Abdul Qowi Bastian
In every sahur during Ramadan, there were only two TV shows worth watching: “Tafsir Al Misbah” (“The Light of the Qur’an”) which features former religious affairs minister and renowned cleric Quraish Shihab on Metro TV and “Omar” on MNC TV.
“Omar” is a television series that aired in many countries, including Indonesia and Turkey, during the fasting month of Ramadan. The TV series, directed by renowned Syrian director Hatem Ali, is a joint production of the Saudi-owned Middle East Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and Qatar TV. With hundreds of actors and thousands of extras, detailed story lines, stunning visual effects, “Omar” is the biggest production ever in the history of Arabic television.
Omar, or Umar Ibn al-Khattab, is a close of companion of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the second of four caliphs who oversaw the expansion of the Islamic empire in the 7th century.
Prominent Egyptian critic Tareq Shinawi, as quoted by the Gulf News, said, “People everywhere are waiting to watch ‘Omar.’ Such a drama, if presented with a high level of production and historical accuracy will convey so much [information] about Islam which, unfortunately, has become a target for attack in many media.”
The series has received controversy due to its depiction of the four caliphs — Abu Bakr, Umar Ibn al-Khattab, Uthman Ibn Affan and Ali Ibn Abi Taleb — who, according to Sunni scholars, should not be portrayed, much like the prophet. The scholars argued such depictions are forbidden because they can lead to idolatry.
The school of Al-Azhar in Cairo and Saudi Arabia’s Islamic legal research center Dar al-Ifta have issued fatwa against the series.
Commenting on the calls not to watch and boycott the series, a Muslim blogger offers a justifiable, sensible argument, “Agreed: that the characters and the personalities of the Great Sahabas can never, ever be justly and fairly replicated, reproduced, or depicted on film … True: that such depiction can mislead and can wrongly make certain people be misinformed or be misconceived about the Companions of The Messenger of God,” but “We Muslims have a choice: either to let those against Islam distort and misinform about us using such medias; or do the informing and the spreading of our religion ourselves.”
The series generated heated debates among Muslims online — and non-Muslims too. A Facebook page called “No to airing Omar” was made to denounce the series — before being taken down later. A Twitter user, observing the pros and cons among Muslims, tweeted, “Is this the Religion of Peace? Ha ha.”
I, unfortunately, only caught the last few episodes of “Omar.” But, being aired during the holy month at 4 a.m. on MNC TV, “Omar” is a fresh alternative over Ramadan-themed television shows that feature bawdy humor and foul language. Despite the campaign for the show not to be aired, we need to appreciate the move taken by MNC TV to air “Omar.”
Albeit controversial, it is better to watch “Omar” rather than unfunny comedians mocking two white men in a Ramadan talk show.
The Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) has been calling for better quality of Ramadan-themed programs since years ago. This issue is brought up every single year without concrete actions. Is it safe to say now that KPI has done little to nothing to regulate the Ramadan programs?
Although “Omar” may not do the four caliphs justice, its story-telling appeals international audiences. Some may argue the series contain false, misrepresented information but, at the very least, the viewers get general narrative about the life of Umar Ibn al-Khattab and the expansion of Islam. After all, how can a complex life like Umar’s can be summed up into a 30-episodes TV series?
Missed “Omar” during Ramadan? Now you can watch the first 10 episodes (with English subtitles) on YouTube by clicking here.