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Islam: Empire of Faith, PBS Documentary

— Tuesday, May 8, 2001, 8:00 p.m. ET —

Between the fall of Rome and the European voyages of discovery, few events were more significant than the rise of Islam. Within a few centuries, the Islamic empires blossomed, projecting their power from Africa to the East Indies, from Spain to India. Inspired by the words of the prophet Muhammad, and led by caliphs and sultans, this political and religious expansion remains unequaled in speed, geographic size and endurance.

ISLAM: EMPIRE OF FAITH, narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Ben Kingsley, airs on PBS Tuesday, May 8, 2001, 8:00 p.m. ET (check local listings). The two-and-a-half-hour program tells the story of the great sweep of Islamic power and faith during its first 1,000 years — from the birth of the prophet Muhammad to the peak of the Ottoman Empire under the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent. Historical re-enactments and a remarkable exposition of Islamic art, artifacts and architecture are combined with interviews with scholars to recount the rise of early Islamic civilization.

Increasingly, scholars and historians are recognizing the profound impact that Islamic civilization has had on Western culture and world history. Islam was the conduit for the intellectual legacies of Greece, Egypt and China; its geographic and cultural breadth brought immeasurable advances in literature, the arts, science and medicine to the Western world of the Middle Ages. It was the seed for the European Renaissance and was a defining force against which the West pushed — in war, trade and religion.

The series includes the participation of important scholars of Islamic culture, including Jonathan Bloom and Sheila Blair, authors of the companion book, Islam: A Thousand Years of Faith and Power, and

Dr. Esin Atil, retired curator of Islamic Art at the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery.

Producer Robert Gardner (ARAB AND JEW: WOUNDED SPIRITS IN A PROMISED LAND) is the first American filmmaker allowed to work in Iran — where most of the re-enactments were shot — since the Islamic revolution of 1979. Majid Mirfakhraei, an art director and designer in Iran, oversaw the creation of more than 300 period costumes — among them Bedouin tribesmen, Mongol soldiers, Crusaders, seventh-century Arab soldiers, ninth-century scholars and scribes of Baghdad, residents of 11th-century Jerusalem and the royal robes of Suleyman the Magnificent — and supervised sets and locations.

Underwriters: Public Television Viewers and PBS. Producer: Gardner Films in association with PBS and Devillier Donegan Enterprises. Producer/director: Robert Gardner. Series writer: Jonathan Grupper. Editors: Christopher Schultz and David Grossbach. Director of photography: Regis Becker. Format: CC STEREO. Online:


– PBS –

CONTACT: Cathy Lehrfeld, PBS Program Press Relations, Tel.: 212/708-3047; Fax: 212/708-3018; Email:

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