Dr. Abdul Qader Tash
paper was presented at a conference organized by The Centre
of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge
on "Arab Satellite Broadcasting in the Age of Globalization"
held 1-3 November 2002 and is reproduced with the permission
of The Cambridge Arab Media Project. This version has been edited
the Name of God Most Gracious Most Merciful
satellite channels are considered a novel experience in the
Arab media world. Iqra Channel, which started transmission from
Rome in October 1998, was the first Islamic satellite channel
established to serve Arab viewers.
talk about Islamic channels two major questions arise: is there
any need for an Islamic channel in the modern world; and how
do we define an Islamic channel and is it equivalent to the
religious programs that have been prevalent in Arab television
channels since their beginnings in the 1960s?
to answer these two important questions before making an assessment
of the present situation of Islamic satellite channels.
for establishing an Islamic channel started following the launch
of Arab satellite channels in the early 1990s. Such calls were
mainly in the form of articles written by academics, thinkers,
and journalists who had an Islamic orientation.
I was among
those who called for the establishment of an Islamic channel
and had published a number of articles. "Are we in need
of an Islamic satellite channel?" was the headline of one
of my articles published in Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper
in July 1994 in Arabic.
article, I referred to the growing calls by a number of Islamic
organizations and institutions to establish such a channel.
The need for setting up an Islamic channel was one of the recommendations
of the 8th International Conference of Latin American Muslims
in Brazil in 1994. Conference participants emphasized that establishment
of such a channel was essential, especially for the benefit
of Muslims living in non-Islamic countries as an alternative
to non-Islamic channels.
I also explained
the reasons for establishing an Islamic channel.
Ours is an age of satellite channels, as nations compete
with one another to have such a powerful medium to express their
identity and achieve their interests. Arabs have also made remarkable
headway in the field. This prompted us to call for dedicating
some of these channels to the service of Islam.
The minds of a considerable portion of Muslims have been distorted
as a result of their wrong understanding of Islam. It was the
result of a campaign to Westernize culture on the one hand and
conflicts between various schools of thought and religious movements
in the Arab and Islamic world on the other. It created groups
in our societies, some of which have deviated from Islam and
lost their identity while some others held extremist views and
kept away from Islam's moderate line. Both groups will leave
a negative effect on society, especially on youth. So the launch
of an Islamic satellite channel will not only contribute to
correcting misconceptions about Islam, but also enhance Islamic
knowledge and help disseminate moderate Islamic teachings.
Millions of Muslim minorities and communities living in non-Muslim
societies, especially in Europe and America, lack proper knowledge
of the Islamic faith and culture. These communities are in need
of an Islamic channel to protect their Islamic identity and
link them with their roots. It will strengthen their cultural
orientation by providing them with spiritual and intellectual
input and enable them to interact with non-Islamic societies
in which they live.
The picture of Islam is totally distorted in most societies,
especially in the West. It is our duty to project the correct
picture of Islam and an Islamic channel can play a vital role
in achieving this objective.
incessant calls for an Islamic channel since then. The last
of them came from the third conference of culture ministers
in the member countries of the Organization of Islamic Conference
(OIC), held in Doha in December 2001. The conference approved
a project to establish an Islamic satellite channel and assigned
the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
(ISESCO) to implement the project.
In a study
presented to the culture ministers, ISESCO emphasized the need
for an Islamic satellite channel. It said most channels in Islamic
countries were transmitting national programs via satellite
without focusing on common Muslim issues. If they had focused
on Muslim issues, it would have contributed to unifying Muslim
ranks and creating a general Islamic opinion.
pointed out that although Muslims constitute a strong economic
and human force they still lack a powerful media organization
to raise the voice of Islam and defend Muslim causes. It said
an Islamic satellite channel would help strengthen Muslim solidarity,
improve their image, and defend their honor.
to the definition of "Islamic channel," researchers
have different opinions on the definition and nature of Islamic
satellite channels. Some of them give an impression that Islamic
channels are just an extension of religious TV programs, in
both concept and application.
that it should be a collection of da'wa (religious preaching)
material transmitted by Arab TV stations, which would be reproduced
and transmitted by a single satellite channel, targeting a particular
audience of religious people who do not like to watch other
In our opinion
this common notion is not true. There is a fundamental difference
between the concept of da'wa media and Islamic media.
It can be said that da'wa media is part of Islamic media
as the latter is more comprehensive.
to me that there is an apparent mix up in concepts and this
is evident from the writings of certain researchers who consider
the media and da'wa as one and the same. Some people
look at the Islamic channel with a narrow historical or geographical
perspective. Media is different from da'wa as it is used
for purposes other than da'wa, including transmission
of news, recreation programs, advertisements, etc.
of the same criteria, it is not acceptable to restrict an Islamic
medium within the limits of a closed history because it is not
linked to a particular period. On the other hand, it transcends
the limits of time to live in all ages, to make impacts, and
important point is that a medium established by Muslims or a
Muslim country will not be considered an Islamic medium as long
as it does not conform to Islamic ideology and the Islamic conception
of the universe, life, and human beings. We have to correct
the wrong notion that an Islamic medium is the one established
by Muslims irrespective of whether it conforms to the Islamic
faith and concepts. When followers of other faiths and cultures
establish their media on the basis of their ideologies, it is
quite natural that Muslims regulate their media in light of
the basic objectives and methodology of an Islamic medium will
be derived in light of its Islamic concept toward universe,
life, and man.
ideology will also determine the media's general and specific
functions, its style, means, and methods of presenting programs
as well as media ethics and regulations.
media philosophy provides the general intellectual framework
and necessary guidelines for our media activities. We look at
the Islamic media as a comprehensive and total system, which
determines its objectives and motives.
about an Islamic channel, its concept, content, audience and
impact, should be made within the framework of this Islamic
media philosophy. And we say that an Islamic channel is not
a specialized religious channel, although it transmits religious
programs. It is also not a da'wa channel, although it
highlights the salient features of Islamic faith and culture
to win the hearts of the followers of other faiths. The Islamic
channel's audience will not be restricted to Islamists, although
it pays them special attention.
talk about the Iqra Channel, I would say that it started with
this comprehensive and wider concept of an Islamic medium. It
was the first such experiment in the whole Arab and Islamic
world. It required a full year of serious thinking and continuous
work as it was not an easy task. We had to work for a novel
and pioneering venture with a totally new media concept. We
had to overcome a lot of obstacles and challenges to make it
not be an exaggeration if I say that our mission was a cultural
challenge rather than merely setting up a satellite channel.
It is enough for those who participated in transforming that
cultural challenge into a reality to have had the honor of making
person who took the initiative was Sheikh Saleh Kamil, who welcomed
the idea and provided all the moral and material support needed
to make it a success. He really deserves the lion's of the credit
for this pioneering project.
We had depended
on the following four information sources while planning for
the Iqra Channel project:
Recommendations of scientific studies on developing religious
programs on television.
Results of field surveys on the desire of the Arab audience
to have an Islamic channel.
Indicators of field studies conducted by Pan-Arab Research &
Consultancy (PARC) for Iqra.
Results of intense discussions conducted by Iqra's working team
with a selected group of intellectuals, academics, think tanks,
and media experts in three Arab countries.
ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh organized an important
seminar on "Developing religious programs on Gulf televisions"
in 1987, in association with Gulf Television Agency. A number
of academic researchers and professionals in five Gulf countries
took part in the seminar to review the present situation of
religious TV programs and suggest ways to improve them.
time, I was head of the Communication department at the Imam
Muhammad Ibn Saud University and supervisor of the main research
paper to be presented at the seminar. It was an analytical study
on samples of religious programs presented by television stations
in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and
Qatar from October to December 1986.
discussed 16 research papers, which presented a lot of viewpoints,
analyses, and recommendations. The seminar proposed the production
and transmission of programs on Islamic Shariah and religious
instructions at prime time. It also proposed sound planning
for religious programs, an increase in exchange of programs
by Gulf television stations, expansion of programs targeting
non-Muslim expatriates working in their countries, and improvement
in the quality of programs both in content and presentation.
advised that special Islam-oriented TV programs for be produced
for children, women, and youth and for recreation, and that
the standard of religious programs be improved. However, it
did not openly call for an independent Islamic channel.
But it was
quite evident that the participants were not happy with the
prevailing situation of religious programs on Gulf television
stations. This was proved by the calls to establish an independent
Islamic channel when the Arabs first entered the world of satellite
channels in early 1990s.
In the meantime,
the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs in Kuwait conducted
a survey in February 1998 on 500 men and women. The survey was
conducted to understand the effect of satellite channels on
values and behavior of individuals in a society and the interaction
of those channels with events in the Arab and Islamic world.
The participants were asked to tell the programs they watched
on satellite channels and give their ideas to improve the present
situation. Fifty-five percent of participants expressed their
fear on the negative effect of these channels on morality and
behavior. Forty-five percent said satellite channels did not
care about Islamic values and traditions. Only 26 percent opined
that satellite channels focused on and tackled Islamic issues
and causes. So it was not a surprise that 80 percent of participants
supported the idea of establishing an independent Islamic channel.
assigned PARC to conduct a field study to discover the audience's
needs and expectations of the new channel. PARC conducted discussions
with groups of viewers in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and
Kuwait. The individuals who took part in the survey expressed
their unhappiness over obscene and shameful programs and advertisements
transmitted by the channels. They said they don't want to see
such programs and advertisements in the presence of family members.
They praised the programs of Channel One of Saudi Arabia, Sharjah
TV, and Egyptian Satellite TV, Kuwait Satellite TV, and Sudan
Television, and classified them as Islamic channels.
told the individuals who took part in the survey the plan to
establish Iqra Channel and its programs they welcomed it. They
demanded that Iqra Channel's programs should include cultural,
recreational, political, and even sports programs in addition
to religious programs. They insisted that Iqra should be a balanced,
tolerant, and credible channel adorned with modernity.
team conducted four intellectual discourses in Jeddah, Riyadh,
Cairo, and Amman to discuss preliminary ideas about the channel.
More than fifty intellectuals, university professors, media
persons, and experts took part in these discussions. These unanimously
pointed out that Iqra should be an Islamic cultural channel
with a wide horizon and should not be restricted to a religious
that Iqra should get out of the traditional style of presenting
Islamic and cultural programs and adopt modern methods especially
in tackling contemporary Muslim issues, considering all sections
of society. According to them, Iqra should have the courage
to discuss thorny issues and expand the space for intellectual
and religious dialogue. They warned against presenting one-sided
opinion and a single school of thought. They also advised that
the channel should acquire the best of technology and experienced
manpower to make it a resounding success.
its identity and set out its policies in light of previous research
works, field studies and intellectual discussions. It was then
identified that Iqra would be a cultural and objective channel
with a supreme message and that its program would be open to
all Arabic-speaking viewers.
excellent television programs and materials that deal with Muslim
issues and meet with the Muslim's spiritual, cultural, and social
needs was Iqra's main objective. It took "Enjoyment of
Objective Media" as its slogan with three main goals: objective
in content, enjoyable in presentation, and professional in performance.
described as "a comprehensive Islamic Arab channel, which
presents a variety of programs covering religious, cultural,
social, political, economic and recreational aspects of life."
set out ten general objectives to achieve:
To promote the moderate and tolerant line of Islam.
To reinforce the significance of the Arabic language and spread
the language internationally.
To develop the feelings of attachment to the unified cultural
identity of the Ummah and protect it from cultural onslaughts.
To highlight the noble features of Arab and Islamic culture
and shed light on the contributions of Arabs and Muslims in
the service of humanity.
To project the true picture of Islam and remove the misconceptions
and accusations against the religion.
To create the spirit of dialogue among individuals of the ummah
(Islamic Nation) and open channels of outreach with other cultures
take care of the Muslim woman and affirm her role in building
a sound society, providing special attention to educational
issues and bringing up new generations.
help tackle present and future problems and issues facing Arabs
To introduce Arab and Islamic countries and peoples and focus
on the conditions of Muslim minorities in various parts of the
To present recreational programs for all members of Arab family,
such programs being free from indecency and obscenity.
Channel has succeeded with the support of its viewers targeted
by its programs. It is now fast expanding to cover all Arab
and Muslim viewers within and outside Arab societies. There
are certain groups of viewers including women, youth, and children
in the Arab world and Arab communities in the West who watch
program policies are international in direction, moderate in
methodology, comprehensive in objectives, various in content,
objective in address, credible in handling issues, and attractive
a wide variety of programs including cultural, religious, social,
educational, informative, documentary, political, economic and
of the channel's screen has nine factors: Iqra's beautiful logo
with its attractive name; its slogan of enjoyment of objective
media; programs with catchy headlines; strong contents and attractive
presentation; simple and classical Arabic language; judiciously
selected programs; professional performance. It uses both Hijri
and Gregorian calendars, Makkah and GMT time and Arabic numbers.
describes itself as a channel with a mission, which does not
intend to make profits. On the other hand, it opens the room
for participation and contribution to finance its programs through
advertisements, membership fees, sponsorships, and unconditional
donations and gifts.
launched on October 21 1998 (Rajab 1, 1419AH). It was designed
to serve as a nucleus for Islamic channels which address a variety
of audience and viewers having different languages other than
Arabic, and specialize in areas to cater to the needs of various
sections of viewers.
it went on air, the channel has been drawing applause from the
public. It was widely welcomed by viewers in the Arab world
and Europe even though it started transmission with a KU-Band
system through Arabsat and a digital system through Nilesat
and European satellite Hotbird2.
after its launch, Iqra conducted a study of its performance
which showed that the channel had achieved most of its objectives,
such as presenting a variety of programs adopting modern methods.
Its programs were classified as 34 percent religious, 16.5 percent
Islamic cultural, 11.5 percent general cultural, 22 percent
drama serials (mostly historical), 12.5 percent children's programs,
and 3.5 percent political and current events.
revealed that a religious nature was dominant in the programs
and it was necessary to reduce such programs and focus on documentaries,
scientific, women, and family programs as well as current and
hot issues in political, economic, and intellectual fields.
pointed out that a particular format of presentation dominated
the programs. About 43.5 percent of programs were talk shows
while program formats such as contests, reportage, and illustrated
magazines were rarely presented. Films were restricted to history
and did not present contemporary serials and dramas covering
human issues and contemporary problems within an Islamic perspective
as expected from the channel.
helped Iqra not only make changes in its programs but also to
introduce new programs. By the end of the first year, the channel
decided to translate some of its programs into English, following
the subtitle system, for the benefit of non-Arab viewers.
departure from Iqra in early 2000, the channel introduced new
changes and developments in its programs. It increased programs
for women and family, allocated time for programs of youth aged
between 12 and 18 after it focusing on children aged between
five and 12. Thus the channel established its social, educational,
and family nature. It also increased its translated programs
in English and produced a number of programs specially for English
speakers, a fatawa (Islamic edicts) program in French
and an Islamic educational program in Urdu.
It is worth
mentioning that the Iqra Channel was missing one basic and vital
factor that is part and parcel of television programs, the news.
It was a glaring lack. The channel's financial difficulties,
as well as material and manpower shortage, obstructed its qualitative
growth. They forced the channel to make slow steps in its efforts
to cope with developments in the satellite channel world.
a review of its present position vis-à-vis other satellite
channels, especially when there are plans to launch new Islamic
channels breaking Iqra's monopoly in the field.
years after the start of Iqra, it is the duty of researchers
and those who are interested in media to study the channel's
intellectual, political, and social impact and make an effort
to promote such channels. Iqra and other Islamic channels are
expected to have a positive impact on Arab viewers, especially
in promoting tolerance and religious dialogue among Arab viewers.
we should not underestimate the important role being played
by the Iqra Channel and Islamic programs on other channels.
They link Arab viewers within and outside the Arab world, strengthen
their unity and provide them with a chance to watch programs
of prominent Islamic scholars and intellectuals and to interact
with them to discuss a variety of Islamic issues clearly and
courageously. These things would not have been possible had
there been no such channels.
more Islamic channels and producing more Islamic programs on
other satellite channels, we ought to be able to reorient the
Muslim mind and behavior in accordance with the teachings of
There is a pressing need to expand these types of channels to
address other nations in their languages and with their way
of thinking to open the door of cultural dialogue and correct
our distorted picture. Such channels are essential to block
the road of extremists, who want to drive a wedge between Muslims
and other nations, and light the fire of the clash of civilizations
in an age which demands close cooperation among nations to achieve
peace and prosperity for all peoples.
Dr. Abdul Qader Tash was executive president of the Media
Research & Consultancy House and founder and sometime director
general of Iqra Channel.