Religious TV channel expands

CAIRO – AN ARABIC satellite television channel affiliated with al-Azhar University said on Monday it is expanding its service to include programs in four other languages, as the world’s pre-eminent Sunni Muslim institution looks to reach out to a broader global audience.

The channel, known as Azhari TV, was launched last year to give moderate Islam a greater voice to offset what critics say is growing radicalisation in the Muslim world. The channel, which is closely linked to al-Azhar University, began airing last year in Arabic but is now expanding to English, French, Urdu and Pashto.

‘There is a wide open market for religious moderation on the airwaves,’ Sheik Khaled el-Guindy, who heads Azhari TV and is also a member of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, said in a statement. ‘We are competing with voices of intolerance for the attention and loyalty of young people. We believe we have the better product.’

The new channel, Azhari TV 2, includes news programs, children’s series, drama series, lectures, and call-in shows dubbed into English, French, Pashto and Urdu. It is expected to reach more than 325 million households in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

The channel was launched shortly before President Barack Obama’s call last year for greater dialogue between the West and Islamic world, and was aimed at promoting tolerance within the Islamic world as well as showing Islam’s mainstream moderate side. But Sheik el-Guindy said the channel has run into what he described as violent opposition. ‘Those who misinterpret Islam for selfish purposes often see us as a threat’ said Sheik el-Guindy. ‘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.’

The station, in the statement, said it received a bomb threat after it took full page ads in Egyptian newspapers criticising attacks on Coptic Christians earlier this year. The January attack, in which gunmen killed six Copts in southern Egypt, highlighted what activists and analysts say are tensions between Egypt’s Christian minority and the Muslims who make up about 90 per cent of the country’s population. ‘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,’ said Sheik el-Guindy. — AP

Source: Straits Times

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