Al Azhar eyes plugged-in audience to promote Islam through satellite
Egypt's Al Azhar University will launch a 24-hour entertainment and education television channel as part of multimedia effort to promote moderate Islam.
The announcement came just days before US President Barack Obama visits Egypt to address the Muslim world.
Known as The Azhari, the satellite channel is expected to launch during Ramadan, which will begin this year in mid-August. It will air on Arab Sat and Nile Sat, allowing the channel to reach Muslim communities from Europe to Iran to Southeast Asia, as well as English-speaking non-Muslim audiences who will see "an honourable and positive portrayal of Islam".
The channel is supported by a group of philanthropists and supporters of Al Azhari. The Azhari has an initial start up budget of $2.7 million (Dh9.91m), which is expected to increase through private donations.
The channel plans to become financially self sustaining in years ahead, mainly through advertising revenue. Seed funding was provided by Hassan Tatanaki, a Libyan businessman and philanthropist who supports the channel's mission.
"Reconciling Islam with its peaceful roots is the central challenge facing Muslim youth in the world today," said Tatanaki. "If we cannot resolve it, neither progress nor peace is possible."
The channel will feature cartoons for children, Islamic soap operas, lectures and call-in shows. All will carry a message of tolerance and moderation that are the hallmarks of Al Azhar University, which has endorsed the channel. All of the channel's presenters and experts are required to hold degrees from Al Azhar.
Azhar is entering a crowded religious television market in the Arab and Muslim world. However, Azhar's emphasis on moderate Islam and its focus on guiding practicing Muslims rather than proselytising to others sets it apart from the more aggressive approaches of its competitors. The new channel is seen by its founders as the beginning of a full-on multimedia strategy to promote its messages in order to attract and grow up with its youthful audience.
According to the head of the channel's Board of Directors, Sheikh Khaled Al Guindy, the renowned Azhar scholar and member of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, "The moral authority of Al Azhar is our bedrock. We can expand the mediums through which it is communicated to reflect the changes in media and the demands of our youthful audience. In the Age of Obama we realised it was time to look at new ways to deliver our message."
"We cannot have a conversation with ourselves," Al Guindy added. "We will include politicians, actors, thinkers, writers, Jews, Christians and all religions in this new dialogue".
According to Al Guindy, the idea for the channel grew from his earlier efforts to clarify Islam for Muslims confused by conflicting religious edicts. Demand for his first effort, a first-of-its-kind, 24-hour telephone hotline, led to a website and now to satellite television. "Islam is the most peaceful and forgiving faith. Self-appointed sheikhs have stolen this tradition of tolerance and turned it into an instrument of division. This channel is our effort to take Islam back."
At launch, the channel will broadcast in English and Arabic to start, but will expand to include Hindi and Turkish. The channel's start-up staff includes 20 technical personnel and 15 Al Azhar experts.