Sunday, June 06, 2010

A Lone Voice of Moderate Islam Now Speaks Several Languages

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A Lone Voice of Moderate Islam Now Speaks Several Languages
Egypt’s Azhari TV, a Response to Obama's Overture, Aims for Global Audience

Cairo, Egypt, 6 June, 2010 – Azhari TV, the education and entertainment satellite channel created to promote moderate Islam in the wake of U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cairo in June 2009, has announced that it will now be available in English, French, Urdu and Pashto in addition to its original Arabic-language programming, thus extending its reach to hundreds of millions of additional viewers worldwide. Coming on the one-year anniversary of Obama’s speech, entitled “A New Beginning,” at Cairo University, Azhari TV’s expansion represents a fulfillment of the vision for a dialogue based on mutual respect and understanding between peoples.

Operating on a new channel, Azhari TV 2, the dub of the original content on the Arabic-language channel into four additional languages will enable the station to reach homes from Europe to Asia , spreading its message of reason and tolerance.  The channel aims to serve as a direct counterweight to more confrontational and aggressive interpretations of Islam that have proliferated in the last several years and exacerbated the turmoil that has plagued much of the Muslim world.

Azhari TV, which is named for and closely affiliated with Al Azhar, Islam’s oldest and most venerable institution and seat of learning, was the first tangible response by the Muslim world to President Obama’s call for greater understanding between religions and recognition of Islam’s peaceful roots. Programming includes news programs, cartoons for children, dramatic series, lectures, and call-in shows.  The channel’s content is developed by religious scholars educated at al-Azhar, including the popular and charismatic Sheikh Khaled El Gendy.  Mahmoud Sa’ad, long one of the Arab world’s most distinguished television presenters, heads the channel.

"There is a wide open market for religious moderation on the airwaves," said Sheikh El Gendy.  "We are competing with voices of intolerance for the attention and loyalty of young people. We believe we have the better product. And clearly our message is resonating.”

Sheikh El Gendy hosts a live call-in program in which viewers struggling with interpretations of Islam and their applications in modern life seek guidance. The program, Azhari TV’s most popular, is regularly flooded with calls from young people uncertain about how to reconcile conflicting interpretations of the Quran.

Despite its wild popularity among its young and growing audience, Azhari TV has on occasion aroused violent opposition.  “Those who misinterpret Islam for selfish purposes often see us as a threat,” said Sheikh El Gendy. “We have been threatened with death due to our programming as well as our social action.  As Muslims, we must get away from this trend toward violence."

Azhari TV received widespread attention when the channel took out full page advertisements in newspapers across Egypt in the wake of the murder of Coptic Christians by Islamic radicals in January 2010.  Unfortunately, not all of it was positive—shortly thereafter, on February 9, 2010, Azhari studios received a bomb threat, and the channel’s executives and presenters have personally received threats to their safety.  “These threats serve as a vivid reminder that we are up against extremist elements who oppose our emphasis on dialogue and understanding between peoples of different faiths and cultures,” explained Sheikh El Gendy.

The new channel, Azhari 2, will be available on prime news tiers on Hotbird, Asiasat, and Nilesat, giving it a reach of more than 325 million households in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. It is aimed at exposing new audiences to the "true face of Islam" as a force for peace and understanding. 

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