Posted by Nabil Echchaibi on Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Al-Azhar University was founded in 988.
The long-established authority of Al-Azhar University has recently come under heavy attack by Islamic radicals and secularists alike. Some strange fatwas by professors there in the past couple of years have been publicly ridiculed, and radicals have long denounced its tamed theology under heavy state control. There are signs the one-thousand-year-old religious institution might be striking back. It was announced today that Al-Azhar is preparing to launch its own satellite channel to counter the distortions of radical Islam.
Azhari Channel will start in mid-August right at the start of the holy month of ramadan and will apparently feature a progressive lineup of entertainment programming including soaps, reality tv, and talk shows. They really don't have any other choice if they want to compete with the dozens of Islamic channels which feature star preachers like Amr Khaled and Moez Masoud. What's interesting about Azhari is its ambitious plan to start as an English and Arabic channel in a clear attempt to influence the millions of Muslims in the West. In fact, the BBC wrote today about a new Islamic hotline in England where British Muslims can get answers to their religious questions directly from scholars at Al-Azhar. The university will also be launching a new Website in English, a newspaper, a radio station and blogs by 2010. This is clearly part of a concerted campaign by the university to finally engage the new religious pathways of 21st-century Islam. It won't be easy, but starting in August, the dozens of Islamic channels funded by the Gulf's petrodollars will have a new competitor.
I was born and raised in Morocco. My research focuses on the intersections between Islam, Arab popular culture and the media. I'm currently an assistant professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Colorado-Boulder.