Al-Azhar rejects depiction of Jesus in film due to be shot in Egypt, producer says it has no right to intervene.

CAIRO - A film due to be shot in Egypt on the life of Jesus Christ has stirred protests from the highest authority in Sunni Islam, the Al-Azhar institution in Cairo.

Abdel Mooti Bayumi, an Al-Azhar professor, noted Monday that the institution had issued fatwas, or religious edicts, against any "depiction of the prophets" - which is the way Jesus is regarded in Islam.

"Al-Azhar rejects the depiction of Jesus in a film because Christ is not only the prophet of the Christians but also present in Islam," he said.

But the film's producer, Mohammed Ashub, said it was not the business of Al-Azhar, which has not issued an official protest, to interfere in the making of the movie.

"Al-Azhar does not have the right to intervene in something which concerns the Christians, otherwise it would have to tear down the icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary from churches," he said.

Ashub pointed out that several films on Jesus, including Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of The Christ', had been screened in Egyptian cinemas without any objection.

"Christian dogma does not prohibit the depiction of Christ, so what gives Al-Azhar the right to intervene?" asked scriptwriter Fayez Ghali.

He said the church would have a say in the choice of actors for the film, which has yet to start shooting. Those chosen will be first-timers and banned from playing in any future film.