Streaming service Netflix has come under fire by religious groups for its most recent content that throws sacred figures into the spotlight- for all the wrong reasons. Muslims and Christians around the world have denounced the makings of “Messiah” and “The First Temptation of Christ” and threatened to boycott the service.
A highly anticipated series depicting what is presumed to be Ad-Dajjal or the anti-christ in other faiths, has ruffled the feathers of the international Muslim community. The two-minute trailer of the controversial “Messiah” was enough to draw threats of a boycott.
On Netflix official website, the movie is described as “provocative, suspenseful and emotional” and fits a range of genres. Its synopsis stated: “A wary CIA officer investigates a charismatic man who sparks a spiritual movement and stirs political unrest. Who exactly is he? And what does he want?”
In another Brazilian series titled “The First Temptation of Christ”, Jesus (PBUH) is depicted as a gay man while his mother Mary (Mariam AS) is a cannabis smoker. Christians and Muslims across the world have called on Netflix to retract the film.
The petitions have received millions in votes of support and some tweeps have accused Netflix of profiting off the mockery of religious beliefs.
AD-DAJJAL, THE ANTICHRIST
The main character, played by Mehdi Dehbi, in ‘The Messiah’ is revealed to be named “Al-Masih” “, Arabic for ‘the Messiah’. In Islam, the word Maseeh (Messiah) applies to both Nabi Esa (AS) or Jesus PBUH which refers to the “anointed one” or “the saviour”, as well as to Al-Masih ad-Dajjal which is “the false messiah, liar, the deceiver”. In the series, Al-Masih claims to be the son of God.
Ad-Dajjal is an inedible figure in Islamic eschatology that will influence the masses to follow him and denounce Allah of being the Creator of All.
According to Islamic sources, there are various descriptions of Ad-Dajjal, -who much like in the series- will perform miracles at a time where mankind is in great distress and enduring severe poverty. He will have the ability to bring rain and allow vegetation to grow on arid land. He will also at some point “bring the dead back to life” to convince skeptics of his “sovereignty”, but will in fact be instructing demons to take up the from of the deceased.
In a number of scholarly lectures, Ad-Dajjal is a figure mostly feared by the Muslim world in that he signifies the end of times. The coming of the Dajjal is also said to be the worst affliction upon the ummah. Not only does his appearance signify the end of times, but he also has the ability to deceive and manipulate the human mind.
There are a number of signs that will emerge before his appearance, which is set to be somewhere between Iraq and Syria after the “Battle of Istanbul” takes place. The name in the hadith is Constantinople, which is the former name of Istanbul. In the series, Al-Masih suddenly appears in Syria.
There is an array of popular descriptions that scholars have agreed on. These include that he will be a short man that is fair in complexion, with long curly hair, a wide forehead and a broad upper chest. He will also be sterile and have no children. He will conquer all nations, except Makka and Medina that he will not be able to enter.
Among the most notable characteristics is that he will have the letters “Kaaf faa’ raa’ (K-F-R)” which, when put together, will say: “kaafir”. Kafir means non-believer and only the true believers will be able to see it, literate or illiterate. His eyes will also be defective. The right will be completely blind and appear to hang like a suspended grape neither protruding nor sunken, while the right will also be visually impaired.
In Christianity, the Messiah refers to Jesus (PBUH) and that he will come down to save the believers. Jews, the Messiah, or Mashiach in Hebrew, will rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, unite all Jews and become a world leader. In both these religions, the title describes someone of nobility and greatness.
JESUS (PBUH) AS A GAY MAN
Netflix has received an even greater backlash over a Brazilian Christmas comedy special called “The First Temptation of Christ”, which first aired on 3rd of December 2019. Its synopsis on the Netflix website reads as follows:
“Jesus, who’s hitting the big 3-0, brings a surprise guest to meet the family. A Christmas special so wrong, it must be from the comedians Porta dos Fundos.”
The Brazilian YouTube comedy group Porta dos Fundos (which means “Back Door” in Portuguese) has been making several satires for over a decade. A petition is also calling for the group to be “held responsible for the crime of villainous faith.”
Porta dos Fundos’ called the backlash “homophobic” and made the following statement in relation to backlash over the series:
“Porta dos Fundos values artistic freedom and humour through satire on the most diverse cultural themes of our society and believes that freedom of expression is an essential construction for a democratic country.”
The series has riled up the Christian community to a point that a petition has garnered millions in support of boycotting Netflix entirely.
Not only can the concept of the revered prophet Nabi Esa or Jesus (PBUH) being portrayed as “gay” be seen as blasphemy, but it also openly promotes the concept of homosexuality.
The controversial issue has for been a sore thumb for religious scholars for centuries, even more so in recent years with the emergence of the LGBTIQ+ community. Although shunned a few decades ago, the rights of those with different sexual preferences, genders and manner of expression has managed to change the approach of creatives, the school syllabus and even policies and laws.
With Islam and most sects of Christianity taking a firm stance against homosexuality and other industries vouching for its promotion, religion has seemingly taken a back seat. The “democratic right for freedom of expression” has since claimed the spotlight as the go-to justification.
Despite having no tangible plan on how to discuss the issue, many religious communities opt for the notion that “God alone can judge”.
Writer Michael Petroni said that Messiah will explore “the lines among religion, faith and politics” and will be “fascinating for viewers of every faith”. With a diverse range of characters such as a CIA agent, an Israeli Shin Bet officer, a Latino preacher and his Texan daughter, a Palestinian refugee, and the media; the series is sure to attract many views.
Netflix viewers were not swayed and also threatened to boycott the subscription service if it is eventually aired on 1 January 2020, citing disrespect to various religious groups including Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
But, given media freedom, the producing Hollywood couple Mark Burnett and Roma Downey said that it is sure have the audience asking big questions. The couple were also responsible for the series “The Bible” in 2013, which focused on several stories of prophets as narrated in the Bible, including Moses (Nabi Musa AS) and Jesus (Esa AS) and also drew both praise and criticism.
“What if someone showed up in 2018 amid strange occurrences and was thought to be the Messiah? What would society do? How would the media cover him? Would millions simply quit work? Could the government’s collapse?” questioned the couple.
Netflix has not commented regarding the “The First Temptation of Christ” series, other than to express support for Freedom of comedic expression.
POWER OF MEDIA
In the latest featurette of ‘Messiah‘, the actors describe how the series will not only raise religious hairs but also provide insight into the global phenomenon of social media. The accessibility of information- and misinformation- has for a long time been a hot topic, particularly whether or not its immediacy is beneficial or detrimental.
While an instant notification about a looming natural disaster, drastic political shifts or even just traffic updates could save lives; the spreading of unconfirmed reports and propaganda could also spread unnecessary panic, unfounded outrage and potential chaos.
Although many have focused on the strong religious background of the series, the creators have said that they want people to consider how easily they are manipulated by what they are fed through the media. This concept is also something that many shuyoogh have negatively referred to, in terms of spreading fitnah (rumours) which has very real and sometimes legal implications.
Apart from the legal implications, information overload or having too many “credible” opinions can also cause confusion and frustration. In the 21st century, media also plays a huge role in the political landscape in that uncertainty can cause instability and the obscured views of the public can increase their will to overthrow those in power or even governments.
The question that now arises is what entertainment media has achieved through-provoking its audiences on sensitive issues? How will pushing the boundaries of belief influence generations to come?