Anthony Hopkins and Gavin Casalegno Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

The National Media Council (NMC), the UAE body tasked with approving films for cinematic release, on Monday confirmed that Hollywood film Noah has been banned on religious grounds.

“The film conflicts with [many] religions. Out of respect for these religious sentiments, we are banning the film,” said Juma Obaid Al Leem, director of the Media Content Tracking Department at the NMC.

Noah, who in the Bible’s Book of Genesis built the ark that saved his family and animals from a great flood, is revered by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. An entire chapter in the Quran is devoted to him.

The announcement of the ban was made after the NMC watched the film on Sunday, and comes on the heels of Paramount Pictures announcing that Noah has been banned in three Arab nations.

“Censors for Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE officially confirmed this week that the film will not release in their countries,” a representative of Paramount Pictures, which produced the $125 million film starring Oscar-winners Russell Crowe and Anthony Hopkins, told Reuters on Saturday.

“The official statement they offered in confirming this news is because ‘it contradicts the teachings of Islam’,” the representative said, adding the studio expected a similar ban in Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait.

Apart from the ban, the biblical epic, also starring Antony Hopkins and Emma Watson, has created an uproar among scholars in Islamic institutions. Cairo’s Al Azhar, the highest authority of Sunni Islam and a main centre of Islamic teaching for over a millennium, issued a fatwa, or religious injunction, against the film on Thursday.

“Al Azhar... renews its objection to any act depicting the messengers and prophets of God and the companions of the Prophet [Mohammad], peace be upon him,” it announced in a statement.

They “provoke the feelings of believers... and are forbidden in Islam and a clear violation of Islamic law,” the fatwa added.

The film has also stoked religious controversy in the US.

Jerry A. Johnson, president of a conservative Christian National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) group, said last month he wanted to “make sure everyone who sees this impactful film knows this is an imaginative interpretation of scripture, and not literal.”

In an effort to douse tensions among religious critics, Paramount Pictures is adding a disclaimer to marketing materials for Noah, directed by Darren Aronofsky.

“The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis,” the message will read before every screening.

Opening on March 28 in the United States, Noah has proved to be a difficult movie to make and market. The film reportedly sparked a clash between Aronofsky, the creatively daring director of Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream, and Paramount, which was nervous that his interpretation of the biblical tale would polarise moviegoers, especially conservative Christians.

In 2004, Mel Gibson’s controversial film The Passion of the Christ, on Jesus’s crucifixion, was widely screened in the Arab World including the UAE, despite a flurry of objections by Muslim clerics.