Saturday, May 1, 2004

The Muslim and The Passion

Zenit news published an interview with 38-year-old actor Abel Jafri this past week, in which he was asked about his experiences as a Algerian Muslim appearing in "The Passion of the Christ":
Q: What thoughts has your role inspired in you?

Jafri: I was the leader of the Temple guards who led the group in charge of arresting Jesus to condemn him after Judas' betrayal. I spat on Jesus, I mistreated him.

What impressed me most was the physical and moral suffering of this innocent man. Like a hurricane, blind and senseless violence knocked him down.

Today, people continue to let themselves be carried away by hasty judgments, without reflection, without a conscience, manipulated by pressure groups that defend their personal interests.

The current problem is summarized in a question: Why so much hatred? Why is love not loved? In our modern developed societies, it would seem that reactions are the same as they were 2,000 years ago. The film's message brings us directly to the present. . . .

Q: During the five months of filming, beginning in the autumn of 2002, how did you live this artistic experience?

Jafri: The filming was difficult; there were weather problems, but we were all immersed in Jesus' story in an extraordinary way, as witnesses of the event.

The film's violence is a mirror of the violence hidden in man's heart. All of us are, in a certain measure, accomplices of this wickedness, of this mystery of evil, and if we become conscious of it, it is never too late to turn around, to love.

Only the force of love can triumph over the absurd. We can be in solidarity in the good [and] decide that the light shines in the darkness through our daily actions.

Q: You are a Muslim. Who is Jesus for you?

Jafri: Jesus belongs to everyone; he is a model for all men; his message goes beyond the boundaries of beliefs.

The controversy over the film is a good sign, as it shows that Jesus continues to trouble us, as at the time he walked on the roads of Palestine. I am very happy to have contributed to give timeliness again to the call to universal fraternity.

During the filming, I was injured by the crowds, on my back and tibia. I received blows at the same time as the principal actor, Jim Caviezel, and we went to the infirmary together. I had bruises everywhere.

Now I feel closer, in greater solidarity with what the man Jesus suffered. It is a profound feeling, difficult to explain in words. . . .

Q: In your opinion, why did Judas betray Jesus? What inspired that betrayal?

Jafri: Money and villainy always poison human life. Today, the power of easy money is sacrificing our planet and humanity. It is time to consider the breadth of the damage, and to work shoulder to shoulder to change this.

The tenderness of Jesus opens the way to a future. A resurrection is still possible if we collectively give proof of courage and care for others.

Q: Is there a phrase of the film, from your point of view, that summarizes Jesus' message?

Jafri: The violence of this film has meaning. It makes us reflect, as opposed to the mindless violence that passes on screens throughout the day.

How is it possible not to respond to the phrase pronounced by Jesus on the cross, when he says to God: "Forgive them"? In these words he offers us the key to happiness and peace. Everything is said in this forgiveness.

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