Omar al Farouk is a TV series in 30 episodes, directed by the Syrian actor/director Hatem Ali and co-produced by the Dubai-based TV station MBC1 and Qatar TV. The plot tells the story of the founding of the first caliphate and is based on the life of Umar, the second caliph, who viewers get to follow from the time he was 18 until his death. Umar is revered by all Muslims, but in particular by the Sunnis to whom he is the very model of the perfect caliph – modest, strong and fair-minded. The TV series Omar was shot over an entire year, with several battle-scenes involving up to 500 actors, and it was touted by MBC as the biggest TV production ever in the Arab world, to rival historical Hollywood dramas.

Omar aired during Ramadan in the summer of 2012, and was shown all over the Middle East and North Africa and has been dubbed into Turkish and Bahasa Indonesia. The entire series, with English subtitles, is available on YouTube and the Internet Archive. Among the all-star cast, Omar was played by Syrian actor Samer Ismail. There was considerable speculation in the Arab press regarding his religious affiliation, yet in interviews he refused to discuss his personal beliefs, regarding them as irrelevant to his job as an actor.

Already before it was shown, the series attracted criticism from conservative Muslims, including scholars at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, who believe that close companions of the prophet should not be depicted on television. Hundreds of people joined a Facebook campaign demanding the show not be broadcast and the campaign trended for a month on Twitter. A rich Saudi businessman volunteered to buy the whole TV series so as to stop it from airing, and in Riyad, the Saudi capital, demonstrators threatened to burn down the MBC building. Other Muslims, including some scholars, praised the series for its historical accuracy and for making the Rashidun caliphate relevant to contemporary TV viewers. The actors’ use of classical Arabic was often also praised.

External links:

15 Minute History, “The succession to Muhammad”

15 Minute History, “Islam’s enigmatic origins”

Hugh Kennedy, “The establishment of the Islamic state”

15 Minute History, “Islam’s first civil war”

Short-stories of the Sahabahs (in Arabic):

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