Ramadan is a time of fast, a time for thoughtful mediation, a time to be more spiritual. In the days before TV, people would listen to the Koran being read over the radio. Afterward, they would listen to episodes of A Thousand and One Nights or religious quiz shows.
Nowadays, Ramadan is prime time TV month. Since the invention of satellite television more than 100 TV series are produced annually for the holy Muslim month, all vying for the attention of the tens of millions of Arab families who are brought together for the holiday.
Gone are the religious quiz programs and documentaries. Muslims these days prefer Jewish- and Israel-related documentaries, impossible love stories and whodunit detective series.
This Ramadan, Arab TV networks offered a few surprises.
Al-Shatat, "The Diaspora," the viciously anti-Semitic series produced in 2002 that got Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV and Iran's Al-Sahar TV pulled from Europe's airwaves, is being broadcast in a country at peace with Israel: Jordan. The Syrian-made film, which was produced as a 2003 Ramadan TV series, generated an intense backlash following translations of the show released by MEMRI.
Now it is airing on a new privately owned Jordanian TV station, Al-Mamnou. The TV serial purports to tell the history of Zionism from 1812 to 1948, but it is more like a story along the lines of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It even has a scene depicting the notorious blood libel - Jews slaughtering a Christian child to use his blood for matzot.
Israel's Foreign Ministry is concerned. "It is very disappointing and worrying that a channel exists - even if it is private - that broadcasts this series," said Lior Ben-Dor, a ministry spokesperson. "It is an anti-Semitic series that propagates blood libels and misrepresents history. Unfortunately, it only increases the ignorance that causes hatred and perpetuates the conflict."
In the opening scene, set in Romania in 1812, the dying Amschel Rothschild divides Europe among his five sons.
"All the nations that violate the religion of the Jews originated from the seed of a stinking and filthy ass," says Rothschild, in a quote translated by MEMRI.
"Rule them in secret and in public, with strength and oppression, through deceit and cunning, and do not allow any nation to share your control of the world... God has honored us, the Jews, with the mission of ruling the world using money, using science, using politics, using murder, using sex, using any means..."
Another Syrian-produced film is also causing shock waves this Ramadan - but among Arabs. Al-Hur al-Ayn, "Maidens of Paradise," is a film that makes jihad look bad. The film tells the story of Arabs living in residential compounds in Saudi Arabia which Islamist terrorists want to blow up so they can collect their 72-virgin reward in heaven.
The Koran tells of beautiful maidens in paradise without specifying a number. A written saying of the prophet Muhammad speaks of 72 virgins in heaven as a reward for virtuous men, but there is no mention of martyrs.
"In the serial, we refute every militant argument by referring to the Koran," said the film's Syrian director and producer, Najdat Anzour.
The film is written by Abdullah Bjad, a Saudi and a self-described "former militant" who acted as a religion consultant for the script. He said that just before one of the 2003 attacks on a residential compound in Saudi Arabia, an attacker who was in contact with his superiors was "heard on the mobile phone counting down the seconds to the maidens of paradise. His last words before blowing himself up were, 'One second to the maidens of paradise.'"
The series, broadcast by MBC Arab satellite network, is aimed at "those who have not made up their minds about terrorism yet," Anzour said.
While some viewers have praised the groundbreaking series, others have called Anzour an infidel for tarnishing the image of Islam.
Agent 1001 is considered the biggest hit this Ramadan. The film tells the story of an Egyptian inside Israel who was recruited by Egyptian intelligence to collect information about the IDF before the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
The Egyptian Gazette called the film "marvelous," saying "the serial is unique in its portrayal of the battle between Egyptian and Israeli intelligence." The critic lamented that it was only broadcast on the Arab satellite channels.
AP contributed to this report.
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