Shortly after the launch of the Egyptian national TV network in 1960, the country witnessed the emergence of a new television genre called religious drama (musalsalāt dīnīya). These TV shows recreated premodern Islamic history and were usually broadcast during the holy month of Ramadan. Until the early 2000s religious drama remained an indispensable part of Egyptian TV content, formed its own canon, and paved the way for the appearance of similar genres in other Middle Eastern countries, such as the UAE, Syria, and Turkey. Despite the prominence of musalsalāt dīnīya in Egypt, they were never closely studied by both Western and Arab scholars of television. This disinterest partly stemmed from the stereotypical view of them as low-quality production, which was shared by television critics and prominent scholars of Middle Eastern TV.
Given the popularity, influence, and constant presence of religious drama on Egyptian television, it is essential to take a closer look at its history and role in popular culture. To achieve that, the following paper deals with the Egyptian musalsalāt dīnīya produced at the peak of the genre’s popularity – in the 1990s. By conducting a textual analysis of the TV shows, it sheds light on the mass-mediated representations of premodern Islamic history, which, as I argue, bring nostalgia for the irretrievable past. Particular focus is given to sets, props, and costumes as associating the Muslim “golden era” with specific historical spaces, religious identities, and practices. Thus, the paper shows how musalsalāt dīnīya became a powerful tool providing certain images of the past and history for their numerous audiences.