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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: A Muslim won’t kill Jesus

National Geographic Channel recently sparked controversy when it announced that a Muslim-raised actor, Haaz Sleiman, was being cast to play the role of Jesus Christ in an upcoming mini-series titled “Killing Jesus,” an adaptation of the book by Bill O’Reilly.

National Geographic is billing the series as a new perspective on “the political, social and historical conflicts of [Jesus’] time, … which have sometimes been downplayed.”

Because Sleiman, as a Muslim, believes Jesus was a prophet but does not agree that he was the son of God, there has been some controversy among conservative Christians about his ability to faithfully execute the role. 

“This is one of the most powerful and inspiring stories ever told,” Sleiman said, responding to critics in an interview at the Television Critics Association Press Tour “I’m honored and humbled to be given this gift.”

When asked how he reacted when he was first cast, Sleiman answered, “I called my mother, who said, … ‘bless you for playing Jesus, peace be upon him.’” 

Sleiman also argued that if Jesus were still around, he wouldn’t judge him for taking on the role.

“I cannot speak for Jesus, but I can quote his teachings, and he said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’” Sleiman said. “… How would he react to me playing Jesus? He wouldn’t judge it.”

An actor is an actor and should be able to play any role he desires. It is unfortunate that Sleiman is being ridiculed for his religion and his race by certain conservative Christians.

What’s particularly ironic is that, if anything, conservative Muslims have the foremost right to be outraged by Sleiman’s actions. 

“The Muslim religious teachings are unequivocally against portraying any prophets and their very close disciples,” said Kamel Didan, vice chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Islamic Center of Tucson. “Our belief [is] that prophets are infallible and portraying them takes from their reverence, especially when one considers the sort of life most actors carry. … Our faith is against idolizing anyone, and portraying a person is a form of idolizing.”

In fact, Didan argued, Sleiman’s decision to portray Jesus on film is similar to the decision of some cartoonists to draw depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.

“Jesus has a very special place in our faith and he is [as] revered as our Prophet Muhammad,” Didan said. “As such, we are equally offended when anyone tries to portray him.”

Still, it is the controversy from Christians, not Muslims, that has forced the National Geographic Channel to defend its casting decision. 

“We hired the best actor for all the roles,” National Geographic Channel’s spokesman Christopher Albert told Breitbart News. “That was our one and only criteria for casting this movie. … We, of course, don’t ask anyone what their religion or any other affiliation is when they audition for a part and certainly don’t discriminate based on religion or anything else.” 

National Geographic shouldn’t have to defend its decision to cast an actor — any actor — in a nonfiction, secular film. 

“What if a Quaker, Unitarian or even a Mormon played Jesus?” said Konden Smith, a religious studies professor. “Would that be acceptable? Jesus was neither a Christian nor a Muslim; he was a Jew. Perhaps only Jews should play the role of Jesus?”

Smith’s colleague and religious studies professor Julian Kunnie was similarly confused about the controversy.

“The furor again reflects the unwarranted bias against Islam propagated by parochial religious adherents in U.S. society,” Kunnie said. “Prejudice against Muslims certainly is out of step with Jesus’ teachings on love and engagement with diverse peoples.”

Which brings us back to Sleiman’s quote from the Gospel of Mark. If Muslims, whose religious tenets are being violated by this casting decision as much as, if not more than, Christians, can accept it and move on, why do certain elements of the right wing find this so difficult to handle?

Perhaps they should instead start imitating Jesus by loving their Muslim neighbors as themselves.


Jessica Terrones is a journalism freshman. Follow her on Twitter.

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