By Holy Week, The Passion of the Christ had become one of the highest-grossing movies ever to hit American cinemas. The film's greatest impact, however, may be via pirated DVDs in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia; and crowded theaters in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, Oman, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates.
"This film is generating so much interest in Jesus and the Scriptures," one missionary in the region said. "Every Christian we are talking to seems to have a story or two."
The film's undeserved reputation as anti-Semitic propaganda has piqued Muslim interest, according to Khaled Abdelrahman, an Iraqi former Muslim who directs a Christian apologetics website for Muslims. "Because [many Muslims] hate the Jews, they want to see the movie," Abdelrahman told CT.
The film depicts Jesus' crucifixion, which the Qur'an denies happened to Jesus. Islam regards Christ as a great prophet but not as the Son of God.
Abdelrahman and Fuller Theological Seminary professor of Islamic studies Dudley Woodberry doubt the film will incite further violence against Jews. "The movie will only 'confirm' their views, but they will also get the message of forgiveness from a prophet that they highly respect," Woodberry said. The movie's graphic portrayal of Jesus' crucifixion and forgiveness, Woodberry said, "is far more compelling than arguments over whether Jesus was crucified, especially for people not as exposed to television and movies as Westerners."
"It has beaten all records," Johnny Masri, general manager of Prime Pictures, the movie's Middle East distributor, told the Christian Science Monitor. "It's more popular than Titanic and the James Bond films. We completely underestimated the huge success this movie would have."
Woodberry, who lives part of the year in Afghanistan, said the movie is also available in Kabul markets. According to the Christian Science Monitor, it is banned in Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.
Muslim audiences are receptive to the film's use of Aramaic, a language that shares some words with Arabic. Abdelrahman said an Arabic-speaker would understand at least 10 percent of the film's Aramaic.