By Safaa Abdoun
Daily News Egypt
CAIRO: In a bid to bridge cultural gaps and clear misconceptions about Islam, Azhari TV is reaching out to a wider audience and is now available in English, French, Urdu and Pashto in addition to its original Arabic language programming.
Azhari TV was first launched following US President Barack Obama’s address to the Muslim World in June 2009 where he called for a dialogue based on mutual respect and understanding between people of different faiths.
One year later, Azhari TV, the educational and entertainment satellite channel created to promote moderate Islam, has decided to expand.
“[Through Azhari TV] we’re trying to show the people in the west and the rest of the world that the problem isn’t in Islam but it’s the misinterpretations by certain people that’s the problem,” said Hassan Tatanaki, chairman of Azhari TV, in an interview with Daily News Egypt.
The satellite channel was founded with the aim of promoting a moderate interpretation of Islam and intends to counter extremist rhetoric which they saw dominating the debate.
Breaking language barriers
Operating on a new channel, Azhari TV 2, the dub of the Arabic language channel’s original content into four additional languages, will enable the station to reach homes across Europe and Asia, spreading its message of reason and tolerance.
The channel aims to serve as a direct counterweight to more confrontational and aggressive interpretations of Islam that have proliferated in the last several years and exacerbated the turmoil that has plagued much of the Muslim world.
Through the expansion, Azhari will be reaching non-Arab Muslims that don’t have access to a correct interpretation of Islam because they are limited to certain outlets.
The languages were not chosen after thorough research, especially in Afghanistan, Pakistan and South East Asia. French and English were selected to cater to the Americans and Europeans, Arabs and non-Arabs residing there.
Faces of Azhari TV
Prominent television presenters and journalist Mahmoud Saad is the head of Azhari TV. “Mahmoud Saad, highly educated in religious matters in a civil way, a subject close to his heart, truly believes in the mission,” said Tatanaki.
“What happened during the past period is that there has been many television stations coming out which present fatwas and extremist views by people that aren’t scholars, we need to fight this trend and the only way to do that is through the media, not by attacking but by presenting another view since this view is far from true Islam,” Saad told Daily News Egypt.
“[The channel will present] a viewpoint that is moderate, rational, scholarly to present a true image of Islam which has been marred,” he explained.
Azhari TV faces the challenge of attracting viewers and distinguishing itself from other religious channels that are available in abundance.
“I will get popular religious preachers and scholars,” Saad said, “and we are giving the audience the correct viewpoint, by time you will know that this is the correct interpretation.”
“We need to explain that Islam is about moderation, forgiveness, understanding, we need to show the west and non-Muslims in general so that they understand,” said Tatanaki. “We also need to understand that we have to fix ourselves before we fix the view of others of us, instead of just blaming the west for being anti-Islam we have to do something about it,” he noted.
Tatanaki cited the misinterpretation of the world ‘jihad.’ “It was misused by extremists and it now means ‘to kill yourself’ to the world, and it’s because of us not them,” he said.
Azhari TV is named for and is closely affiliated with Al-Azhar, Islam’s oldest and most venerable institution and seat of learning. Programming includes news programs, cartoons for children, drama series, lectures and call-in shows.
The channel’s content is developed by religious scholars educated at Al-Azhar University.
The star of the channel, considered by many as popular and charismatic, is preacher Sheikh Khaled El-Guindy, who is also a partner.
El-Guindy explained that the drive behind launching Azhari TV was the lack of a moderate voice of Islam in the contemporary media.
“[Furthermore,] the fierce attack on Al-Azhar scholars made us persist in our call on Al-Azhar institution to have a television channel speaking on behalf of this historic institution which led the Islamic rhetoric one day spreading moderation, tolerance,” El-Guindy told Daily News Egypt.
“Al-Azhar [has] not kept up with the advancements of the media, [and] this allowed other bodies to take control of Islamic preaching, spreading certain views that we have many reservations about,” he added.
El-Guindy explained that they have embarked on the expansion as there are over a billion Muslims in the world, out which Arabs only count for about a third.
“So why have we excluded these people from the religious dialogue and left them at the hands of those who misinterpreted Islam and misguided them on a certain path and at the end of the day we all pay the price,” he said.
“We can’t sit back and stay silent anymore, Allah said ‘We have sent you for the mercy of all mankind,’ so why has that changed that to ‘We have sent you for the mercy of Arabs?’” El-Guindy asked.