan/Feb 2007 issue
The controversial religious thriller The Da Vinci Code prompted a firestorm of debate across the Arab world. In Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan, the movie was not shown in theatres on the grounds that it was insulting to believers.
But wait a minute. At the heart of the novel by Dan Brown is the age-old idea that Jesus secretly married Mary Magdalene and produced children—which would be expected to incite controversy among Christians, not Muslims.
Yes, but Islam recognizes Jesus as a prophet—and according to the rules of the religion, fictional stories should not be based on the lives of prophets. Things were fairly quiet when the bestselling book was published in Muslim lands, but after the film – starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou – began packing houses, dissent intensified. “Allah’s prophets and messengers are entitled to receive the utmost respect from us,” said Muzammil H. Siddiqi, chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America and a Muslim who interprets Islamic law in the U.S., following the film’s opening last May. “It is for this reason that Islam forbids making pictures of Allah’s prophets and creating fictitious stories and movies about them,” he said. “We should present the prophet’s life stories with great care, respect and the utmost authenticity.”
In many cases, the Muslim protests gathered steam following intense criticism from conservative Christians. In Pakistan, Azerbaijan and Malawi, for example, the film was taken out of circulation after Christian groups put pressure on Islamic leaders to condemn “this show of blasphemy.” In India, an umbrella organization of Muslim churches labelled the film blasphemous because they said it spread lies about Jesus. “What the book says is an insult to both Christians and Muslims,” Maulana Mansoor Ali Khan, a representative of that organization, told Reuters news agency (May 16, 2006). “Muslims in India will help their Christian brothers protest this attack on our common religious belief.”
Muslims and Christians had previously joined hands following publication of the book. Iran, for example, decided to ban further distribution after the book was condemned by six Iranian bishops – which, incidentally, led to an immediate sellout on the remaining copies. In Lebanon, the General Security Department ordered the book off the shelves following complaints by the local Catholic Information Centre.
These examples of like-mindedness among Muslims and Christians raise the question of whether The Da Vinci Code has achieved the impossible by uniting disparate believers.
Well, not quite. Some Christians blame Arab Muslims for not protesting enough against both the book and the film. And some church leaders have mentioned the 2005 incident involving the publication of anti-Muslim cartoons in Denmark, arguing that if Muslims were so angered by a couple of cartoons, they should be even more incensed by The Da Vinci Code.
However, it’s a complicated issue for Muslims. The Da Vinci Code also contains assertions about Jesus which—though they fly in the face of Christian teachings—don’t cause problems for Muslims. Islam, for instance, does not consider it a sin if a prophet marries and has a family—despite the fact that in Jesus’ case, the Quran makes no mention of it. The movie’s assertion that Jesus was a simple prophet before he was declared to be God’s son by the 4th-century Roman Emperor Constantine, heresy to some Christians, actually corresponds to Islamic teachings.
But a question raised by both Christian and Muslim outrage over the movie is, Why would religious people feel moved to protest against a piece of fiction? In a forum on GulfNews.com, a woman named Rebecca presents an alternative approach: contemplation and dialogue. “I would not have the strong faith in my religion that I have if I never questioned my beliefs and my religion,” she writes. “I won’t ignore something just because it might make me uncomfortable to think about it.”

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