By Masuma Rahim
The month of Ramadan is well underway and a large proportion of the Muslim community will be observing the myriad practices associated with it. It appears the mainstream media is also keen to play a part and Channel 4 has announced that it intends to broadcast the call to prayer at dawn every day throughout the month as well as interrupting programmes four times on the first day to remind viewers that the time of prayer is approaching. Many may welcome this assimilation of Muslim spirituality into secular television programming but I take a rather different view.
Channel 4 is known for many things but most of all it has a name for provocative programming. In some ways this has been good – it used to be the broadcaster which made satirical comedy and hard-hitting documentaries. It used to commission drama designed to make you think. Unfortunately that reputation seems to have fallen by the wayside in the last few years and its priority now seems to be ratings based on programming which appeals to the lowest common denominator. These days, you’re more likely to see exploitative reality television than journalistic exposés and it certainly pulls in the viewers. It’s against this background that I am sceptical of the Adhan (call to prayer) being broadcast during Ramadan.
I think there is a place for spiritual programming in the secular media and I would welcome it, if I believed it was commissioned in the spirit of increasing understanding and tolerance.
In this case, however, I tend towards the view that it is simply designed to generate headlines and to create a furore amongst those less sympathetic towards theistic sensibilities.
Articles related to religion, and especially to Islam, are likely to attract vitriolic responses and there is little which is more deliberately provocative than broadcasting the Muslim call to prayer on a publicly-owned channel in a country which is strongly secular and in which many are fiercely anti-religion. There are almost certainly going to be accusation of the ‘Islamification’ of television, of the ‘creeping influence’ of Islam and of the ‘assault’ on British culture.
I have no objection to spiritual or religious programming but I feel that such programming should seek to inform, to educate and to entertain. I don’t think that it should be used as a vehicle for provocation and to provide ammunition where there is already so much. Any broadcaster could choose to make an intelligent documentary demystifying fasting but none, not even Channel 4, appears to have done so. That would have been a way to open doors through discussion and the exchange of ideas and I would almost certainly have welcomed it. As the situation stands, my call to prayer is being cheapened by Channel 4 executives and I don’t feel that the means justify the likely ends. I would like to be proved wrong but, once again, I find myself sceptical.