Sat 3 May 2014
Comments Off on Noah and the Muslim Brotherhood
What do a new film about the biblical Noah, who built the ark, and the Muslim Brotherhood have in common? Both have been banned in Egypt. Muhammad Morsi, the stealth brother who was elected president of Egypt, was removed from office last July (one day before we in America celebrated our revolution). On December 25 (the consummate day for thinking about peace one earth), Egypt declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. Now along comes Noah, at least the latest Hollywood version, with Russell Crowe donning the mantle (at least the biblical robe variety) of Charlton Heston and providing a robust challenge to John Huston’s whimsical Noah in The Bible. The major Egyptian Islamic institution, al-Azhar, has issued a fatwa condemning the film for depicting the Prophet Noah (who has an entire chapter devoted to him in the Quran). Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have already officially banned the film and Egypt is likely to follow suit, given the fatwa.
Like the Danish cartoon controversy, this latest run-in between Western secular disdain for Islam and orthodox Muslim sensitivities was raw meat for Fox News, where “The Five” (not to be confused with the five pillars of Islam) co-host Bob Beckel begged for a fatwa, coining a t-shirt phrase “Fatwa me!” (which turns out not to be an idea created by Beckel). While taking on the assumed bigotry of al-Azhar, the fivers studiously avoided the negative reaction to the film by Bible believers in America. When creationist Ken Ham got wind (with or without rain is not clear) of the new Hollywood thriller, he railed against the unbiblical character of the plot. Hollywood has never been known for adopting a literal interpretation of the juicy biblical tales, whether in The Ten Commandments or The Last Days of Sodom and Gomorrah or David and Bathsheba. Mel Gibson’s blood-soaked The Passion of the Christ elicited a range of criticism from those who saw the liberties taken from the Gospel accounts. Apparently it is alright in Fox Newsspeak to make fun of Muslims, but not the Evangelicals who flock to their channel.
The most ardent critics of this new Noah will be from the conservative, Bible-believing right that treats Noah’s flood as the catastrophic case against evolution. In the 19th century the theory of Neptunism posited that the earth was once under a giant ocean. For biblical apologists that ocean was the great flood of Noah, inspiring the hydrologist Henry Morris and theologian John Whitcomb to explain the Grand Canyon and most other other geological features as remnants of that deluge. In his creation museum in Kentucky, Ken Ham has Noah’s children frolicking with the dinosaurs that were on board. The search for the ark’s wooden frame in Turkey has even enticed a former astronaut, James Irwin. Recently a clay tablet in the British Museum mentions Noah as a single man who brought the animals in two by two, but into a round ark.
The Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Muslimin) began in 1928 as a social and religious movement. Its historical role has been one of promoting a conservative view of Islamic practice and providing social services through charity, a major pillar in Islam. With this appeal, it expanded out of Egypt and has many branches, some of which are prone to violence but others which are not. As a political organization, it has been in and out of favor in Egypt, especially now with the removal of Morsi and assumed ascendency of General Sisi. The recent branding of the Brotherhood by Saudi Arabia as a “terrorist” organization is decidedly a political move, since the official Salafi views of the Saudis on doctrine are similar to those of the Brotherhood, apart from the issue of political leadership. For Biblical literalists, however, all Muslims are bound for hell, often serving in an apocalyptic scenario for an upcoming Armageddon in the Middle East. Consider the irony then that, at least when it comes to the heroic figure Noah, conservative Muslims and Christians are on common ground in defense of their respective scriptures against the Hollywood media machine.
This commentary was first published on Anthropology News in March, 2014.