Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of The Christ" had its Malaysian premiere on Wednesday before a Christians-only audience even as pirated DVD copies flooded the market, reported Reuters. About 150 pastors and church officials watched the film in a cinema ahead of general screening scheduled for September 1.
Although some months ago Christians were worried that the Film Censorship Board might block its release, following the intervention of Malaysia’s Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi the movie was approved. However, when the movie becomes available to audiences next month, screening will be restricted for non-Christians, and available for viewing “at designated cinemas,” and without prior advertising.
For many, the decision to release the film came as a surprise, especially since almost two-thirds of Malaysia's population follows Islam.
"We thought the movie would be banned because none of the prophets are to be depicted in a movie," said Twentieth Century Fox's Malaysia account manager, Tan Kok Aik.
According to the Muslim faith, the portrayals of sacred figures such as Jesus—who Muslims consider to be a prophet (but not the crucified Son of God)—are forbidden. It was for this reason that the 1998 screening of the animated movie The Prince of Egypt, which depicts Moses (known in Islam as the prophet Musa), was not permitted.
However, after Malaysia’s unexpected decision, the country became one of the few predominantly Muslim countries that have allowed the showing of the film. In predominantly Muslim countries including Egypt, Qatar, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, and Iran the movie was a box-office hit. In Bahrein, the movie was prohibited, but in Indonesia the movie was allowed to be seen everywhere after the local Film Censorship Board cut some scenes for their excessive violence.
According to the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship, which lobbied for the film's screening in Malaysia, “The Passion” will show in theatres on September 1 for a two-month period in 17 cinemas nationwide.
Christians can make bookings through their churches.