Pakistan, Singapore creators behind first AI-generated series on Prophet Muhammad’s life

Official poster of AI generated web series, ‘Muhammad, Mercy for the Multiverse'. (Photo courtesy: Qalbox)
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Updated 23 March 2024
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Pakistan, Singapore creators behind first AI-generated series on Prophet Muhammad’s life

  • ‘Muhammad: Mercy for the Multiverse’ has 10 episodes, two released online, rest will be out on MuslimPro during Ramadan
  • Global project team was spread across Singapore, US, UK and Pakistan while bulk of technical work was done in Pakistan

KARACHI: The first Artificial Intelligence-generated web series on the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has been created by content creators and producers from Pakistan and Singapore, who say they aimed to transcend the “traditional constraints of cost, time, and conceptualization” by using AI.

Titled ‘Muhammad: The Mercy for the Multiverse,’ the web series is a collaboration between Qalbox at MuslimPro, a global subscription video-on-demand entertainment streaming service for Muslims, and Qur’anscape, an online platform for spiritual education. 

A description on MuslimPro of the series, which does not include visual images of the prophet, reads: 

“Immerse in an animated series depicting Prophet Muhammad PBUH’s life, exploring pre-prophethood milestones, post-revelation challenges, and the compassionate essence of Muhammad.”

The global project team from Qur’anscape and Qalbox was spread across Singapore, the US, UK and Pakistan, while the bulk of technical work took place in Pakistan. The screen-writer is Lahore-based Fatimah Sattar while the show has been produced by Pakistani Abbas Arslan, who is the CEO of Qur’anscape. The series has been directed by Emad Khalid, the co-founder of the Lahore-based Prompt Media Lab content creation agency, while the executive producer is Junaidah Bte Said Khan, who is the Singapore-based head of Qalbox.

“The project lies in employing AI to introduce a novel perspective on the stories of Prophet Muhammad and other Qur’anic narratives, aiming to transcend the traditional constraints of cost, time, and conceptualization,” producer Arslan told Arab News. 

He said the reason the team picked AI for the series was its desire to “pioneer the use of Generative AI in telling deeply meaningful stories.”

“Generative AI offers unique advantages, such as swiftly transforming human ideas into reality, which was crucial for delivering these projects efficiently and effectively,” Arslan said. 

Khan at Qalbox said the collaboration between Qalbox and Qur’anscape was the “first of its kind in the faith genre.”

“By integrating AI, we’ve been able to bring these timeless narratives to life in a way that’s both fresh and deeply respectful,” Khan told Arab News. “This technology has enabled us to present stories that have been cherished for generations in a manner that’s both accessible and relatable to today’s diverse audience.”

Screenwriter Fatimah Sattar, who wrote the screenplay for Sarmad Khoosat’s film ‘Kamli’, said she started her research for the series with Yasir Qadhi’s lectures, referring to the renowned Pakistani-American Muslim scholar and theologian.

“The deadlines were really tight so I couldn’t really study more than this but we have a Mufti [cleric] on board who reads all the drafts and graciously corrects any mistakes or errors I make,” Sattar said. “I found the whole process very enlightening.”

Director Emad Khalid from Prompt Media Lab described the challenges of trying to portray the prophet’s life.

“As Muslims, we bear the great responsibility of ensuring that our representation is both authentic and meticulously researched,” said Khalid, an award-winning director with an honoree award at the Gen:48 AI Film Festival 2023 to his credit.

While the research and scripting of an Al-driven project was the same as for traditional filmmaking, Khalid said, in the generation phase, the team leveraged AI image generation tools to bring the screenplay to life, then animated the images into cohesive video sequences while generating character voices using AI.

“Despite its rapid evolution, AI still struggles with rendering certain details accurately, especially when it comes to creating imagery that deviates from predominantly Western contexts,” Khalid said.

“Recreating the specific environment and culture of the time of Prophet Muhammad presented a unique set of challenges. We had to employ image editing AI tools extensively to refine the generated images to our satisfaction.”

The show has 10 episodes, out of which two have been released exclusively on Qalbox by MuslimPro. The remaining episodes will be released during Ramadan.

“The feedback for the series has been overwhelmingly positive ... Marketing and promotional efforts have resulted in the show becoming one of Qalbox’s top-performing shows,” executive producer Khan said. 

“There’s notable anticipation for future episodes, and the series has been particularly well-received in countries such as the US, France, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Malaysia. The positive feedback on social media, with viewers sharing the series with family and friends, further underscores its impact and reach.”
 


Pakistan calls for ‘adequate’ Muslim representation amid debate on UNSC reforms

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Pakistan calls for ‘adequate’ Muslim representation amid debate on UNSC reforms

  • UNSC reform has been a contentious issue since intergovernmental negotiations first started in 2009
  • Ambassador Munir Akram says UNSC expansion should not be done hastily or without consensus

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top diplomat at the United Nations on Tuesday reiterated the demand by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation that Muslim countries have ‘adequate representation’ in any future expanded Security Council.

UNSC reforms have been a contentious issue since Intergovernmental Negotiations (IGN) began in 2009, with little progress due to deep divisions among member states. The crux of the debate revolves around whether to add new permanent members, whether such members should possess veto power, and how to ensure fair regional representation.

The Group of Four comprising Brazil, Germany, India and Japan, seek permanent seats but are facing opposition from the Uniting for Consensus group, which includes Pakistan and argues against new permanent seats while calling for a new category of renewable memberships.

“Today at IGN meeting, I reiterated OIC’s demand that any reform of UN Security Council, which doesn’t ensure adequate representation of Muslim Ummah, will not be acceptable to the Islamic world,” Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Munir Akram said in a social media post.

“This position is in line with an agreement on equitable representation of all groups,” he added.

According to the state-owned APP news agency, Akram said the issue of UNSC expansion had also come up for discussion at the recent Islamic Summit in Gambia which issued a communique, saying efforts to expand the 15-member body should not be subjected to artificial deadlines and should be made with consensus.

The UNSC currently has five permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — and 10 non-permanent members elected to serve for two years. 

The OIC is the second largest intergovernmental organization after the UN.
 


PM Sharif credits late President Raisi for strengthening Pak-Iran ties, promoting regional cooperation

Updated 7 min 49 sec ago
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PM Sharif credits late President Raisi for strengthening Pak-Iran ties, promoting regional cooperation

  • Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, FM Amir-Abdollahian and seven others were confirmed dead on Monday in a helicopter crash 
  • Raisi arrived in Pakistan last month on three-day visit aimed at mending ties after Pakistan, Iran exchanged military strikes in January 

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday paid tribute to late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi for strengthening Pakistan-Iran relations and promoting regional cooperation, a day after Tehran confirmed he had died in a helicopter crash with the country’s foreign minister and other officials.

Iranian authorities first raised alarm on Sunday afternoon when they lost contact with Raisi’s helicopter as it flew through a fog-shrouded mountain area of the Jolfa region of East Azerbaijan province. The Iranian president, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and seven others were confirmed dead by state media on Monday after search-and-rescue teams found their crashed helicopter in a mountainous region of northern Iran. 

Chairing a meeting of the federal cabinet in Islamabad, Sharif offered his condolences over Raisi’s death, saying that Pakistan had lost “a friend who was like a brother.”

“Dr. Raisi will forever be remembered along with services to his nation, for promoting Pakistan-Iran relations and regional cooperation,” the Pakistani prime minister said. “His visit to Pakistan last month was an important milestone in further strengthening and stabilizing our bilateral relations.”

Sharif said Pakistan would continue with Raisi’s vision to promote Islamabad’s ties with Iran, adding that the Pakistani cabinet pays tribute to the late Iranian president for his “excellent services” for the region. 

“May Allah grant Iran’s President Dr. Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s foreign minister and their friends a high status in paradise,” he said. 

People mourn the death of Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash, during a condolence ceremony at the Iran Culture Centre in Karachi on May 20, 2024. (FP)

In April, Raisi arrived in Pakistan on a three-day official visit to Pakistan as the two Muslim neighbors sought to mend ties after unprecedented tit-for-tat military strikes earlier this year.

The Iranian president held delegation-level meetings in the Pakistani capital as well as one-on-one discussions with Pakistan’s prime minister, president, army chief, Senate chairman and National Assembly speaker.

During the visit, Raisi had also overseen the signing of eight agreements between the two countries that covered different fields, including trade, science technology, agriculture, health, culture, and judicial matters.

His death takes place as the Middle East remains unsettled by Israel’s war on Gaza, during which Raisi under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei launched an unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel last month. 

Under Raisi, Iran enriched uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels, further escalating tensions with the West as Tehran also supplied bomb-carrying drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine and armed militia groups across the region.


Military courts no novelty in Pakistan but returning ‘with force’ — Amnesty International

Updated 36 min 6 sec ago
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Military courts no novelty in Pakistan but returning ‘with force’ — Amnesty International

  • At least 103 people linked to May 9 riots currently being tried by army courts
  • Military courts operate under separate system from the civilian legal system

ISLAMABAD: Civilians should not be tried by military courts, Amnesty International Secretary-General Dr. Agnès Callamard said in an interview published on Tuesday, lamenting that the practice had been widely used in Pakistan’s history and was now returning “with force.”

Military courts have been in the spotlight since last year when hundreds of alleged supporters of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party were arrested following riots on May 9 in which military and government installations were damaged. 

The government at the time as well as the army said those found to be behind attacks on military properties would be tried in army courts. At least 103 people linked to the May 9 riots are currently being tried in army courts, unleashing widespread criticism from within Pakistan and rights organizations globally over the courts’ secretive nature and existence alongside a functioning civilian legal system.

Last month, Pakistan freed at least 20 people previously detained by the military in connection with the May 9 riots.

“Civilians should not be tried by military courts,” Dr. Callamard said in an interview to Pakistan’s Dawn published on Tuesday, when asked about the military trial of civilians in Pakistan. “Sadly, it has happened throughout Pakistan’s history. Even though it is now coming back with force, it is not a novelty in Pakistan’s history.

“Pakistan is the only country in South Asia in recent history to allow military courts to play such a role vis à vis civilians,” she said, adding that historically military trials in Pakistan were held secretly and without transparency. 

The Supreme Court last October declared null and void the trial of civilians by military courts arrested in the wake of the May 9 protests, but overturned its own verdict in December and allowed the army to resume hearing the cases of 103 civilians.

Pakistan’s Army Act of 1952 established military courts primarily to try members of the military or enemies of the state. Civilians can only be tried under a federal government order.

Civilians accused of offenses such as waging war against the armed forces or law enforcement agencies, or attacking military installations or inciting mutiny, can be tried at military courts.

Military courts operate under a separate system from the civilian legal system and are run by military officers. The judges are also military personnel and cases are tried at military installations.

Trials are closed to outsiders, and no media presence is allowed.

Anyone tried under the Army Act has the right to defend themselves and a counsel of their choice. There is no right to appeal but individuals can challenge the question of jurisdiction in high courts and the Supreme Court.


Pakistan GDP grows 2.09% in Q3, supported by agriculture

Updated 21 May 2024
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Pakistan GDP grows 2.09% in Q3, supported by agriculture

  • Pakistan’s central bank in latest report projected real GDP growth of 2-3% for the fiscal year 2024 
  • Provisional 2024 financial year growth in agriculture estimated at 6.25%, 1.21% for industry and services

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s economy grew 2.09% in the third quarter of the financial year 2023-2024, supported by higher growth in agriculture, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics said in a press release on Tuesday.

The estimated provisional growth rate of gross domestic product (GDP) for the financial year ending June 2024 is 2.38%, the bureau said in a statement. That compares with a revised 0.21% economic contraction in the 2023 year when political unrest, a combination of tax and gas tariff hikes, controlled imports, and a steep fall in the rupee currency rapidly pushed up inflation.

Last week in its half yearly report, Pakistan’s central bank projected real GDP growth of 2-3% for the fiscal year 2024.

There was no comparable year-ago third quarter GDP data as Pakistan only began releasing quarterly growth numbers from November. That was done in compliance with the structural benchmarks of the current $3 billion bailout program agreed with the International Monetary Fund and completed last month.

The bureau revised the first and second quarter GDP estimates for financial year 2023-2024 to 2.71% and 1.79% respectively, compared to earlier estimates of 2.5% and 1%.

The provisional 2024 financial year growth in agriculture was estimated at 6.25%, and 1.21% for both industry as well as services, it added.

“The healthy growth of agriculture is mainly due to double-digit growth in important crops,” the bureau said, adding that bumper crop of wheat, cotton, and rice contributed to the positive result.


'They love their cricket': Rohit Sharma lauds Pakistani fans for praising Indian cricketers

Updated 21 May 2024
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'They love their cricket': Rohit Sharma lauds Pakistani fans for praising Indian cricketers

  • India and Pakistan, bitter political adversaries, enjoy one of sports fiercest rivalries in cricket
  • Indian captain Rohit Sharma bats for Test series with arch-rivals, says Pakistan “overall a good team”

ISLAMABAD: Indian captain Rohit Sharma recently praised Pakistani fans for appreciating Indian cricketers, saying that he would love to play in a Test series between the two arch-rivals if it were ever to take place. 

The South Asian neighbors are bitter political adversaries and have fought three wars against each other since they were partitioned at the end of British colonial rule in 1947. Their tensions mean the two countries rarely play bilateral series against one another and meet only at “neutral venues” during international tournaments. 

Sharma, 37, appeared on ‘Dubai Eye 103.8,’ a Dubai-based talk radio station on Wednesday to discuss the upcoming T20 World Cup 2024 and his journey as India’s skipper so far. During the show, the hosts relayed a message to Sharma from a Pakistani fan. 

“Loved the messages from the Pakistani fans,” Sharma said, smiling. “I know they love their cricket, they love it. Every time, mainly when we are in the UK these guys come and just tell us how, respectfully, how they love us, how they love Indian cricketers and how they love to watch some of us at big stages.”

India and Pakistan are bitter political adversaries and have fought three wars against each other since they were partitioned at the end of British colonial rule in 1947.

Their cricket teams have not faced off in a Test since 2007. Instead, they play only occasionally in the shorter versions of the game. 

When asked whether there were chances of India and Pakistan playing each other in a Test match soon, Sharma said:

“I don’t know the status of it. Personally if you ask me, I’m a cricketer at the end of the day. I want to play cricket and I want to get challenged at whatever stage I play cricket, and I feel Pakistan is a good team.”

Sharma praised Pakistan for having “solid bowlers,” saying that the green shirts are “overall a very good team.” He said cricket fans around the world would love to watch a Test series between the two arch-rivals. 

“I actually have no issues it’s just from a pure cricketing perspective if I have to look at it, it’s going to be a great cricket contest,” he explained. 

India and Pakistan have not faced each other on either side’s soil in a bilateral series since 2012.

India last year refused to travel to Pakistan for the white-ball Asia Cup, prompting part of the tournament to be staged in Sri Lanka. They last met at the 50-over World Cup in India in October.

The two cricket giants will square off on June 9 in New York when the T20 World Cup 2024 gets underway.