CAIRO: As a response to the satellite TV channels airing Arab and foreign music videos around the clock, one man took it upon himself to reclaim the traditions of Arab culture while attempting to alter the West’s perception of Islam by starting the world’s first Islamic music video channel, 4Shabab.
“We have a new vision of art, beauty and the human, 4Shabab is the new tune of Islam. It is encouraging dialogue and working on destroying stereotypes of Islam and Arabs, Ahmed Abu Haiba, managing director of 4Shabab, said at the official launch of the channel on Thursday.
The award-winning executive producer has been credited with revolutionizing Islamic TV in the last decade, introducing the Arab World to Islamic preaching through well-known televangelists such as Amr Khaled – producing his first TV show “Words from the Heart – while also launching many of Egypt’s first women-oriented Islamic shows.
“We wanted a new medium that would present the same message but through other entertainment means, such as music and drama, explained Abu Haiba.
We want to show people the Islamic lifestyle through an entertainment channel, he added.
The novelty of the idea made the process of attracting investors much easier as “people felt that we are filling a gap in the media. The channel currently has 10 investors, eight of whom are from Saudi Arabia and two from the United Arab Emirates.
The channel started broadcasting at the beginning of February to the Arab World and Europe. 4Shabab is scheduled to reach the US by June, Australia by the end of the year and the Far East by 2010. For the moment, the channel mainly targets youth.
In a modern setting, 4Shabab airs songs by Muslim pop artists who believe in what the channel stands for. It features state-of-the-art music videos from around the world that redefine what people perceive as Islamic television. The channel also boasts an impressive line of programs, talk shows and game shows such as “Who Wants to be an Islamic Pop Star?
Judging by a brief preview, most of the content appears to be male-oriented, presented by, featuring and targeting men; an aspect that seems to go against their intention to challenge misconceptions such as gender inequality.
Acknowledging this, Abu Haiba said he is trying to present his message without any provocation, particularly to the influential Islamist groups – at least for now. Abu Haiba and the rest of 4Shabab’s team are expecting wide criticism and attacks from Islamists and Muslim scholars based on the conception of “how can there be an Islamic music channel, when music is haram (sacrilegious).
This lack of female representation is also due to lack of applications from women. Ever since the channel launched, the program directors have been receiving numerous applications for “Who Wants to be an Islamic Pop Star? from men but not a single one from a woman.
On the other hand, the channel presents programs that tackle issues concerning Muslim women, such as how veiled woman face problems finding jobs.
Another expected critique is from the other end of the spectrum; groups who may attack the channel for promoting extremism and radical Islamic thought.
“I’m not asking people to be Islamists, I just want to give them the right messages. I’m not saying what is right and what is wrong or halal (permissible) or haram (sacrilegious). .I just want to present people with the right message of who we really are and at the end viewers have the right to choose, explains Abu Haiba.
4Shabab is currently working on two phases: Providing the English music videos with Arabic subtitles, and preparing special daytime programs, mainly in English, for the US and Australian versions.