It was described as an exemplary piece of programme making by an award winning film-maker which launched a week of television coverage of Islam.
But a Channel 4 documentary on the Qur'an has angered a group of leading Shia Muslim scholars, who have criticised it for making seriously inaccurate statements about their branch of the faith.
In a letter to Channel 4, they said that the depiction of Shia beliefs in The Qur'an, broadcast earlier this month, was disappointing, misleading, even defamatory.
The signatories to the letter were also angered by the apparent links made between Shiaism and violence, with scenes of Iranian Shias burning effigies, chanting anti-western slogans, and advocating acts of terror.
In the documentary, film-maker Antony Thomas explored the history of Islam's holy book, examining it for statements on equality, suicide bombings, and relationships with other faiths.
While some critics hailed it as a masterpiece, it angered prominent Shias. The denomination comprises up to 20% of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims.
But criticism of the programme was not confined to the Shia scholars. Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, also wrote to Channel 4's chief executive, Andy Duncan, last Thursday, warning of specific
misrepresentations that could damage cohesion between Muslim communities. The programme unfairly maligns Muslims following the Shia tradition by accusing them of heresy based on a collection of age-old polemics and misinformation, Bari's letter said.
With respect, this is an irresponsible portrayal which plays into the hands of those who wish to seek discord amongst Muslims, which we hope you did not intend.
For television critics, it was an exemplary piece of programme-making which kicked off a week of coverage of Islam. But Channel 4's The Qur'an has prompted a backlash among the global Shia community and offended one of its most
The Iranian Grand Ayatollah Saanei has written to the documentary's award-winning British film-maker to berate the portrayal of him and Shia Muslims as a whole. The complaint has also been passed to the media regulator, Ofcom.
In particular, the Grand Ayatollah objects to perceived links between the Shia faith and violence, including scenes which showed Iranians chanting anti-Western slogans, burning effigies and advocating terrorism.
The Grand Ayatollah's representative said: In the said documentary, the director had tried to introduce Shi'ism as a superstitious sect. The way it was narrated, the selection of the words, and the anti-Shia faces interviewed, all indicate
that the director had intended to unfairly satisfy their anti-Shia sentiments. Out of more than 200 interviews foreign correspondents and reporters have had with His Eminence during the past several years, this was the only case in which we
witnessed the mass media [compromise its] professional integrity.
Muhammad Abdul Bari, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, has written to Channel 4's chief executive, Andy Duncan, upset by specific misrepresentations of Islam: The programme unfairly maligns Muslims following the
Shia tradition by accusing them of heresy based on a collection of age-old polemics and misinformation. With respect, this is an irresponsible portrayal which plays into the hands of those who wish to seek discord.
A spokesman for the programme said: In the film is a balanced representation of a broad range of Islamic opinion. The Grand Ayatollah's complete answers to two questions are included. Also the film was meticulously researched and checked by
four Islamic advisers.
The Qur'an was a two-hour documentary made by the film-maker, Antony Thomas. It was broadcast as part of Channel 4's Islam Unveiled season, a week of programmes dealing with Islam. The Qur'an examined what the Qur'an itself
says on a range of issues such as crime and punishment, violence and conflict, and the treatment of women. The programme attempted to relate present-day Islamic practice and beliefs to the Qur'anic source text.
The programme contained several sequences discussing Shi'a practice and beliefs. In particular, it focussed on “intercession”. Intercession is the practice of directing prayers and requests to God through certain members of the family of the
Prophet Mohammed. This includes Imam Ali Reza and his descendents, the eighth of the twelve Imams who are perceived by some to be the religious and political successors to the Prophet Mohammed.
Ofcom received 21 complaints from individuals on the grounds that it portrayed Shi'a Muslims in a negative, unbalanced and irresponsible light , with a series of misrepresentations of the Qur'an's teachings. Ofcom also received a detailed
complaint from 12 organisations representing Shi'a Islam within the UK.
The complainants said the film risked increasing tensions within the Muslim community between Sunnis and Shi'as, and inspiring violence against Shi'as. They also chastised it for not using Shi'a scholars and commentators in the UK and for giving
insufficient time to Shi'a contributors in general.
Ofcom ruled that the programme did not mislead viewers on Shi'a belief and practices and that it could not be judged as likely to inspire violence against Shi'as.
The regulator was unable to rule on the grounds of balance, as its remit in this area covers only news and factual output relating to political or industrial controversy or public policy.
C4 commissioning editor, religion and multicultural Aaqil Ahmed said: Hopefully we can now remember this film for what it was - a truly original piece of landmark television. Antony Thomas and Samir Shah's amazing efforts to
get it made and made so well should be applauded and from now on any film made on the subject will have a remarkable benchmark.
I am pleased that Ofcom has endorsed the views of TV critics, who described The Qur'an as 'scrupulously fair-minded', 'exhaustively researched' and 'an exemplary piece of programme making.
I am grateful that this ruling, by the independent regulatory body responsible for broadcasting, completely dismisses the unfounded allegations