Moderate Islam Takes to the Airwaves
|Tuesday, September 29,2009 11:32|
The man on the television appears enraged, talking fast, yelling and demanding Muslims to follow the "right path of faith." Not too far, at a nearby table, two young Egyptian girls, shrouded in their colorful hijabs - headscarves - watch the white clad sheikh speak. They turn to each other and their glances say it all: this is not what they are looking for in Islamic television.
The café, with its Islamic preachers blaring on most Fridays and often at other times during the week, have become more commonplace in an Egypt growing progressively more conservative by the day, but there are many who are fighting against this current, especially young veiled women.
Heba is a 22-year-old recent college graduate who studied media. She has worn the veil since she was 18-years-old, but these diatribes of elderly preachers is too much, she says, highlighting the growing gulf that exists in Egypt.
"I just don't like how angry they sound and how judgmental they have become," she told The Media Line, asking the waiter to change the channel. Her friend Sara nodded in agreement.
Both are part of the growing trend among 20-something Egyptian women looking for a more restrained approach to Islamic television.
The recent launch of Islamonline's television channel Ana TV, is just such an option, and both Heba and Sara are excited.
"I read the articles from Islamonline because they give a nice, honest and not so arrogant perspective on the issues that affect my life," said 21-year-old Sara, who says she was thinking of removing the veil until she discovered the moderate Islamic news organization. "It has given me a new sense of what it means to be a Muslim woman and someone who wants to be liberal and open to new ideas and new ways of thinking. I am grateful."
Ana TV is part of a consortium of groups, led by Islamonline, to create a new perspective on the growing Islamic media that is taking hold in the Muslim world. For Heba and Sara, it is a trend they hope will continue, because without a moderate voice, Heba believes "Islam will continue to be misunderstood by Believers and non-believers alike, who try and make it something it is not."
"We hope that such [an] aim would be a mutual goal for all the participant and non- participant organizations. It is truly an open invitation for all those interested in effective participation in the campaign," a statement from Islamonline read, highlighting the growing need to accommodate the new wave of Islamic liberalism in Egypt and across the region.
An Islamonline reporter, who asked not to be named due to their connection with the organization, said that "we are a moderate Islamic institution in many ways and we try to give people a new route to discover what Islam means in the modern age."
Rania Jalal, a Tunisian Islamic researcher who helped establish the new channel similarly feels that moderation is key.
"If we think back to when the Prophet was around and the other important people in Islamic history, then we see that they were open to debate, in talking about the issues at the heart of the faith, without preconditions," she begins, "it was not until centuries later, when kings and caliphs tried to make Islam part of their rule that it became different than it was supposed to be."
With programs debating Islamic tenants, perspectives and Shari'a (Islamic law), Ana TV is being seen by young Muslims as ushering in a new generation of Islamic media.
For Jalal and other young Muslim working women, this channel, she says, could help battle the male-dominated "sheikhdoms" that exist currently on satellite television.
"What we have seen in recent years is a rise in extremely conservative channels that broadcast a skewed perspective of Islam, such as the sheikhdom-style television programs run by the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia. It was time for a change."
Time will tell whether Ana TV will set the standard for new Islamic media, or whether it will dwindle in the history of ideas that have come to represent much of the Islamic world, says leading liberal Islamic thinker Gamal al-Banna.
"I hope people see it as an opportunity to debate and have a conversation about the issues at the heart of our society," says the 88-year-old scholar and younger brother of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna. "I think openness is key to the success and future of Islam."
As Sara and Heba relax, puffing away on their sheeshas, they believe they can help shape the future of their country, and region.
"If we look at how things are going, it is obvious to anyone with a brain that we need more ideas and more talk about the things that are affecting us. As a woman, I think it is important to talk about the role of the hijab in Egyptian society. Should we wear it or not, but that it needs to come from women and not be forced upon people is important," says Heba.
Sara nods, laughing at a joke from a presenter on Ana TV. She points out that this is what has been missing.
"People are too serious and make everything black and white when they talk about my faith. I think that if we can joke, it will remove the tension and allow people to think for themselves," she argues.
Both agree that the Prophet would have found Ana TV a useful endeavor for Muslims. One, Sara said, which would have enabled Muslims to look "into their hearts to find what Islam means to them," before adding, "That is the point. If we don't have our own faith, just that from others, then we are not good Muslims."