British broadcaster hoping for 'provocation' by airing call to prayer
A popular British television channel says it hopes to provoke viewers by broadcasting the Muslim call to prayer during Ramadan, in what is said to be a first for a mainstream UK station.
Channel 4 says it will broadcast the call, known as the “adhan” in Arabic, during the 30 days of the Muslim holy month of fasting, which starts next week.
In a statement to the British press, Channel 4’s head of factual programming Ralph Lee said the channel would act as a “nationwide tannoy system” for Britain’s 2.8 million Muslims during Ramadan.
He said it would be a “deliberate ‘provocation’ to all our viewers”, including some who might associate Islam with extremism.
Lee said there was a need to give a platform to the moderate majority of British Muslims, especially in the wake of the bloody killing of a British soldier on the streets of Woolwich in London, in an act linked to Islamic extremism.
“Following the horrific events in Woolwich and subsequent reprisals against British Muslims, there has surely never been a more pressing need to give a voice to the moderate mainstream majority,” he said. “Let’s not forget that Islam is one of the few religions that’s flourishing, actually increasing in the UK. Like Channel 4’s target audience, its followers are young. It’s recently been reported that half of British Muslims are under 25.”
Channel 4 plans to broadcast the three-minute call to prayer daily at about 3am during the entire month of Ramadan. It will also include the sunrise and sunset prayer times during its weather reports. On the first day of the holy month, which is likely to fall on July 9, it plans to interrupt programming to mark all five calls to prayer.
The adhan broadcast will accompany a two-to-three minute short film called “Ramadan Reflections,” as well as launching a season “4Ramadan” programs during the month. The broadcaster said it had consulted Muslim clerics about the series.
The move was praised by the Muslim Council of Britain.
“This is a very special month for Muslims and its recognition on a mainstream channel is not only symbolic for belonging and solidarity but will hopefully help to portray a more realistic account of Islam and Muslims,” a spokesman told The Guardian on Tuesday.
Channel 4 has built a reputation of being home to controversial programing. In 2008, the channel asked Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to deliver its “Alternative Christmas Message,” a yearly message which counters the Queen’s annual speech.
Muslims around the world fast between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
Lee said: “The calls to prayer prompt Muslims to carry out quiet moments of worship, but hopefully they’ll also make other viewers sit up and notice that this event is taking place.”
But Lee also said the broadcaster is expecting criticism.
“No doubt Channel 4 will be criticized for focusing attention on a “minority” religion but that’s what we’re here to do - provide space for the alternative and a voice to the under-represented.”
Critics have already begun questioning whether the move by Channel 4 is a publicity stunt, while others have hit out at the decision.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said in comments reported by the Daily Mail: “It seems reasonable that there should be some acknowledgment on TV of the needs of the growing Muslim population in Britain, although one can’t help wondering whether this is just another of Channel 4’s publicity-seeking stunts.
“Given that the BBC devotes hundreds of hours a year to Christianity, with two or three church services every day on its radio stations, and hardly any mention of minority religions, a few minutes devoted to Islam doesn’t seem unreasonable.”
Meanwhile on Twitter, a group called Britain First, which describes itself as a ‘patriotic political movement,’ posted: “Get ready for a month’s worth of TV programs pandering to Islam courtesy of Channel 4.”