Two Lebanese TV stations recently canceled an Iranian-made show about Jesus following protests from the Christian community.
Al-Manar and the National Broadcasting Network (NBN) – stations linked to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah – said Friday they will stop airing the 17-episode program about Jesus called "The Messiah." The controversial show portrays Jesus through the Muslim perspective that he is a prophet, not the son of God, and that he did not die on the cross.
The program had only started airing last week to mark the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan when the stations decided to cancel it due to protest from Christians. The stations explained that they do not want to stir up sectarian tension through the show.
In a statement, Al-Manar and NBN stations said while the program "shows the great personality of God's prophet Jesus, the son of Mary, peace be upon him," they decided to stop the show out of respect for other religious groups in Lebanon.
Christians, who make up a sizeable number and are influential in Lebanon, said the show distorted their beliefs of Jesus and organized a sit-in protest at Beirut's Catholic Center on Friday.
The contents of "The Messiah" are based on the Quran and the Gospel of Barnabas, a book rejected by the church. According to the Gospel of Barnabas, Jesus was not crucified and therefore did not resurrect – beliefs similar to those maintained in the Quran. The Muslim Prophet Muhammad also appears in the Gospel of Barnabas.
Maronite Catholic Archbishop Bechara el-Rai criticized the program for failing to show respect to "Jesus, the church and Christianity," according to The Associated Press.
The archbishop represents a powerful group in Lebanon political and social life. Lebanon's political system calls for a Maronite Catholic to be president, a Sunni Muslim to take on the role of prime minister, and a Shiite Muslim to take the position of the parliament speaker. The Cabinet and the parliament are divided equally between Christians and Muslims.
"The Messiah" was originally made as a movie in Iran in 2008 and later was adapted for television and translated into Arabic.