Muslim MTV?

Can you imagine what an Islamic MTV would look like? Well, Ahmed Abu Haiba did when he launched a new music channel called 4Shbab TV. (“Shbab” means “young people” in Arabic.) The idea behind 4Shbab TV is to offer an Islamic alternative to the other 800+ satellite channels. 4Shbab TV began broadcasting in February 2009 from Bahrain, and according to Abu Haiba now has viewers from all over the Middle East.

For Abu Haiba, mainstream music videos do not reflect Arab and Islamic cultural values nor do they represent the realities of the youth in the Middle East so he decided to launch a channel that would do just that. Abu Haiba also wanted to make  religion more appealing to youth. 4Shbab broadcasts music videos that do not have backup singers, revealing clothing, or anything else that one would associate with mainstream music videos, but that does not mean that musical instruments are not used or that all the songs are about religion. It also features talk shows, variety shows, news, and an American Idol-like program called  “Sotak Wasel,” which translates as “Your Voice is Heard.”

4Shbab TV is part of a growing trend around the Muslim world of Islamically themed projects, like Amr Khaled’s show “Mujaddidun”–The Reformers in Arabic– based on “The Apprentice.” These projects not only offer alternative means of entertainment but also demonstrate the diverse experiences of Islam not only across regions but across the generations. Many of these projects specifically target a younger audience and promote a picture of Islam that is compatible with modern sensibilities.

What do you think about 4Shbab and other religiously themed entertainment? Do you think they have an impact? What do projects like 4Shbab indicate about the diversity of the Muslim experience? Would you watch this channel? Please share your thoughts below.

Islam in Iran: Interview with Saideh Jamshidi

saidehIran is very much in the news. For example, the mass protests against last year’s disputed presidential election generated tremendous support for the Iranian people. Also, Tehran’s nuclear program is causing fears that Iran is moving towards a military dictatorship with the ability to launch devastating terrorist attacks. But how do ordinary Iranians view their country and Islam? I talked to Saideh Jamshidi recently, a journalist born and raised in Iran. She came to the US in 1999, has been working for Free Speech Radio News, and just started her graduate study in journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Continue reading

My Name is Khan

This past week the film My Name is Khan was released to audiences worldwide and has broken global box office records. The Bollywood film examines a topic that the American media shies away from:  the struggles of Muslim Americans after the September 11th attacks.

This highly anticipated film tells the story of Rizwan Khan, a Muslim with Asperger’s syndrome, who moves to San Francisco to live with his brother. There he meets and marries Mandira. Rizwan, Mandira, and her son Sameer live together and both Mandira and Sameer take on the last name Khan. However, after the attacks of 9/11, they face prejudice. Mandira blames their struggles on the new last name “Khan.” In order to stay in Mandira’s life, she tells him he must tell Americans and the President that his name is Khan and that he is not a terrorist. This mission leads him on a journey across the United States, in which he is detained, imprisoned, and tortured because he  is seen as a terrorist suspect, even when he tries to inform the FBI about Faisal Rahman, who espouses violent rhetoric at the local mosque.

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Islam and Media: Qantara.de

This is part 5 of our series, Media and Islam. Previous parts explained why we started the series and examined Al Jazeera, Global Voices and CNN.

Having lived through the atrocities of the Nazi era, Germany is very sensitive to issues of tolerance. Perhaps that is why it has put more effort into integrating its four million Muslims, or 5% of the population, into society than many European countries. For instance, German public schools now teach Islam along with other religions. A recent study found that many German Muslims are more German than expected, doing quintessentially German things such as joining soccer clubs or senior citizens’ groups. For many non-Muslim Germans, as talk show host Michel Friedmann remarked, “most of those five percent are honest, bourgeois, boring and sweet — just like their German Christian neighbors.”

A great example of Germany’s effort to promote dialogue with the Muslims is Qantara.de, an Internet portal designed “to discuss controversial issues openly and to highlight common ground between cultures.Qantara means “bridge” in Arabic. Published in Arabic, English, German, Turkish, and Indonesian, the portal is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office and is jointly run by Deutsche Welle, Germany’s public broadcasting service, the Goethe Institute, the Federal Agency for Civic Education, and the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations. Continue reading

Media and Islam: CNN

This is the fourth part of our series, Media and Islam. Previous parts explained why we started the series and examined Al Jazeera and Global Voices.

cnn“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own fact,” said US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. News media’s job is to give the public both facts and opinions, but labeling each clearly so as not to confuse or mislead. Facts should carry more weight in media coverage and be the basis of opinions voiced in media.

Using this criterion to assess the coverage of Islam and the Muslim world by the three major US cable news networks, I find that CNN outperforms Fox News and MSNBC even though it lost 30% of its viewers in 2009 while Fox News gained 7% and MSNBC fell 12%.

First, CNN is more committed to news gathering. Unlike generating opinions, gathering facts requires having reporters on the ground knocking on doors, talking to locals, and sifting through documents. Statistics show that CNN has more correspondents in more Muslim countries than what Fox News and MSNBC have combined. The financial commitment by CNN is also the biggest among the three, with Fox News spending the least on newsgathering. Continue reading

Sadness Leading to Fear

On Thursday, November 5th, Major Nidal Hasan opened fire at Fort Hood and killed 13 and injured 30. My initial reaction was like everyone else: extreme sadness over the loss of life, especially since it was not in a war zone and the victims were killed by another soldier. It is troubling. However, what I feared would happen as soon as I saw the name did happen. The focus now was on his level of religiosity and the role of Islam in this kind of violence. While I absolutely condemn these killings, I wish that for once the discussion focused on the human level–from all sides. Whenever a Muslim commits an act of violence, it is never read as an individual act or looked on as a human ill; rather, the person is always part of a larger problematic called Islam. Ironically, the next day, a shooting occurred in Orlando and the religion of the perpetrator was not mentioned at all. Continue reading

Depicting the Prophet

In 2005, the Danish newspaper Jylland-Posten first published 12 offensive cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. These cartoons triggered protests, some violent, around the Muslim world. For many Muslims, the cartoons were not a matter of free speech, but were perceived to be hate speech against Muslims. Moreover, the lack of respect in these depictions was troubling. Islamic law opposes any representation of the Prophet, even positive, out of fear of idolatry. The controversy over the cartoons has dissipated considerably, but the discussion around a new book from Yale University Press on the topic The Cartoons that Shook the World illustrates that the issue of representing the Prophet Muhammad, especially negatively, continues to have ramifications. Now there are new efforts to use visual media, specifically film, to portray a positive image of the Prophet Muhammad and Islam that respects the edicts of the faith and aims to build bridges. Continue reading

One in Four are Muslim

From The Pew Forum

From The Pew Forum

A couple weeks ago, the US Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a study that has received a great deal of attention. According to a three-year study of over 232 countries, the population of Muslims worldwide is now 1.57 billion, which means that one out of every four people in the world is a Muslim. Although the number was above some of the researchers’ expectations, what really makes this study fascinating is what it discovered about the details of this overall population. Continue reading

Interview with Uli Schamiloglu

A member of the Inside Islam executive committee, Uli Schamiloglu is also a professor in Languages and Cultures of Asia (a department that he helped to create) and the Director of UW-Madison’s Middle East Studies Program, among many other things. I first met him in 2007 when he was a guest on the Here on Earth radio show to talk about Sunni-Shia conflict and lessons from WWI. He was so knowledgeable and articulate about the past and present in the Middle East that the show has invited him back a couple of times to launch our Inside Islam radio series and to comment on Obama’s outreach to Muslims and his speech in Cairo. Continue reading