As the U.S. Box Office heralds the release of Jesus biopic “Son of God” this week, it remains unknown when – and where – the film will be shown in cinemas across the Middle East.

On Thursday night, the film opened to an impressive $1.2 million in North America. The story chronicles the life of Jesus Christ and was made using footage from the hit 10-hour television miniseries “The Bible.” Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado portrays Jesus in the film.

But the film has received scare coverage in Arab media and is perhaps comparable to the 2004 release of Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ,” which was lauded by some in the region, but banned by more conservative Arab states.

Exactly 10 years ago, the film was screened in Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon – countries home to large Christian populations – and drew enthusiastic crowds.

But it also attracted scorn from a top Shiite cleric in Kuwait, Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer al-Mehri, who urged his government to let the film be shown in theaters there because it “reveals crimes committed by Jews against Christ,” according to a report in Middle East newspaper The Daily Star.

Artistic portrayal of prophets

The Islamic argument also returns to one particular ruling which forbids artistic portrayals of the prophets. In Islam, Jesus is revered as a prophet but he is not considered the son of God, nor do Muslims accept the story of the resurrection.

Box Office success predicted: A still from the ‘son of God’ trailer.

Knowing this, the mere title of the film “Son of God” may agitate sensitivities in the Muslim-majority region.

“In Egypt, there was a clause in film censorship which bans the on-screen artistic portrayal of prophets, and so, no such film was screened since the 1960s,” top Egyptian film critic Tarek el-Shenawy told Al Arabiya News on Saturday.

“But this clause changed in 2004 with the film ‘The Passion of the Christ.’ Muslims regard Jesus as a prophet, but Christians regard him as the son of God.”

But much has changed since the 2004 release of “The Passion of the Christ.” Political Islam and an Islamist militant insurgency have swelled throughout the region, following the Arab Spring uprisings. Also, a 2012 film mocking Prophet Mohammad aggravated Muslims across the world.

Billed as a film trailer, the “Innocence of Muslims” video depicted the Prophet as a fool and a sexual deviant. It sparked a torrent of anti-American unrest among Muslims in Egypt, Libya and other countries in 2012.

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