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A Christmas Netflix Special for Everyone: "Saladin" (1963) of Jerusalem

posted on: Dec 23, 2020

A Christmas Netflix Special for Everyone: "Saladin" (1963) of Jerusalem
A Star-studded Cast. (Left to Right): Umar El-Hariri, Salah Zulfikar, Ahmed Mazhar, Nadia Lutfi, Layla Fawzi, Laila Taher.

By: Mariam Kanaan/Arab America Contributing Writer

“Saladin” (1963), directly translated from its original Arabic title “Saladin the Victorious” (الناصر صلاح الدين) was an incredibly successful film at the time of its release.

Saladin | Netflix
An Egyptian icon, Ahmad Mazhar, played the role of a lifetime starring as Salaah el Dean himself

Older generations can appreciate the filmography and the star-studded cast. Classic Egyptian film legends including Ahmed Mazhar, Salah Zulfikar, Umar El-Hariri, and Nadia Lutfi took on major roles in the production. 

Now, it’s resurfaced for modern audiences–the incredible film has landed on Netflix, of all places, and Arab Americans everywhere are loving it.

And it couldn’t have come at a better time.

The Perfect Christmas Movie with Something for Everyone

A Christmas Netflix Special for Everyone: "Saladin" (1963) of Jerusalem
A Shocking Love Story: Nadia Lutfi plays a nurse in the Crusader Army (pictured here) coming to the aid of her love-interest “Issa” (Salah Zulfikar).

“Saladin” is an action-packed film with a love story, history, war, and with just enough gore with fake blood for the faint of heart and exciting scenes for the rest of us. It’s a great movie to settle into and reflect on during the holiday season.

Christmas in the Arab world is a time when Arab Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus and his mother Mary, whose home is the city of Nazareth. However, it’s the city of Jerusalem where Jesus Christ spent the most crucial time of his life. Actually, it’s Jerusalem that is most beloved to all Arabs. Straddling the two major religions practiced in the Middle East, Arab Christians and Muslims alike can appreciate the religious nuances in this narration of the Crusade for Jerusalem.

In this scene, Salaah el Dean addresses a woman of Jerusalem, an Arab Christian citizen. Here, Salaah valiantly reminds all who are present that religion is for God and the watan is for everyone from the Arabic phrase: “الدين لله والوطن للجميع”

The theme of the film surrounds just that topic, building bridges between religions, reminding Arabs of what’s important.

Pan-Arabism Threaded Throughout…

The strong emphasis on culture over religion was no coincidence. A popular film at the time, the film was directed by Youssef Chahine. Often seen as rebellious and controversial, Chahine laid on the nationalism “thick,” with visible intent.

Call it serendipity, luck, or even propaganda, the powers that be in the 1960s welcomed Chahine’s work with open arms. The President of Egypt at the time, Gamal Abdelnasser, lovingly referred to as “Nasser,” was in power from 1956 – 1970. It was around this time that Arab nationalism and pan-Arabism were pushed into the social sphere. The film reflects Nasser’s influence on the media.

A Forbidden-Love Story

He’s An Arab First, Princess.

(*Spoiler Alert!*)

Issa “Al-Awwam” (Salah Zulfikar) is depicted as one of Salaah el-Dean’s closest friends and best soldiers. He also happens to be a Christian Arab in the Muslim army. When Louisa de Lusignan (Nadia Lutfi) finds out her Arab love interest is a fellow Christian, she’s bewildered and finds that maybe the Muslims aren’t war-criminals after all.

Sound familiar?

(*Spoiler Ends*)

If you get one thing out of this movie, let it be that “Jerusalem is for the Arabs.”

Salaah el-Dean addresses Richard the Lionheart of England, reminding him of Jerusalem’s importance.

Look out for these scenes & lines:

  • The Muslim Arab soldiers wishing Issa Al-Awwam a Merry Christmas
  • The Christian King who refused to take part in a “holy war” in the name of religion
  • “Jerusalem is for the Arabs.”
  • Issa Al-Awwam’s retelling of the night he was attacked.
  • The incredible juxtaposition of Louisa’s hearing on the Christian side & the traitor’s hearing on the Muslim side
  • Treason!”

Fun Facts:

  • There are two Laila’s in the main cast
  • The real Salah (Zulfikar) in the movie did not play Saladin
  • The Entire cast was Egyptian
  • The real Salah el-Din was really an Arabized, Kurdish Muslim
  • The film, based on real historical events, took a many liberties to pump the film with drama. Many scenes and characters are purely fictional. Chahine and the writers utilized their artistic license to retell an important piece of Arab history in a way that only a movie could

Check out our blog at arabamerica.com.