In an op-ed for the Jewish Telegraph Agency on Wednesday, Hussain criticized the series, Khaybar, and said efforts “must be made to ensure that textbooks and television programming in the Muslim world are free from the types of dehumanizing ideas and images that breed intolerance and hate.”
The drama, filmed in Egypt and involving filmmakers and actors from several Arab countries, deals with a battle during the early years of Islam between forces led by Mohammed and Jewish tribes living in the Khaybar region of northwestern Arabia.
The Jews were defeated and allowed to remain there only on the condition that they surrendered their land and paid a tribute to the Islamic armies – the jizya tax, levied as mandated by the Qur’an on non-Muslims in Islamic societies. (The jizya was enforced in the Ottoman Empire until the mid-19th century.) One of Mohammed’s successors, Omar, eventually expelled the Jews from Arabia.
Islamic writings record that Mohammed ordered that a Jewish leader in Khaybar, Kinana, be tortured to reveal where buried treasure was hidden. Kinana was eventually beheaded and Mohammed took his widow, Safiyya, as his eleventh wife.
The battle is often invoked by Muslim radicals (as in the case during a speech last November by then-Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi) in the chant, “Khaybar, Khaybar, Oh Jews, the army of Mohammed is returning.”
In the run up to Ramadan – a month of dawn-to-dusk fasting that is also a popular time for television viewing – some of the actors and others involved in the Khaybar series spoke to Arab media about the show, which is reportedly screening in Egypt, the Arabian Gulf and Algeria.
In his op-ed, Hussain referenced one such comment, quoting the drama’s producer as saying, “the goal of the series is to expose the naked truth about the Jews and stress that they cannot be trusted.”
Other comments, recorded and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), reinforced that theme.
“The Khaybar series takes place back in the early days of Islam,” said Egyptian actor Farouq Flux. “It shows the major role the Jews played in fighting Islam and in the attempt to fight and deceive the prophet Mohammed. This series shows the truth about the Jews, and about making agreements with them.”
Another Egyptian actor, Ahmad Maher, said the series tries to portray how Jews raise their children “in a vile, treacherous, depraved and Machiavellian manner.”
“History has shown that the Jews are a people with no moral values, who do not honor their agreements.”
“We have a problem with these people,” said screenwriter Yusri al-Gindi. “This problem has continued for a long time and it still exists. This justifies addressing it all the time. The idea that we wish to convey is that these people have not changed one bit.”
“I play one of the most prominent Jews, who hatches plots and schemes,” said actor Mostafa Hashish. “He is, of course, very miserly – the purely typical Jew. He is called Abu Khallad. He is killed by his son. So this gives you an idea what the Jews are made of.”
Hussain said the Khaybar series was particularly disturbing against the backdrop of “hateful depictions and inflammatory actions” that Muslims have had to deal with in recent years.
“Rather than emphasizing Muhammad’s efforts to establish peaceful relations among religious communities, ‘Khaiber’ does just the opposite,” he wrote. “And it does so at a time when a number of religious groups, including Christians, face discrimination and violence in countries where the series will air.”
Hussain argued that such depictions also do “a disservice to Muslims and the legacy of the prophet.”
“While censorship is not the answer, communities must come forward to counter such depictions with more informed views to prevent the spread of stereotypes and hatred that can dehumanize entire groups of people.”
In a review of Ramadan TV viewing last week, Asharq al-Awsat, a London-based daily regarded as one of the Arab world’s most influential newspapers, said Khaybar was the most controversial of this year’s offerings.
“The series focuses on the conflicts between Muslims and Jews in the Arabian Peninsula at the dawn of Islam and how the attempts to divide the Arabs led to the end of the Jews of Khaybar,” it said.
“Initial advertisement does not indicate a particularly high artistic or production value,” the reviewer wrote. “This does not mean, however, that the series will not be a success.”