BEIRUT Animators in Lebanon have brought to the cinema the story of the death of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson, Imam Hussein, whose demise in battle was a defining moment in the emergence of Shi'ite Islam.
"Ard al-Taff" is being launched to coincide with Ashura, when Shi'ites commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein at the battle of Kerbala in Iraq in AD 680. The makers of the 3-D animated movie hope to reach a wide audience, including Sunnis.
"It's the first film which tells the story of Imam Hussein," said Ahmed Homani, director of the Beirut production house behind the film. "We are receiving requests from Indonesia and Malaysia for distribution," he said. "Most of the Arab states are talking about the possibility of distribution."
Hussein was one of the sons of Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammad. Shi'ites believe leadership of the Muslim community should have passed to Ali and his descendents, known as the Imams, after Mohammad's death.
At the time of battle of Kerbala, Muslim lands were governed from Damascus by a ruler called Yazid. He sent an army against Hussein to demand an oath of allegiance. Hussein refused.
Vastly outnumbered, he was slaughtered with most of his family and a small group of followers. "The aim is to tell the story as it came in history books," Homani said. "The script relies on the sources of Sunni Muslim scholars and historians."
Commemoration of Ashura sets Shi'ites apart from Sunnis. While Sunnis hold Hussein in high regard as a member of Mohammad's family, Shi'ites see him as an immaculate and divinely inspired figure.
Shi'ites mark the nine days before the commemoration of his death with readings focused on the events leading to the battle, which this year will be marked on January 29. Processions will be held on that day to mark his death.
Shi'ites have traditionally marked Ashura with plays telling Hussein's story. During Ashura, Shi'ites wish they "could defend the Imam and die for him", anthropologist Samer El-Karanshawy said.
Hussein represents courage, willingness to die for a cause and "absolute morality to the very end", he said. He is also a symbol of revolution because of his stand against Yazid.
Observing a ban on depicting holy figures in Islam, the makers of "Ard al-Taff" have covered Hussein's face with a glowing light. His voice is supplied by Lebanese Druze actor Jihad al-Atrash.
"I felt challenged when I was asked to play this role," Atrash said. "This role is hard, bringing together revolution and faith, strength and steadfastness," he said.
Lebanon and Iraq have some of the largest Shi'ite populations in the Arab world.