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The television series “Omar” about the life of Sahabi [companion of the Prophet] Omar Ibn al-Khattab, may God be pleased with him, continues to provoke major controversy between those who oppose and support its broadcast. In fact, the verdict on this television series – before it had even been screened – involved alarming exaggeration, convulsions and statements such as “series like this are causing great harm to Islam and its broadcast must be stopped.” This series, which is still in its early episodes, has rendered a unique artistic view of Mecca’s society during the time of the prophet, as well as the Prophet’s companions in particular, in a balanced and human manner that can be logically absorbed by the audience.

The series plot and dialogue seemed to have been well prepared and appropriate, not to mention the set design, wardrobe and production, incorporating details of this historic period. In addition to this, the actors were carefully cast in line with the role they are playing, whilst the direction and cinematography is also very professional. This was something that takes period dramas, particularly Arab historical drams, to international horizons. It was very clear that this series has extremely high production values and spared no effort towards producing an integrated and important work.

Whether we agree or disagree, the media is one of the most important mechanisms of “conflict” and this is something that must be dealt with. This is no longer an option but a necessity, as we are gradually moving from a view where the portrayal of the prophet’s companions was considered taboo to a stage where it is acceptable to portray them in television dramas. This is the norm regarding the issue of gradual acceptance and judging something based on its intentions and objectives. In fact, presenting a weighty character study of an exceptional character in the history of Islamic civilization represents an atypical but highly necessary challenge. There are numerous generations of Muslim youths who know nothing about the Prophet’s companions and their true characteristics owing to a lack of interest in reading and a strong inclination towards the media, in all its forms. Therefore we must address those youths in a way that is familiar to them.

The act of banning and forbidding seems weak and unconvincing simply because the positives of such work, in terms of education, raising awareness, and also entertainment, in a modern and respectful manner, far outweigh the negatives. All civilizations, cultures, and religions introduce their stories, heroes and icons utilizing all forms of media, from books to theatre to cinema to television. This is because by doing so they create and shape their own cultural heritage, building up an accumulative cultural memory for their future generations. This allows future generations to maintain and preserve an informed view of their culture, allowing for the creation of an everlasting impression.

In recent years, Arab television dramas have begun to take striking and significant steps when presenting brave works on religious figures such as Khalid Ibn al-Walid, Saladin, Imam al-Shafe’i, al-Bukhari, Imam al-Nesa’i, Tirmidhi, Caliph Omar Bin Abdul-Aziz, al-Hassan and al-Hussein and al-Qaqa al-Tamimi, amongst others. These all received sharp criticism and were subject to controversy, however such works of art continue to be produced, and their benefits shall prevail.

Inevitably, there are numerous subjects for dramas, which can be presented in a modern manner in order to refresh the memories of future generations and change the composite image that is currently stored in their minds. In fact, such images prompt those youths to avoid such history as they view it as being stereotypical, old-fashioned and boring. The controversy surrounding the screening of the “Omar” series will no doubt continue, yet it has a huge viewership, which reveals that it is being accepted by the general public. This will also open the door for other television dramas of comparable magnitude, quality and controversy to be screened in the near future. It is quite apparent that everyone is eager to watch this television series, particularly as it enjoys extremely high production values whilst there are Islamic jurisprudential views that agree that there is no religious consensus prohibiting this.

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi is a businessman and prominent columnist. Mr. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al-Takreer on Al-Arabiya, and in 1995 he was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. He received his BA in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa.

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