BEIRUT, (AP) – Two Shiite Muslim television stations in Lebanon canceled a controversial program about Jesus on Friday, saying they do not want to stir up sectarian conflict in the country.
The 17-episode program, which was produced in Iran, describes Jesus from an Islamic point of view. Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet and a teacher, but not the son of God.
The debate has particular resonance in Lebanon, an Arab nation of 4 million people with a grim history of sectarian strife. The country’s population is divided into 18 sects, including Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Christians and Druse.
Al-Manar, a television station run by Lebanon’s powerful militant group, Hezbollah, and the National Broadcasting Network, NBN, started airing the program this week at the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Christian priests and politicians quickly protested, saying the topic might endanger national coexistence.
The program does not show respect to “Jesus, the church and Christianity,” Catholic Maronite Archbishop Bechara el-Rai told reporters Friday.
Shortly before el-Rai’s news conference, Al-Manar and NBN issued a statement saying the program “shows the great personality of God’s prophet Jesus, the son of Mary, peace be upon him.” But, the statement said, the stations decided to stop airing the program in respect to other Lebanese sects.
Information Minister Tarek Mitri said that even though he is against censorship, he agreed with the cancellation because of Lebanon’s religious diversity.
“There is a special case in Lebanon which is considered a country of dialogue and a country where Christians and Muslims meet,” Mitri said.
After Lebanon gained independence from French rule in 1943, Christians dominated the country. Muslim demands for reform helped trigger the 1975-90 civil war. A 1989 agreement ended the civil war and the two sides have since shared power.
The political system reflects Lebanon’s sectarian makeup. The presidency goes to a Maronite Catholic, the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, and a Shiite Muslim must be the parliament speaker. The Cabinet and the parliament’s 128 seats are divided equally between Christians and Muslims.