x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

New channel for moderate Islam to be launched

Muslim clerics connected with Egypt's prestigious Al-Azhar University announce the creation of a channel to challenge extremism.

A group of Muslim clerics connected with Egypt's prestigious Al-Azhar University have announced the creation of a new satellite channel to propagate moderate Islam and challenge what it describes as extremist distortions of the religion. The announcement came just ahead of US President Barack Obama's address tomorrow to the Muslim world from Cairo in a speech co-sponsored by Al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam's premier educational institution.

Sheik Khaled el-Guindy, a member of Egypt's Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs and a driving force behind the "Azhari" channel, said the idea is to use the knowledge and skills of Al-Azhar graduates to combat ignorant interpretations of the religion. "Azhari will promote the idea that Islam is a religion of moderation free from extremism," he told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "Several satellite channels right now promote a strict interpretation of Islam and issue incorrect religious opinions that fill young people with extremist ideas."

There are dozens of Islamic satellite channels in the Middle East, with many receiving funding from the conservative oil-rich Gulf and propagating a very conservative form of the religion. "Audiences need people that deal in reality and respect reality and respect changes in the world. These channels don't present these things. Some of these channels are just ignorant of reality," said Mr el-Guindy, explaining that graduates of al-Azhar university are well grounded in subjects outside of religion as well.

Azhari is set to be launched in mid-August, at the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and will present a mix of entertainment and educational programing, including children's cartoons, soap operas and call-in shows. Mr El-Guindy was quick to assert that while the channel would employ graduates of al-Azhar and embody its ideals, it would not be officially connected to the institution. "We are using the knowledge of Azhar but we are not bound by the opinions of Azhar and the government," he said. "We are totally independent."

* AP