Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Whose Holy Land is it?

I have to admit I cringed the first time I saw the trailer for Kingdom of Heaven. I felt that at a time when the relationship between the US and the Muslim World is at an all time low, it wouldn't help to have a Hollywood movie glorifying the Crusades!

But the movie was actually pretty good - it didn't explain the Crusades as substantively as I had hoped, but I think it's important for American Christians to see that there was a time when the Christians waged a bloody "holy war" on the Muslims. Some of the practices and sentiments expressed are very similar to the ones used by Muslim extremists today. The movie is beautifully made and portrays the Muslims in a positive light which is helpful. I am glad the producer included the fact that when Christians captured Jerusalem in 1099, they killed Muslims, Jews and other Christians indiscriminately, but this did not happen when Salah-El-Din got back Jerusalem from the Christians - at this point in the movie, I felt so happy as a Muslim, but it's funny because in the 12th century, my ancestors were Hindu! Throughout the movie, I felt like saying "Jerusalem is ours," but then I caught myself saying it's not & the problem is that there are people trying to make that argument. As a birthplace of all the Abrahamic religions, the Holy Land belongs to all of us. As Orlando Bloom, who plays the Christian leader of Jerusalem's forces, states that the city should belong to all. "The Kingdom of Heaven is not stones," he says, then points to his head and heart: "It is here, and here."

To quote Chapter 109 (verses 1-6) of the Holy Qur'an:

"O you who disbelieve,
I do not worship what you worship,
Nor do you worship who I worship,
Nor shall I worship what you worship,
Nor will you worship who I worship,
To you your religion, to me my religion."

For those of you who don't know, Jerusalem was the first qibla (direction of prayer) for Muslims before Mecca. I remember asking my dad once why Allah made that change and he replied that God probably knew that it would be a place of bloodshed one day, and He didn't want people praying to that. I don't know if that's the correct answer but it sure makes sense to me!

When I was in Jordan, I visited two Crusader castles in Karak and Shoubak and it was a fascinating experience. When we were inside the one at Karak, the tour guide joked that the soldiers probably cooked the Muslims in there, but my dear Christian friend, Catherine, said she'd save me! SEE PICTURES BELOW

For those of you interested in learning more about the other side of the Crusades, I recommend you to read The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Malouf.

Quick note: although I couldn't find information online about this, I believe it is documented that Salah-El-Din is known to have killed Shias. I'll post more information about this if I find anything. My friend Zahir did a really good job of analysing the movie.

From the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC):

Kingdom of Heaven is an epic-scale historical drama inspired by the events of the third Crusade of the 12th century and is based on real characters, including Balian of Ibelin, a Crusader knight, and Salah El Din (Saladin), the renowned Muslim leader. The movie, a 20th Century Fox production with a $130 million budget, was shot in Morocco with hundreds of extras, horses and elaborate costumes. The script, written by William Monahan, follows the story of Balian who rises to knighthood and embarks on a life-changing journey to find peace and a better world. Along the way, he sees the possibility of a future of peaceful coexistence of many faiths and ethnicities in Jerusalem.

In tackling a complex and potentially volatile subject, Scott avoids a simplistic perspective of Muslim vs. Christian, instead opting to highlight the similarities between the two groups of people, while presenting a spectrum of personalities and characters in both. At one point, Balian, while watching Muslims pray, exclaims, "How similar their prayers are to ours." Additionally, Kingdom of Heaven presents a positive portrayal of Saladin, whose many acts of generosity and chivalry have been widely recognized around the world and across the ages.

ADC feels that the Arab and Muslim communities should welcome Ridley Scott's sensitive and fair representation of the Arab and Muslim characters in his film. ADC Communications Director Laila Al-Qatami said, "Scott presents a more complex and human representation of Muslim characters than is evident in most Hollywood films. We definitely welcome 20th Century Fox and Ridley Scott's efforts to provide a fair and multifaceted portrayal of cultural and religious realities during the Crusades. We also thank Ridley Scott for arranging this screening."

Director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Alien, Gladiator, and many other films) said in a letter to ADC, "while the primary focus of the film is one man's personal journey of faith, I have also given much care to addressing the very sensitive nature of the larger political and religious issues of the Crusades."

Al-Qatami added, "As the movie closes, the last line of text states that in the more than 1000 years since, peace is still elusive in the Kingdom of Heaven." She continued, "The vision of a shared Jerusalem, open and accessible to all, is one that we should be seeking and working toward."

Click here to read an alternative view of the film