Fiery Darts Are Backfiring

Surprisingly, theaters in Doha, Qatar, and Amman, Jordan, are showing The Passion of the Christ. A Qatari English-language newspaper, The Peninsula, headlines, "Passion runs full house." On March 21 three theaters in Doha were sold-out and pre-booked for days ahead. An official of the Qatar Cinema and Film Distribution Board boasts that Qatar is so open that no film was refused permission for showing there last year and that the distributor was amazed when Qatar requested The Passion. Censors okayed it without any cuts, and the official expects the film to run for at least two months. And some mullahs are encouraging their Muslim followers to see the film. Why such an unexpected endorsement? The false rumors that the film is anti-Semitic have reached the mullahs, and as one missionary explains, "since they hate the Jews, they want to see it." Muslims recognize Jesus as a prophet, and although they believe Muhammad superseded Him, they still revere and respect Christ. So when they hear of a film which is alleged to show Jews crucifying Christ, some Muslims welcome the opportunity to revel in a depiction of the wickedness of their long-time enemies. But many Muslims are responding to the film in ways their mullahs hadn't intended. One viewer recognized, "When they show a story of the Romans . . . in ancient times, it doesn't mean the present-day Italians are responsible." By analogy, he reasoned that, even if he construed the film as depicting first-century Jews as instigators of Christ's crucifixion, that would not be an indictment of modern Israelis. An even more important consequence shows up in an e-mail from a missionary, who marvels, "In two short hours more Qataris heard the Gospel than I have been able to reach in nearly five years living here. At the 7:30 P.M. and 9:30 P.M. showings, the film was running in all three theaters." He estimated that more than 50 percent of the people in the theater were local Muslims -- including completely veiled women. After viewing the film with a former student, he told him in Arabic, "You think that this film is here because of 'freedom of speech' or the new openness of your government, but actually God Himself has sent this film to correct your total misunderstanding about who Jesus is and why He came to earth." For two hours, the missionary and the student discussed the differences between Islam and Christianity, and the cross -- the heart of our message. The missionary adds, "How interesting that God is using this film to communicate the Gospel [in] the very opposite spirit that might be motivating [Muslims] to see it. The message to love your enemies, and Jesus' praying for them to be forgiven while on the cross, would hit the Muslim moviegoer in a powerful way." With theaters in Jordan and Qatar scheduled to show the film for at least two months, and with videos and DVDs selling briskly, the potential is staggering. Isn't God amazing? He is using charges of anti-Semitism to stimulate Muslim mullahs to encourage their followers to see a Christian film during Holy Week -- in essence, to make fiery darts backfire. For further reading and information: "Passion runs full house," The Peninsula, 23 March 2004. Wolfgang Polzer, "'The Passion of the Christ' Moves Arabs," Assist News Service, 26 March 2004. Nadia Abou El-Magd, "Gibson's 'The Passion' a Hit among Arabs," Newsday, 5 April 2004. Ann Rodgers, "'The Passion of the Christ' surprises Muslim students," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 5 April 2004. Jamil Abdul Karim, "A new wave of openness?: The Passion raises important questions," Yemen Times, 4 April 2004. "Malaysian Muslims offended by 'The Passion'," AsiaNews, 5 April 2004. Michelle Goldberg, "Mel Gibson: Arab world messiah," Salon, 6 April 2004. (Subscription required, or watch an ad for a free one-day pass.) See BreakPoint's viewer's guide for The Passion of the Christ for talking points about the film. Timothy George, Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?: Understanding the Difference between Christianity and Islam (Zondervan, 2002). Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Zondervan, 1998). David Van Biema, "Why Did Jesus Have to Die?" Time, 12 April 2004. (Subscription required.)


Chuck Colson


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