“The Passion of the Christ” proves big hit in Qatar

DOHA, April 29 (AFP) – Mel Gibson’s controversial film “The Passion of the Christ,” now in its sixth week of screening here, is close to breaking box office records in Qatar, a movie industry executive said Thursday.

“Some 25,000 people have seen the movie so far, bringing it close to breaking the box office record of 30,000 viewers held by Titanic,” Abdul Rahman Mohsen, director of the Qatar Cinema Company, told AFP.

The tiny gas-rich state of Qatar has a population of around 650,000, of whom about 150,000 are nationals.

The film was first screened in eight cinemas when it made its debut here on March 21, but is now being shown in only one.

Qatar was the first Gulf Arab state to publicly screen the movie, which has been accused of encouraging anti-Semitism. It has since hit the big screen in some other Gulf countries, including the United Arab Emirates, where it has broken box office records.

Prominent Qatar-based Egyptian-born Muslim cleric Sheikh Yussef al-Qaradawi has backed the showing of the movie, albeit only to adults, a stand which Mohsen said had contributed to its success.

Qaradawi has said Gibson’s movie exposes “the Jews’ crime in sending Jesus to be crucified … although we (Muslims) believe he was not crucified.”

Qaradawi said he was therefore in favor of screening the movie even though Muslims are normally against depicting prophets on screen. Jesus is revered by Muslims as a prophet.

An opinion poll in the Qatari daily Al-Watan showed 81 percent of respondents in favor of screening “The Passion of the Christ.”

The movie, which depicts the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ in graphic and brutal detail, has drawn a storm of criticism as it reaches cinemas worldwide after debuting in the United States.

Gibson’s film, shot in Latin and Aramaic and using little-known actors, has been a huge box office hit in North America.