Gibson film stirs religious controversy in Kuwait

Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ" has stirred a religious controversy in Kuwait between majority Sunni Muslims who oppose the movie and the emirate's Shiite Muslims who call for showing it.

The authorities, meanwhile, have not decided either way.

The dean of the local Islamic college, Mohammad al-Tabtabai, said in a fatwa, or religious edict, Monday that parts of the controversial movie contradict the Muslim faith, in addition to its depiction of Jesus.

Tabtabai went so far as to outlaw the film's screening by any Muslim country and prohibited Muslims from watching it, saying anyone who has seen the movie must "repent".

But the emirate's leading Shiite cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer al-Muhri said there was nothing wrong in showing the film and called on the authorities to approve it.

"It's a good opportunity to reveal the crimes committed by Jews against the Christ and many other (religious) prophets," Muhri said.

"We sincerely respect the Jewish religion and Jews, but not the Jewish Zionists, and we believe in Jesus and Moses like we believe in our own prophet," he added.

Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet like the Prophet Mohammad but, contrary to Christians, they believe God saved him from crucifixion.

They also believe Jesus will return to earth before the Day of Judgement to guide the faithful.

Kuwait, where all forms of art production must be censored by the information ministry, has not yet decided whether to publicly screen the film or not. Kuwaiti law bars scenes or images depicting prophets, Muslim caliphs and revered figures.

Several Arab countries, including the Gulf Arab states of Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, have already given the film the green light.

The state national cinema company, which has a monopoly over all cinemas in Kuwait, has not purchased the film and is apparently waiting for a decision from the information ministry.

The film is, however, already being sold on the black market.

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

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