"Will he convert you or con you?" asks the 10-episode series' trailer for Netflix's Messiah.
Since its release on Jan. 1, Jordan's Royal Film Commission (RFC) has asked Netflix not to stream the show in the Hashemite Kingdom, despite it being partially filmed there.
A petition on Change.org, signed by over 5,000 people, called for its boycotting from the streaming service, threatening to leave Netflix. "Viewers will immediately be able to notice that it is based on Islamic descriptions of the coming of Dajjal," reads the petition. Dajjal is the antichrist in Islam.
So what is it about Messiah that's causing all this buzz?
Messiah's storyline is revealed from the very beginning: a preacher appears out of nowhere in Syria and is believed to have miraculously brought peace through a sandstorm. Soon afterwards, CIA officer Eve Geller finds something peculiar about this new cult leader and decides to keep tabs on him.
Created by Michael Petroni, Messiah explores society's reaction to a man performing miracles and claiming to be doing God's work in today's modern world. While he quickly gained a following of people from different religious backgrounds, many remain skeptical.
Who is the False Messiah in Islam?
Before we delve deeper into the issues viewers have with the show, let's first breakdown who Messiah is in Islam.
Perhaps the most problematic issue in Messiah is the name they gave to the protagonist of the show: Masih — a title given to Jesus in Christianity. Had it been any other name not commonly associated with religion, it would have probably been a lot more difficult to find similarities between the two.
So how similar are the real Dajjal in Islam and the Messiah on Netflix? And what does Islam say about the False Messiah, the Antichrist, and Dajjal anyway?
Most commonly known as al-Masih al-Dajjal in the Arab world and in prophetic narrations, scholars have concluded the reason behind his name (Masih) is because he will be blind in one eye or have a deformed eye. His other name, al-Dajjal, which translates into "the great deceiver" in Arabic, is given because he will deceive, lie, and claim he is the real Christ, misleading humanity into thinking this is the second coming. Only real believers will be able to read the letters KFR in Arabic on his forehead, meaning infidel; a sign from God to expose his falsehood.
Al-Dajjal is a male human, and according to narrations, he will be fair-skinned, well-built, relatively short, in his youth, and have curly hair. He will also have a distinctive defective walk. He will emerge from Khurasan - specifically Isfahan, a region in Iran - and be able to perform miracles such as the ability to make it rain at will, bring people back from the dead, and have control over the Earth's resources. And lastly, Dajjal will be killed by Isa - aka Jesus, the real prophet - when he descends back to Earth.
So where does that leave us? In comparison to Messiah on Netflix, they're both human men, relatively short, appear suddenly, and perform miracles.
Although Netflix's character has a different physical appearance and first appears in Syria, he addresses Arab Muslims on numerous occasions and regularly uses verses from the Quran in his monologues, which in a way dilutes those small differences.
Messiah touches on the thin line between provocative and offensive
"Yes, it's provocative. The show is provocative," commented creator Michael Petroni on Messiah. "But provocative isn't offensive."
Aside from the heavy-handed series title which reeks of clickbait, another majorly conflicting part of Messiah is the fact that we never truly learn who he is or what his purpose is. When questioned on his beliefs, al-Masih always gives vague, short answers that leave the audience with nothing.
Though the "convince or con" storyline is compelling, that's all there really is to it. The true motives behind the show, and behind al-Masih's revelation, remain a mystery.
Additionally, Messiah sadly leaves us with the same old stereotypical and worn-out clichés through its narrowed-lens depiction of world politics and the Middle East. Like thousands before it, Messiah promotes the CIA using Geller as a hardworking, morally-just officer seeking justice and truth. Then, of course, there's the Israeli secret agent whose cruelest method of interrogation is starving a Palestinian boy then letting him go (#accurate), but it's okay because he's vulnerable and tormented.
Then there's the fair, just, and peace-seeking American President who just wants to make the right choices and end the war, if not for all the evil forces standing in his way. The U.S. troops deployed around the world are there because the American military is, as always, only there to keep the world safe from terrorists and evil regimes.
There are other small, passing but irritating nonetheless, U.S.-washing mistakes as well: a CNN journalist referring to the Dome of the Rock/Al Aqsa as the Temple Mount; the horrible English pronunciation of common words like Shiite and Iran; and the terrible Arabic pronunciation by supposed Syrians and Palestinians.
And though we get to see a refreshing view of Palestinians living in occupation and Syrian refugees displaced and suffering, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is never truly laid bare or urged for further exploration by the viewer.
As the series develops, the viewer is left to feel like the entire Middle Eastern presence in the show is solely there to thicken the sauce; to add depth and legitimacy to an otherwise weak and elongated plot.
Viewers are left to take charge of their own interpretations, beliefs, and definitions of misrepresentation
"'Messiah' challenges us to examine what we believe and why," said Petroni, the series' writer and director, in an interview.
His statement is ironically true when one is left to reflect on how world politics and power dynamics are portrayed in the show. The series does compel people, especially practicing Christians and Muslims, to reflect on how easily the antichrist might deceive them, and use it as a motivation to sharpen their contours of discourse and skewed representation.
"The story is purely fictional and so are the characters. Yet the RFC deems that the content of the series could be largely perceived or interpreted as infringing on the sanctity of religion, thus possibly contravening the laws in the country," the Jordan's RFC said in a statement, urging for the series' ban from the kingdom.
Nonetheless, Jordanian viewers are still able to stream Messiah on Netflix as of Jan. 9.
The series ends with the mystery surrounding al-Masih's true identity left unanswered.
As of Jan. 8, Messiah has not been canceled or renewed for a second season.
I personally think people, especially Muslims, should give Messiah a chance before judging it based merely on what others have to say.
Will you watch Messiah on Netflix?