Largest-ever Western TV production on the history of Islam airs amid great critical acclaim - Updated

ABU DHABI, May 30th, 2009: The final episode of the largest-ever Western television production on the history of Islam was aired this week amid positive critical acclaim from scholars and some of Europe's most influential media.

The three-part documentary, entitled Morgenland (German for Orient), explores the 1,400 year-old history of the Islamic faith, from its beginnings in the early 7th century CE to today. It seeks to educate viewers about the actual meaning of the religion by using an impartial, objective approach, and thus rectifying the often distorted image with which Islam is associated by many in Western countries.

The three episodes, each 45 minutes long, were filmed over a period of two years in 11 different countries, nine of which in the Islamic World. More than 50 actors were cast for the re-enactment of scenes depicting pivotal moments in the history of Islamic civilisation, including achievements in science and major battles during the military conquests of early Islam. With overall production cost exceeding AED 5 million, Morgenland is one of the most expensive documentaries in recent television history.

Daniel Gerlach is the author and executive director of the report who also publishes Zenith, Germany's leading special interest magazine on the Islamic world.

"With Morgenland we want to provide an undistorted image of the diversity of today's Muslim world," Gerlach said.

During the seven-day filming in cooperation with bridge:media in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai, the ZDF team interviewed the His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, UAE Supreme Council member and ruler of Sharjah and H.H Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Higher Education and Research, who both feature prominently in the documentary.

Sheikh Sultan pointed out that today's Muslim societies were on a path of modernisation, a path that had already started during the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Sheikh Nahyan added that "the only way to eradicate extremism and violence - or ignorance - is through education. Truly, it can only be done through education. There is no other way." A number of sequences shot in the UAE are shown in the documentary, with pictures of Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Mosque used as an emblematic symbol for Islamic civilisation between scenes. Similarly, Sharjah University and the Dubai skyline are pictured as symbols of education and economic progress in the Islamic world, respectively.

In the final scene, the documentary summarises its quintessential message, quoting as a successful example the UAE: "The future of the rest of the Islamic world will depend on whether it will succeed, like the UAE did, in combining tradition and modernity, rather than leaving the world cultural heritage of Islam to fanatics." Morgenland had a cumulative audience rate in excess of 9.3 million for the three episodes, with an average market share of 13% in Germany alone. It gained critical acclaim from leading Western Islamic scholars and commentators in European media. ZDF is planning to release an extended, English language version of the documentary this summer.

WAM/MAB