'The Passion' reaching thousands of Muslims in Middle East

( [email protected] ) Mar 29, 2004 03:30 AM EST

Since Mel Gibson's controversial movie, “The Passion of the Christ” opened at three local cinemas in the Middle East on Sunday, March 21, "seats have been scarce", reported The Peninsula, an English-language newspaper in Qatar. Long lines have formed at movie theaters in at least two cities -- Amman, Jordan, and Doha, Qatar.

"All showings at The Mall, Landmark and Gulf Cinema were sold out by mid-afternoon Monday, and bookings have been made for days ahead," the newspaper reported. "Officials from the Qatar Cinema and Film Distribution Co. disclosed that the movie is expected to play for no less than two months."

Sources in the Middle East say that Arab audiences are deeply moved by Christ's suffering. Street vendors are offering pirate copies. DVDs and videos are "selling like hotcakes," reported the British information service Ekklesia. Western movies are even available on the black market in Saudi Arabia, one of the strictest Islamic countries.

One missionary in Qatar said in an e-mail report that the film is opening up unprecedented opportunities to share the gospel in the country. The missionary said that many Arab Muslims are curious to see the film because they "heard it was anti-Jewish, and since they hate the Jews, they want to see it. How interesting that God is using this film to communicate the gospel and the very opposite spirit that might be motivating them to go see it. The message to love your enemies, and Jesus' praying for them to be forgiven while on the cross would hit the Muslim moviegoer in a powerful way."

He said it's interesting that the film was released in Qatar the day before the assassination of Palestinian Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. "The Arab response has been a whole new wave of hatred for the Jews which was illustrated in a large public demonstration/march. Again, God's timing is so amazing. At a time when the urge for Muslims to hate has been renewed, the Lord has brought 'The Passion,' telling them, 'No, love your enemies! Forgive them! The contrast is staggering. In the coming weeks, potentially tens of thousands of Arab Muslims will see this powerful portrayal of Christ's suffering and death."