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LONDON – U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 drew headlines here Tuesday with its decision to air the Muslim call to prayer live every morning during the fasting month of Ramadan.
Channel 4 plans to broadcast the three-minute call to prayer each morning at about 3 a.m. for 30 days from the start of Ramadan on July 9. It gave the month-long initiative the moniker “4Ramadan.” Channel 4 programming tied to the season will also include nightly shorts, Ramadan Diaries, about Muslims observing Ramadan and half-hour documentary A Very British Ramadan.
Channel 4 told The Guardian that its decision to air the call to prayer daily was an act of “deliberate provocation” aimed at viewers who might associate Islam with extremism.
The broadcaster also said on the first day of Ramadan it will interrupt programming four times during the day, to mark subsequent calls to prayer, with a 20-second film to remind viewers of the approaching prayer time.
Channel 4 head of factual programming Ralph Lee also told The Daily Telegraph that while he anticipated criticism, the network could potentially see a benefit in viewer numbers. “Nearly 5 percent of the country will actively engage in Ramadan this month; can we say the same of other national events that have received blanket coverage on television, such as the Queen’s coronation anniversary?”
The BBC broadcast of the coronation anniversary service in Westminster Abbey on June 4 garnered 1.15 million viewers.
Lee told the British tabloid newspaper The Mirror that the decision also allows his team to fulfill part of the broadcaster’s remit to give a “voice to the underrepresented.”
Rival tabloid The Sun, owned by Rupert Murdoch‘s News Corp, used the headline “Ramadan a ding-dong” for its story about the initiative. It quoted a politician describing Channel 4’s move as a “stunt” that could “inflame tension.”
The Independent quoted Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, as saying: “I wouldn’t object to it as at least it gives some balance to the BBC’s emphasis on Christianity, but Channel 4 has to keep it in proportion. The percentage of Muslims in the U.K. is very small, so few people will be interested in it. It may be a novelty, and Channel 4 is good at causing a sensation. We don’t want to see any broadcaster becoming a platform for religious proselytizing.”
Channel 4’s commitment was welcomed by the Muslim Council of Britain.
A spokesman said: “This is a very special month for Muslims, and its recognition on a mainstream channel is not only symbolic for belonging and solidarity but will hopefully help to portray a more realistic account of Islam and Muslims.”
Channel 4’s move to broadcast the call to prayer, known as the adhan, caused a stir after a string of reprisal attacks against British Muslims recently following the murder of a soldier in Woolwich in May.
Lee wrote in Radio Times: “Following the horrific events in Woolwich and subsequent reprisals against British Muslims, there has surely never been a more pressing need to give a voice to the moderate mainstream majority. And let’s not forget that Islam is one of the few religions that’s flourishing, actually increasing in the U.K. Like Channel 4’s target audience, its followers are young. It’s recently been reported that half of British Muslims are under 25.”
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