DUBAI // Yara Obeidat is a woman with a mission: to bridge the gap between the East and the West and spread awareness of Arab and Islamic culture. That is the aim of the radio presenter's weekly show Salam, the first of its kind in English, which goes out on Friday nights on the Dubai Eye station. Since her first broadcast on March 31 2007, Ms Obeidat has interviewed many Muslim celebrities, including the singers Jermaine Jackson and Zain Bhikha, and addressed many sensitive subjects, such as jihad (the Arab Islamic term is often translated as holy war but literally means struggle).
Her objective is not to talk solely about religion; her focus is on wider cultural issues and common misconceptions. In her two-hour programme on May 22, to mark the World Day for Cultural Diversity, students from the University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD) discussed aspects of their nationalities and the advantages and difficulties of living in a multicultural society. Ms Obeidat, whose parents are Jordanian and Lebanese, said the discussion was typical of her weekly broadcasts: "I always want to encourage cross-cultural dialogue to promote the idea of peace. We all live in one world, we all come from planet Earth."
Ms Obeidat has been working in radio for almost a decade. Before Salam she hosted Sakeena (meaning tranquility in Arabic) and also presented Welcome To Dubai, which introduced listeners to the many nationalities living in the city. While working at the station, she was often asked questions about Islam. "People felt comfortable asking me about things that were culturally sensitive - like about wearing hijab, prayers, Muslim holidays and why some people would burn flags in protest against the West," she said. "Growing up in Jordan I was exposed to both the Christian and Muslim traditions and I was able to provide information without crossing the line."
Being relied on as a source of knowledge on her religion and Arab culture in general, she decided to launch her own show to provide an authentic Islamic viewpoint on contemporary matters, and to engage the non-Muslim world in constructive conversation. Sakeena went on air in 2006 to deal specifically with religious questions and often featured Islamic scholars. However, many callers had questions about culture and not just religion.
"In the English-speaking community there were a lot of people with little knowledge about the culture here, both from the Arab perspective and the Islamic view. I knew radio would be a good medium to provide this information as they could listen while driving or cooking, or just going about their daily business." The first Salam broadcast dealt with stress and how to deal with it from an Islamic viewpoint. "In Islam there are many ways to de-stress - through prayer, listening to the Quran or taking in a wider picture. Our guest, Sheikh Taher Khalid, an American convert, really helped motivate the listeners."
In other broadcasts Ms Obeidat has looked at time management, racism, fashion, healing and purification of the heart. "These topics were very successful because they were pertinent within the western society. I think people also learned that Islam is a peaceful religion and I hope they felt less threatened by it." During the first few months Salam became the only show to be broadcast simultaneously on two channels; Dubai Eye and Noor Dubai, which otherwise transmits in Arabic. Ms Obeidat also did live radio and TV broadcasts during Ramadan last year.
Five months ago Ms Obeidat, who does the show voluntarily and has a full-time job during the week, took on a co-host, Abeer al Amin. "One of my guests, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Nuami, invited me and Abeer to attend a workshop on NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), the power of the brain, from an Islamic viewpoint. I decided to have a show about the subject and Abeer came on to talk about it. I thought she did well for her first time on air and asked her if she'd like to co-host."
Ultimately, Ms Obeidat's show aims to break down misconceptions about Islam and different cultures. "A woman wearing a hijab or a man wearing a kandoura is not Islam. These are cultural aspects of dress. Through the show I hope to teach people about the Arab culture, which I love and cherish being part of, and also to reach many people who otherwise would never hear the truth about Islam, the religion of peace." Listen to Salam at 8pm every Friday, Dubai Eye 103.8