Amr Khaled: Broadcasting the Nahda
By Lindsay Wise, TBS Deputy Managing Editor


Poster advertising a lecture by Amr Khaled in London.

In the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001, renewed fears about the threat of "Islamic Fundamentalism" conjured images of bearded and turbaned zealots spoiling for holy war against the West. More than three years later, such stereotypes seem confirmed in the grim reality of the morning's headlines, as yet another suicide attack in Iraq, Israel, or elsewhere sends the Western media scrambling to explain what motivates so many young Muslims to "martyr" themselves. Meanwhile, little noticed in the West, a very different face of Islam is gaining steadily in popularity, reflected in the smiling countenance of a charismatic young Egyptian accountant.

Amr Khaled is a 37-year-old former accountant turned Islamic "televangelist." His style of preaching is more reminiscent of Billy Graham or Dr. Phil than Bin Laden. With his stylish business suits, trim moustache, thinning black hair, large, expressive eyes, and magnetic charm, Khaled moves audiences to tears with his retellings of Quranic stories and promises of God's redeeming love. Ever since he began preaching in private homes and clubs in Cairo several years ago, Khaled's fame has grown astronomically, particularly among well-to-do Arab women and youth, many of whom are struggling to reconcile their "Westernized" lifestyles with the powerful pull of a regional Islamic revival. As a "born-again" Muslim who rediscovered his own faith as a teenager, Khaled offers himself as living proof that being religious does not have to mean being "backwards" or fanatical. "I love people passionately and want what's best for them," Khaled said in an interview with the English-language Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram Weekly. "A good preacher should be more compassionate than disciplinary. My main concern is to make young people love religion instead of fearing it."(1)

"It wasn't my principal plan to make the people become religious. My plan was the nahda. This was my plan all along."
-Amr Khaled

Accordingly, Khaled doesn't talk politics and declines to issue religious edicts (fatwas), preferring instead to emphasize salvation, God's love, and issues of personal piety, such as dating, family relationships, veiling, daily prayer, manners, and community responsibility. His first show, Kalam min al-Qalb or Words from the Heart, originally became popular as a video tape sold on street stalls and outside mosques, and later was aired on Dream TV in 2001. The program used a talk-show format featuring audience participation and "testimonials" from famous actresses, football players, and ordinary young Muslims. Its producer and director, Ahmed Abu Haiba, confirmed in an interview that he was partly inspired by Christian televangelist shows, which he saw as an effective hybrid between entertainment and spiritual education (2). Abu Haiba approached Khaled to be the "anchor" for his new program because the two men were old friends and Khaled had started to become popular giving religious lessons in clubs and at Islamic "salon"-style gatherings in upper-class homes. According to Abu Haiba, "I asked Amr, 'Have you ever seen Christian preaching channels in the West? I believe that if we did this with Islam it would be a new experience for Islam.'"

For both Abu Haiba and Khaled, the new show was a gamble. "The audiences were used to seeing (Azhar scholar) Sheikh al-Sha'arawi" in the formal setting of a mosque, Abu Haiba said, but the concept of Words from the Heart was dramatically different. "I wanted something very modern," he explained. "The set needed something that had no relation to Islam. I told the designer he needs something that will feel like a top-ten program." The filming took place in a space-age studio setting with soft pastel lighting, video screens, celebrity guest stars, and a live audience of young people, both boys and girls, who shared the microphone with Khaled as he moderated a discussion about a particular religious moral issue, or aspect of personal piety. "I chose subjects to be related to the heart, outside of the fiqh and the rules, halal and haram," Abu Haiba said, adding that key components were the use of colloquial Arabic and the exchange of personal feelings and true stories among guests and audience members on the show. "People are attracted to a true story about other people who have changed their lives," he said.


A flier about an anti-drugs Sunaa al-Hayat project

The success of Words from the Heart catapulted Khaled into the media spotlight. After signing a contract with Saudi-owned Iqra channel, he then produced two more shows for that channel: Beloved Companions, which told stories from the life of the Prophet and his followers, comparing them to Muslim youth of today, and Until They Change Themselves, a program that aired during the war in Iraq. This show referenced the Quranic verse in the title to imply that the dire tragedies facing the umma, or Islamic community, today cannot be solved unless Muslims reconcile their own personal and spiritual conflicts first.

His latest show, Sunna' al-Hayat, or "Life Makers,"(3) also broadcast on Iqra, takes this message a step further by using the program and its corresponding website to organize social reform projects, ranging from boycotts of smoking, chewing qat and drinking alcohol, to letter-writing campaigns against the exploitation of women's bodies in video clips, collecting food for the poor, and trying to eliminate computer illiteracy by offering free lessons in mosques and Internet cafes. On the show, Khaled urges people first to change their own lives and souls by "breaking our chains" of doubt, indifference, and negativity, and then to reach out to their countries and local communities to help revive hope, self-respect, and ultimately the umma itself, by renovating and reforming the societies where Muslims live throughout the world. He draws on both Islamic and Western history for examples of role models for self-actualization, hard work, and innovation, praising Thomas Edison, Mahatma Ghandi, Ibn Khaldun, and Hamas founder Sheikh Yassin alike. He points to German and Japanese post-war reconstruction as viable examples of national renewal, along with stories about the Hijra of the Prophet to Medina and the early Muslim battles of Badr, al-Qadisiya and al-Khandaq. He offers statistics of unemployment, illiteracy, and poverty in the Arab and Muslim worlds as evidence of the umma's decline to its lowest point in history, comparing those numbers with statistics in America, Europe, and Asia, and urging his audience to accept this harsh reality as a wake up call for each of them to help initiate a nahda, or renaissance. "It wasn't my principal plan to make the people become religious," Khaled said in a recent interview in his new offices in Birmingham, England, where he is setting up a anti-drug abuse training program called Right Start. "My plan was the nahda. This was my plan all along."(4)

If you just make people more religious, he told TBS, they may take that newfound energy and turn it to extremism. They key to his plan is to turn that energy in a positive direction. "Youth today, if you don't lead them to these development projects, a lot of problems will happen in the Arab countries," Khaled said. "Governments don't tell them what to do. No one tells them. So then someone comes to them and tells them come in, follow me," and they follow. "If I didn't do this program Sunna' al-Hayat and take these kids, they must go to another plan. They have energy. Where will this energy go? It will go to crime. It will go to drugs, it will go to clubs, because in the end he has Videonet--he has video clips and the Internet. He has 100 units (of energy). Where will these hundred units go? They must go someplace. So I tell them, come to make Sunna' al-Hayat."

Sunna' al-Hayat is part self-help psychology--an emotional and positive twelve-step program to a better Islamic life--part spiritual experience, and part televised call for social reform and grassroots organization. On every episode, Khaled recaps his goals for the program and lists the achievements of audience members who have written or called the show to describe how they have participated in social projects the world over. Sometimes he brings them as studio guests or shows short documentary films about them. This tactic helps create a sense of achievement, identity, and community among his viewers. Khaled claimed on one of his shows, for example, that thousands of people in 26 countries participated in a clothes collection project for the poor, collecting one and a half million bags of clothes in a period of two weeks. People met and organized through the website to coordinate collection and distribution of the clothes, some of which eventually went to Darfur in Sudan, as testified to by a short documentary video aired on the show. "Do you remember the first episode, when I told you this is not a program but a project to revive our nations?" said Khaled when he announced the success of the clothing drive on the show. "I assured you that one of our goals was to replace the state of despair and hopelessness with a state of hope and positiveness. I was not mocking you. Now you can see what you have accomplished by yourselves."

Since he doesn't have the authority to issue fatwas, there is very little finger-wagging discussion of exactly what is haram or halal. Instead, Khaled offers practical moral advice, such as urging his audience to avoid listening to songs with sexy or provocative lyrics, even encouraging them to write protest letters to music channels. But he doesn't ask them to give up music all together. In fact, he goes so far as to offer an alternative to what he refers to as sappy, empty-headed pop music. At the end of one show, he aired a hip video clip of handsome young Islamic singer Sami Yousif (see article on Sami Yousif in this issue), and in a following episode, he asked his audience to send in song lyrics for a Ramadan concert to be aired on Sunna' al-Hayat. The lyrics will be put to music and sung by repentant finalists from the Pop Idol copy-cat program Superstar (see article on Superstar in this issue). These songs, Khaled says, will later be recorded on an album and sold through the show's website. "So we are not talking about haram and halal, we are talking about whether it supports our nahda or not."(5)

As Khaled himself asserts, the show's goal is no less than a revival of the umma itself. "I'm serious when I said I'm going to do nahda," he said a week after giving his first lecture in London. "I'm not joking, but it's not a simple thing."(6) He stresses, however, that the revival is not just for Muslims, but for the countries and societies they live in as well. He is very proud of participation by Christians in some of his nahda projects, and makes a point of encouraging them on the air to contribute, since one of his primary messages is coexistence between the West and East, whether Muslim or Christian. "This is a serious task," Khaled told the Sunna' al-Hayat audience in a recent episode. ".... We want to change our painful reality from one of humiliation to one of great dignity; from economical devastation to economical prosperity; from unemployment to work and production; and from loss of identity to pride in being Muslims. We want to trigger a new age in success for universities and systems of education, non-profit organizations, social organizations, and in the field of translation. We want to turn our culture from a cheap and tasteless one to a leading, refined, culture." To this end, he encourages viewers to send in their ideas or "dreams" for revival. He asks them for specific suggestions of where they want to see their countries and the Arab and Muslim worlds in twenty years time in the fields of science, industry, agriculture, education, women, international relations, etc. According to Khaled himself, 6000 suggestions came in by fax, 140,000 ideas over the phone and 215,000 over the internet, from thirty-five countries in all, including Japan, Turkmenistan, Malaysia, Ukraine, Romania, Mauritania, Somalia, Spain, the USA, and the UK. Khaled has said on his show that he wants one million votes before he goes forward with the projects which receive the most support. The projects would then be organized and executed through the website.


Amr Khaled merchandise

It may be a hugely ambitious, even laughably unrealistic, goal for a TV show, but it is a message that sells. The young preacher's tapes, videos and CDs outsell the albums of today's hippest Arab pop stars, while his lectures in mosques and clubs across the Middle East, Canada, and the UK have attracted thousands. In some places people stand outside and clog the streets with traffic for hours to hear Khaled speak. Students, businessmen, women and others have formed clubs named after the Sunna' al-Hayat program, writing or calling in to report on their do-good projects inspired by the show, whether its filling in potholes, planting trees, or as one group in Alexandria did, raising money to buy a kidney dialysis machine and mobile clinic to offer medical care to the needy. On college campuses and community centers, students sell t-shirts, key chains, and stickers bearing the Sunna' al-Hayat logo and motto "Together We Build Life" in both English and Arabic to raise money for their philanthropic clubs. These trendy (and fairly expensive) commodities are reminiscent of the virginity promise rings and "What Would Jesus Do" bracelets so popular among born-again Christian youth in America. On the Internet, Khaled's own high-tech Arabic webpage, www.amrkhaled.net, offers live "dialogues" with the preacher himself, as well as e-books, cartoons, songs, MP3 recordings of his sermons, web broadcasts, and translations in eight languages.

Khaled's rise to superstardom--and his undeniable marketing success--is evidence of a new breed of media-savvy Islamic preachers like fellow Egyptians Khaled al-Guindy, Mona Abdul-Ghani, Moez Massaud, and Yemeni preacher Habib Ali, among others, all of whom are marketing themselves as modern, moderate, and fashionable. Their messages resonate with an increasingly globalized Arab youth culture struggling to carve a third way between the excesses of religious extremism and disillusionment with state-subsidized clerics. As demonstrated by the growing popularity of everything from "dial-a-sheikh" telephone services that charge by the minute and online "fatwa sessions" that invite Internet users to submit religious questions by e-mail, there is a growing mass market catering to Muslims seeking spiritual guidance, both moral and mundane: Should teenagers be allowed to date? Is masturbation against Islamic law? How should Muslim women dress at the beach? Is it a sin to play football on a Friday? Are suicide bombers martyrs or murderers? Is kidnapping un-Islamic? In the search for answers, people no longer look only to their neighborhood sheikh or local mosque, but to all forms of media, including audiotapes, DVDs, broadcast television, telephone hotlines and the World Wide Web.

Khaled is exemplary of this new brand of "veiled-again" Islam that represents the most significant departure from classical approaches to Islamic television programming to emerge in the last few years, ushering in a "new wave" Islamism for a different generation of viewers. His influence manifests itself on other television shows, which have picked-up on the his signature trendy, smiling, and youthful talk-show style. This influence has actually been institutionalized at Iqra, where Khaled was put in charge of ART's "Islamic lifestyle programming." Recently other shows in the same mold, like Abu Haiba's lastest production Mona and Her Sisters, offer repentant actors and newly veiled pop singers an Oprah-style entertainment talk show as a platform from which to attract others to Islam. On Mona's show, for example, the veiled former pop star hosts women guests who sit around on couches in a living room and discuss issues such as divorce, child-rearing, and keeping love in a marriage. Stairway to Paradise, moderated by a good-looking, articulate young Egyptian, Moez Massaud, is presented in a similar fashion, with a small group of young people gathered at an informal living-room set, discussing their faith and their lives in both English and Arabic. Here, there is very little overt sermonizing and Islam is presented as a way of life and a community, not just a religion.

In Khaled's case, people seem to either love him or hate him; there is very little middle ground. Khaled's detractors either refuse to take him seriously because he is not classically trained and educated in fiqh, or feel wary of him because they believe he is an extremist Islamist in moderate's clothing--a "gateway" to religious addiction and radicalism. On the other hand, his fans say he is a great preacher because he speaks the simple 'ammiya, or colloquial language, of Egyptian youth, telling stories, smiling, laughing, and explaining the faith in simple and positive terms. They say he looks like them, speaks their language, and makes their religion relevant to their lives without shouting at them about fire and brimstone in incomprehensible Classical Arabic. As Khaled himself explains, he grew up in the upper middle class, had a civil education, studied in the West, and came from a family that was respectable, but not religious. He wears trendy suits and no beard (the latter the stereotypical mark of the fundamentalist) and loves football and music. This gives Khaled the ability to talk to upper-middle class young people as one of them and is the secret to his success, he says. "The reason for the success of my plan is that the nature of my personality meets with my ideas," he says. "Firstly, I did not have ideas that were alien to youth, and I didn't speak to them in a way that was not their way. The most important thing is that they have a need … Young people used to hear about religion from religious people, and there wasn't any interaction between them, so they didn't understand for years. The religious people used to use a language that was not used by youth. So I came with the structure appropriate for youth and it met their needs. The reason for my success is my language. My language is their language."(7)

Khaled's devoted fan base and target audience is made up of well-to-do students young professionals, and particularly women-people who, it is understood, not only have the time and means to organize the philanthropic projects of Sunna' al-Hayat, but also have easy access to the Internet and satellite TV. Still, there is evidence that Khaled is loved by some members of the middle and lower classes as well. Not only is basic satellite TV becoming affordable for a wider range of income brackets, but Khaled makes himself ubiquitous by marketing himself and his message on all sorts of other, more affordable, mass-media products, ranging from audiotapes and glossy books to colorful leaflets summarizing his lessons. Like most of his fans, Khaled's middle and lower class followers, though they may not be his target audience, are responding to his attractive image, personal charisma, simplicity, positive outlook, and openness.

But in a region where repressive regimes prefer either to monopolize or censor Islamic discourse, even relatively mild preachers such as Khaled can find themselves on the wrong side of the authorities. In November of 2002, Khaled was banned in Egypt and forced to leave his country or give up preaching. Khaled remains vague about the precise reasons behind his exile, saying only that nameless "authorities" objected to the format and content of his television shows. Nearly a year after his departure, however, Khaled continues preaching from abroad, and it is clear that attempts to silence him have failed. When Khaled's broadcasts suddenly disappeared from the airwaves during the Iraq war, it was rumored that so many angry fans called, e-mailed, and text-messaged the channel that the preacher was soon reinstated. If anything, such run-ins with controversy increase Khaled's prestige and boost sales of his merchandise, since official disapproval often is interpreted as a badge of honor in the Middle East. There is even a rumor that he left of his own accord in order to win sympathy and credibility.

The public debate that has arisen around Amr Khaled and other "new wave" preachers like him resounds not only in Egypt, but across the Muslim world: in an age of rapidly advancing technology and mass communications, how will traditional religious structures and discourses adapt to the diffusion and fragmentation of both authority and information, and who will lead the way? Some analysts, like sociologist Asef Bayat, argue that the emergence of popular lay preachers like Khaled may signal an important decline in the appeal of political Islamism. Egyptian columnist Fahmy Howeidy sees Khaled as a key figure who can woo troubled young people away from both the vices of "religious disengagement" and the dangers of religious extremism and violence.(8) Others, like Dr. Hala Mustafa of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, say Khaled represents modernism without substance, a dangerous result of political stagnation in Egypt, which has funneled all opposition into an Islamist mold. She believes he is more or less a politician in disguise.(9) The leftist tabloid weekly magazine Rose al-Youssef launched a bitter campaign against the preacher in the summers of 2001 and 2002, accusing him of being elitist, vacuous, and "in it for the money" or part of a sinister Saudi plot to influence Egyptian politics and society. As for al-Azhar, it has remained officially silent, though some individual sheikhs and professors from the institution are quoted in both the Arabic and English press deriding Khaled as a dangerous, unlicensed, and untrained imposter, a Muslim Brother, false prophet, or extremist in disguise. Even after Khaled left Egypt, the media circus around him continued as his followers started collecting signatures for an online petition demanding his return to his homeland. One memorable uproar arose when an Egyptian Christian television producer was quoted on the Internet as calling Khaled the "Rasputin" of Egypt, a comment he denies having made, but which was repeated and criticized ad nauseam over the airwaves and in tabloids for weeks.

None of these speculations about Amr Khaled's motives and influences described above offer a satisfactory answer to the pressing question of why this seemingly moderate and apolitical preacher is so controversial, and, moreover, why the government felt compelled to ban him from speaking, eventually driving him from the country. If he did not give fatwas, preach violence, present an extremist version of Islam, or discuss his opinions about government policy in public, what was so threatening about his discourse? Why did the government not encourage Khaled's da'wa to counteract the political Islamists and radicals as a powerful voice for moderate Islam, instead of attempting to silence and discredit him? The answer appears to lie in his successful presentation of an alternative Islamic discourse that not only threatens to be more popular and better marketed than al-Azhar's official version, but also wrecks havoc on the government's attempt to categorize Islamists as poor, ignorant, uncouth, fringe extremists. According to the state's construction of "official" Islam versus "unofficial" Islamism, a fundamentalist does not look and talk like modernized, westernized "us"; he is a backward, dangerous, marginalized "other." Khaled's genius is to style himself as an Islamist who is one of "us."

As Dale Eickelman and James Piscatori point out in their book Muslim Politics (10), efforts to define cultural and religious values in the public sphere can and do become politicized. Mass media, and specifically transnational satellite broadcasting--with its wide reach and vast audience--is a powerful tool in the politicized struggle to define the norms and rules people live by in society. These values are often expressed symbolically in both words and images. A range of both state and sub-state forces seek to manipulate this symbolic language through what they refer to as "boundary setting." According to Eickelman and Piscatori's definition, boundary setting is a political process to determine the dividing line between public and private, modern and traditional, religious and secular, "high" and "low" culture, moral and immoral. The centralized state plays a prominent role in trying to set out these symbolic boundaries by attempting to control Islamic words and symbols through the media, education, and "official" state-loyal clergy. However, the state's authoritative interpretations are becoming increasingly contested as access to mass education and mass media technologies like the Internet and transnational satellite broadcasting enable more people to participate in and produce their own interpretations. The Egyptian government, for example, has attempted to employ the mass media in its own defense against Islamic fundamentalism, particularly since Sadat's presidency, when Islamic programming, including sermons, panels, and talk shows, was introduced on terrestrial TV in hopes of correcting religious "misinterpretations" and combating the "unhealthy influence of fanatics." But one side-effect of allowing such religious "dialogues" on state-owned television in the first place has been to validate preachers with non-classical credentials. Like government efforts to control the spread of "unofficial" lay preaching by attempting to absorb, certify, and process them through the Ministry of Religious Affairs, state-sponsored Islamic television programming has further eroded the traditional boundaries that separate the ulama from popular religious figures, activists, and intellectuals. With the invention of new media technologies that are not only transnational, but also more symmetrical in their production and consumption, comes a more pluralist and participatory discursive experience. The irony is that the government's use of the media to propagate its own version of Islam has inadvertently created mass markets for cultural goods in which the state's own offerings are not guaranteed to be the most attractive products. At the same time, religious symbols are proving more difficult than ever for the state to monopolize through the usual methods of censorship and co-option. Both Amr Khaled and Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi (see Interview with Sheikh Qaradawi in this issue), for example, simply left Egypt when challenged by the authorities and set up shop elsewhere, taking advantage of satellite TV channels based abroad to evade their own country's censorship.

Far from enabling the state to contain the spread of religious discourse in society, mass media have become the primary vehicle for a new style of da'wa with the potential to make its preachers international super-celebrities (11). Their success in gaining media celebrity status through their television shows is one indicator of just how far the government's attempted "monologue" is blurring boundaries by sliding into a multi-sided "dialogue." This dialogue is characterized by a range of perspectives which now extend well beyond those of respectable and learned Azhar ulama like al-Sha'arawi or al-Qaradawi, to include the voices of an ever-widening variety of political Islamist activists and lay preachers like Khaled-students, professionals, revolutionaries, and intellectuals who are questioning or disputing the "boundary setting" language employed by the state.

Interestingly, the most prevalent rumor at the time of Khaled's departure from Egypt was that his influence had gotten too close to the top: It was claimed that Hosni Mubarak's daughter-in-law had decided to veil after listening to his tapes, embarrassing the secular regime and, particularly, the conspicuously unveiled Suzanne Mubarak. Although the actual reasons behind his recent "exile" may be impossible to discover, the persistence of this particular rumor speaks to perhaps the government's most significant anxiety about Khaled: that he has become too widely popular to control and that his decision to target elite youth and women has been so successful that the ranks which wield real power in Egypt have become personally affected as the wives and children of ministers, even the ministers themselves, come under his influence. Ultimately, the controversy over Khaled and his departure from Egypt speaks to the government's fear of Islamizing from within, a process that promotes the resocialization of Islam instead of outright political maneuvering or radical revolutionary activities. Such overt political Islam can be thwarted by well-worn tactics of force and coercion, but Khaled's deft manipulation of Islamic symbols enables him to straddle spheres of popular culture and religious tradition, refusing to fit neatly into conventional categories, and enabling him to reach social circles previously untouched by Islamism.

The fluid ambiguity of his chic Islamist image enables Khaled to articulate a position betwixt and between normative images of sacred authority, marking him as potentially subversive, but also making him powerful. This presents a much more slippery problem for the authorities than a straightforward terrorist cell or revolutionary organization.
The "Amr Khaled phenomenon" does not represent the antithesis of political Islam or expose its failure so much as it demonstrates a different manifestation of political Islam, one that reflects a more subtle game of symbolic bargaining and ideological rivalry with the state. As Olivier Roy argued in his book The Failure of Political Islam (12), Islamism as an ideology vacillates between two "revolutionary" and "reformist" poles, the first of which emphasizes change through state power and second of which argues for Islamization from the bottom up. In Egypt, the militants managed to assassinate a president, but their violent tactics were unable to inspire the kind of mass movement that would spark a larger upheaval and topple the government, giving them control over state apparatuses and institutions. For that matter, it did not even work as a small-scale coup d'etat. Sadat's assassination simply led his successor to crack down more brutally on Islamic movements as a whole, while the violent Islamist-led campaigns of the 80s and 90s encouraged further regime repression and alienated many Egyptians who disapproved of terrorism in the name of religion, even if they did not necessarily buy into nationalist counter-propaganda. In the end, Islamic discourse, stripped of much of its overt militancy, has become a fixture of public life in Egypt and the rest of the Middle East, since authorities can repress but not ignore the symbolic challenge posed by Islamism. As evident from watching religious programming on Arab satellite broadcasting, the norms established in the process of Islamic protestation already have affected discourses on power, modernity, and morality in the region. As Khaled himself acknowledges, "All my projects are social projects, but it's very difficult to say that anything in our lives is not political."(13)

But just how much of an innovator is Khaled? He shares Islamism's mantra, "Islam is the solution," but the inherent vagueness of such a motto leaves him in his element, with plenty of room to maneuver. Perhaps it is really Khaled's style that is innovative, not his message. He remains fairly socially conservative and text-bound in his preaching. Certainly he does not offer a radical or revolutionary new interpretation of Islam. Even his argument for a jihad of the heart that will save the umma one soul at a time and Islamize society from within is not new or surprising. However, the "atmosphere" Khaled creates through his da'wa is a function of the marriage of message and content reinforcing each other to create a flexible symbolic synthesis. His popular success is testimony to his ability to take advantage of the mass media's strengths to adapt, adjust, compromise, and reinvent the way a religious authority figure interacts with his congregation. In doing so, intentionally or not, Khaled seems to be "promoting a tolerant, ethical and moral version of Islam that might give rise at a political level to a movement that espouses Islamic liberalism or democracy. It is not against individualism or technology, does not force you to submerge your identity in a collective,"(14) but at the same time it emphasizes the centrality of community and social responsibility as a fundamental part of the Muslim faith. Even more importantly, it successfully encourages the television audience to, as Khaled puts it, "break the chains of negativity" and transform passive viewing into a form of active social organization that emphasizes participation in the form of voting, discussion, audience interaction, and, most importantly, the initiation and execution of real projects at a grass-roots level. The audience are not just expected to listen passively, but are implored to reach out actively to each other and their communities, whether through simply buying a key chain and t-shirt that identifies them as "Life Makers" or organizing philanthropy clubs and mounting charity drives for the poor. Despite all the ink that has been spilt about the democratizing potential and political effects of satellite TV and the Internet in the Arab world, very few programs can actually boast the kind of on-the-ground results reported by Sunna' al-Hayat and evident on campuses, mosques, and streets from Cairo to Dubai to Birmingham. Khaled's website is the most popular Arabic site on the Net--more popular even, he claims, than Oprah Winfrey's. However, Khaled's da'wa exists alongside a plethora of other Islamic programming viewers can and do choose from, mixing and matching to suit their own individual needs. There are people who watch both Azhar graduate Sheikh al-Qaradawi and Khaled, those who only watch Khaled or al-Qaradawi, and others who would rather watch Nancy Agram video clips any day. The proliferation of mass media technologies may be opening a new public sphere that allows for greater participation in Islamic discourse, as argued by Dale F. Eickelman, Jon W. Anderson, and others.(15) I am reluctant, however, to overestimate the democratizing potential of Arab satellite broadcasting and other mass media technologies (or Amr Khaled himself, for that matter) as harbingers of an "Islamic Reformation." It remains to be seen whether the political and religious discourses aired on transnational satellite broadcasting can transfer into change on the ground and whether that change will match Western definitions of liberal and flexible, rigid or radical. Meanwhile, shows like Sunna' al-Hayat reflect Muslims' desire for meaningful dialogue about their faith and its role in the modern world. Perhaps more importantly, it also demonstrates Muslims' determination to actively define such terms for themselves.

Lindsay Wise is deputy managing editor of Transnational Broadcasting Studies journal at the American University in Cairo's Adham Media Center. She has an M.Phil. in Modern Middle Eastern Studies from St. Antony's College, University of Oxford, where she earned distinction for her thesis on Amr Khaled. Titled "Words from the Heart: New Forms of Islamic Preaching in Egypt," the thesis explored the recent rise of Islamic "televangelists" through satellite television and the Internet. In addition to her work with TBS journal, she is also a freelance journalist in Cairo. She can be reached at linds@aucegypt.edu.

WORKS CITED

1. "Preaching with a Passion: In an Exclusive Interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Amr Khaled Speaks of How he Became a Star Preacher, and Explains his Own Perspective of Da'wa." Interview by Gihan Shahine. Al-Ahram Weekly, 28 November - 4 December 2002. (http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2002/614/fe2.htm)
2. Abu Haiba, Ahmed. Personal Interview. 10 March 2004.
3. Arabic transcripts of Suna' al-Hayat episodes are available on Amr Khaled's website, which also offers translation into eight languages. All quotes from Sunna' al-Hayat referenced in this article can be found here: http://www.amrkhaled.net/acategories/categories42.html.
4. Khaled, Amr. Personal Interview. 1 October 2004.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Howeidy, Fahmy. Personal Interview. 16 December 2002.
9. Mustafa, Hala. Personal Interview. 14 December 2002.
10. Eickelman, Dale F. and Piscatori, James. Muslim Politics. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1996.
11. Interestingly, the most prominent of these famous preachers come from the Muslim Brother tradition, rather than from the Wahabi or Salafi schools whose, followers fund and own the majority of the religious satellite channels.
12. Khaled.
13. Roy, Olivier. The Failure of Political Islam. Translated by Carol Volk. London: IB Tauris, 1994. p24.
14. Eickelman, Dale F. and Anderson, Jon W. "Redefining Muslim Publics." In New Media in the Muslim World: The Emerging Public Sphere, edited by Dale F. Eickelman and Jon W. Anderson. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1999.

 

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