One of Britain's main broadcasters is set to air the Muslim call to prayer live every morning during the month of Ramadan. Channel 4 says it is an act of "deliberate provocation" aimed at viewers who might associate Islam with extremism. The move is proving controversial.
is set to broadcast the three-minute call to prayer at about 3 a.m. on each of the 30 days of Ramadan. The other four daily prayers will be broadcast on its website.
Programmers say it is a way to challenge conceptions of Islam in Britain and provide a voice for the underrepresented. The move, it says, will force non-Muslims to “sit up and notice” that Ramadan is taking place.
Buzz among British Muslims
Usama Hasan, a senior researcher in Islamic studies at the Quilliam Foundation, a London-based research group, says the news is creating a stir among British Muslims.
“I'm looking at Muslim discussion forums online and blogs and things," he said. "There has been a lot of buzz about Channel 4's Ramadan season. So people will know about it. And whereas in previous years they would have automatically switched on Muslim satellite channels at dawn time, now many will also see Channel 4 as a watchable alternative.”
Hasan says the move is especially important for young Muslims. A recent census carried out in Britain found that one in 10 people under the age of 25 is Muslim. Channel 4 says that age group is its target audience - and a big part of why it decided to broadcast the prayer.
Young Muslims in Britain, Hasan says, have grown up in an environment formed by the September 11, 2001 terrorism attack in the United States and a subsequent terror attack in Britain in 2005.
Hasan says for young Muslims, signs of inclusion in mainstream British society are significant.
“They have lived through their formative years with that whole, rather negative atmosphere. And it is very important for them to feel more positively accepted in British society and this will be one welcome step,” he said.
The move by Channel 4 has been controversial. Right-wing political groups and some media outlets have at times reacted with dismay, and outrage.
Andrew McBride is deputy chairman of a far-right pressure group called Britain First. His group has launched a campaign to stop the broadcast, which it calls “Islamic propaganda." So far the “complaint” has garnered some 5,000 signatures.
“Getting from the broadcasting airwaves the call to prayer in Arabic in Britain - it annoys people, it annoys me,” he said.
Some from the Muslim community in Britain have voiced concern that Channel 4 is using Ramadan to spur ratings and create controversy.
But Ibrahim Mogra, assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, says representing Muslim culture in mainstream broadcasts makes Muslims feel more integrated into British society.
“I think this will certainly help. It is not going to dispel all the myths and misconceptions about Islam in one go. But every effort helps,” he said.
Channel 4 also is set to launch a series about Ramadan this month, including documentaries about leading Muslims in Britain.