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Friday, October 29, 1999 Published at 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK


Fatwa for 'gay Jesus' writer

Corpus Christi depicts Jesus Christ as a homosexual

An Islamic group based in the UK has issued a death fatwa against a playwright whose London stage production depicts Jesus Christ as a homosexual.

Terrence McNally was sentenced to death by the Shari'ah Court of the UK as his play, Corpus Christi, opened in London on Thursday night.

The play depicts Jesus Christ and his followers as a group of homosexuals. He is seduced by Judas Iscariot, but is later crucified as "king of the queers". It caused an outcry among Christians when it was staged during the Edinburgh Fringe festival during the summer.

Muslims regard Jesus as a messenger of God, and revere his mother, the Virgin Mary. The play was declared blasphemous by the Al-Muhajiroun - The Defenders of The Messenger Jesus.

Supporters of the group, which has around 800 members in the UK, handed out copies of the fatwah outside the play's first night at the small Pleasance Theatre, Holloway, north London.

The religious edict was signed by Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammad, judge of the Shari'ah Court of the UK.

[ image: Actor Stephen Billington feels the play makes an important point]
Actor Stephen Billington feels the play makes an important point
He criticised Christian leaders for not taking stronger action against the production.

He said: "The fatwa is to express the Islamic point of view that those who are insulting to Allah and the messengers of God, they must understand it is a crime.

"The Church of England has neglected the honour of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. It is blasphemy for them not to take action."

A fatwa is a religious decree issued by a recognised Islamic scholar, or other authorised leaders.

The order should only be carried out by an Islamic state, which rules out action against New York-based Mr McNally in either the UK or US.

"We would warn individual Muslims not to try to carry it out," Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammad said.

However, it is reported police have warned Mr McNally about the fatwa.

If he travels to an Islamic state, then he would risk arrest and execution.

The sheik added: "We do not believe in political assassination, but obviously he would face capital punishment.

"He will be arrested and there will be capital punishment."

He said that under Islamic law, Mr McNally could only escape the fatwa by becoming a Muslim. If he simply repented he would still be killed - but his family would be cared for by the Islamic state.

The play also caused controversy in New York, with Mr McNally and his cast receiving bomb and death threats.

Judas Iscariot is played by Stephen Billington, best known for his role as villain Greg Kelly in the ITV soap Coronation Street.

During the Edinburgh Festival, he told BBC News Online Corpus Christi was "a very important play with a message about tolerance".

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