Tuesday, August 26, 2014

New channel for moderate Islam to be launched

Al-Azhar announces launch of new satellite channel to challenge extremist distortions of Islam.
Middle East Online
By Paul Schemm - CAIRO
Azhari is set to be launched in mid-August
A group of Muslim clerics connected with Egypt's prestigious Al-Azhar University have announced the creation of a new satellite channel to propagate moderate Islam and challenge what it describes as extremist distortions of the religion.

The announcement comes just ahead of President Barack Obama's address Thursday to the Muslim world from Cairo in a speech co-sponsored by Al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam's premier educational institution.

Sheik Khaled el-Guindy, a member of Egypt's Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs and a driving force behind the "Azhari" channel, said the idea is to use the knowledge and skills of Al-Azhar graduates to combat ignorant interpretations of the religion.

"Azhari will promote the idea that Islam is a religion of moderation free from extremism," he told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "Several satellite channels right now promote a strict interpretation of Islam and issue incorrect religious opinions that fill young people with extremist ideas."

There are dozens of Islamic satellite channels in the Middle East, with many receiving funding from the conservative oil-rich Gulf and propagating a very conservative form of the religion.

"Audiences need people that deal in reality and respect reality and respect changes in the world. These channels don't present these things. Some of these channels are just ignorant of reality," said el-Guindy, explaining that graduates of al-Azhar university are well grounded in subjects outside of religion as well.

Azhari is set to be launched in mid-August, at the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and will present a mix of entertainment and educational programing, including children's cartoons, soap operas and call-in shows.

The channel will initially be broadcast in English and Arabic, with plans to expand it to Turkish and Hindi, and will be viewable from Europe to Southeast Asia.

"The idea is to really show moderate Islam, not this extreme one that is being utilized by others," said Hassan Tatanaki, a Libyan businessman who helped provide the channel's $2.7 million in initial funding. "Our aim is to be able to reach not only the Arab Muslims, but the non-Arab Muslims, mainly in the Far East, the Near East, places like the US and Europe."

With just a quarter of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims from the Arab world, reaching non-Arabic speaking Muslims is especially important, especially since many are in danger of being misled by extremists, he said.

These conservative forms of Islam have a strong presence on the airwaves and online — something the backers of the new channel are hoping to combat with a multimedia strategy that includes newspapers, radio and online network tools like Twitter.

In the past, Al-Azhar's efforts to combat extremism have been hampered by its close association with the Egyptian government. Al-Qaida No. 2, Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri, often ridiculed the institution for following the dictates of the Egyptian government.

"It is not a very good idea to be close to the government," said Diaa Rashwan, an expert on Islamic movements. "The new generation in Egypt and the Muslim world already have doubts about the suitability of their regimes."

El-Guindy, however, was quick to assert that while the channel would employ graduates of al-Azhar and embody its ideals, it would not be officially connected to the institution.

"We are using the knowledge of Azhar but we are not bound by the opinions of Azhar and the government," he said. "We are totally independent."

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