x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Prayer broadcast chance to share faith

Many Britons - Muslims and non-Muslims alike - will be pleased that Channel 4 is running the athan during Ramadan, as Islam enters the mainstream

A leading UK television broadcaster has announced it will run a series of Ramadan programmes on mainstream TV, including the call to prayer for early- morning prayers.

On Tuesday July 9, Channel 4 will interrupt its schedule for all five daily prayers. During the whole month it will run a series of Ramadan reflections around 3am, along with the athan.

It's groundbreaking and bold, and unsurprisingly has stirred up a whirlwind.

For Muslims, this is an opportunity to have showcased what is important to them in a nuanced manner. But perhaps more significant is that British Muslim culture and faith is being integrated into and reflected back from mainstream culture. For me, this makes it a turning point.

I'm looking forward to a sophisticated, creative and subtle display of the depth and diversity of Muslim belief and action. Finally, my life and those of a significant minority in Britain that has a long history in this country will be reflected on mainstream television.

Like me, many Muslims - and those of other faiths and none - will be excited to see Ramadan featured in the mainstream. It is a thrilling opportunity to gain insight into other cultures and be invited into their lives.

Others, notably the tabloid newspapers, have cited this as another outrageous example of creeping sharia. The Sun dedicated its front page with the obnoxious headline "Ramadan A Ding-Dong" and the subheading "Channel 4's daily broadcast 'stunt' could inflame tensions". Since the morning athan is at 3am I don't see how this should really bother anyone. If tensions are being stoked, it is by such inflammatory articles, determined to stir hatred rather than see this as an opportunity to learn more about British Muslims and the wider Muslim world. Determined to be at the zeitgeist of hate it is they themselves who are inflaming tensions.

Channel 4 itself - in its role as broadcaster wanting media coverage for its initiative - has squandered the positive social capital it could have created from such a bridge-building initiative by emphasising that it wants to be "provocative". It added that after the huge national euphoria over the Queen's Jubilee celebration last year they thought Ramadan was more relevant than the royal celebrations.

But among Muslims too, there's been discussion whether this is just a gimmick for Channel 4 to be provocative and Muslims are simply being exploited for ratings. Why not just buy an alarm clock to wake up for morning prayers, they ask.

There's even been commentary by those who are not Muslim feeling that Muslim rituals are being disrespected and diminished by being televised in this way.

With Muslims constantly under media scrutiny whether as a result of politics, civil society, or tragedy, it seems to be that whatever Muslims say or do is cause for condemnation.

We see the same approach after terrible atrocities committed by Muslims. If you condemn the act as "not in my name" you get criticised by Muslims for taking on guilt by association. If you don't condemn you get accused as a Muslim of not distancing yourself from the perpetrators, or having sympathy or support for a violent act.

It's a catch-22 for Muslims: damned if you do, damned if you don't. But I'll be damned if I'll give in to the pedlars of hate and ignorance.

 

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk