When word got around that a new film about the Crusades was going to be made, many in the Muslim community cringed, expecting a story colored blood-red by today’s headlines. But Ridley Scott, director of the $236 million “Kingdom of Heaven“, seemed determined to do it right. Having filmed his last several films (including Gladiator and Black Hawk Down) in Muslim countries, he gained an appreciation of the Muslim view of history, and the need to have Muslims portray themselves. “All the Muslim roles were played by Muslim actors,” says Scott (and with Moroccan extras playing the invading Crusader armies, many of the Christian ones were too). “Saladin fights battles, but he also enters into dialogue,” explained veteran Syrian actor Ghassan Massoud, who plays Saladin. “We want to show that dialogue can be much better than war.” The movie begins in the 1180’s, when militant Knights Templar start attacking Muslim pilgrims to Jerusalem, and ends with the surrender of Jerusalem to the armies of Saladin a few years later. Scott consulted regularly with his Muslim actors to insure accuracy in his portrayals. “Each day, I used to discuss things with [Massoud] and he was a great guiding influence… If he was satisfied, so was I.” With a focus on this particular bit of history, it’s no surprise that Christian groups are beginning to show displeasure with the film. “[It’s basically] Osama bin Laden’s version of history,” says Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith, a British academic and expert on the Crusades. Also, the Christian media that was responsible for the overwhelming success of “The Passion of the Christ” is expected to overwhelmingly pan the film. “Most of the crusaders are driven by greed rather than piety,” said film reviewer Bob Waliszewski. “This is not how Christians I know see each other, nor will we want to see this film.” While some Muslims share disapproval of the film (“I believe this movie teaches people to hate Muslims,” says UCLA law professor Khaled Abou El-Fadl), early Muslim opinion is positive. “We have Christians who think this movie is pro-Muslim and Muslims who think that this movie is pro-Christian,” says Egyptian actor Khaled el-Nabawy, who plays an imam in the film. “It will make both go and see the movie.”
Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of altmuslim.com.