TV adhan: media attack Muslim visibility

The front page of the Sun from 2nd July 2013. It reads "Ramadan a Ding-Dong" with the sub-heading "Stunt could inflame tension".Yesterday, the Sun led with a headline “Ramadan-a-Ding-Dong”, a reference to Channel 4’s decision to air the Muslim call to prayer at different times of day during Ramadan. Their article includes an endorsement from Anjem Choudary and the latest al-Muhajiroun front group, “Islamic Emergency Defence”, as well as claims from UKIP that it’s a PR stunt and that most Muslims would not want it; a Tory MP, Conor Burns, called it “politically-correct tokenism” and asked, “what would happen if they were to do this type of thing during a Christian festival such as Lent?”. The Sun also carried an opinion piece from Anila Baig, claiming that no Muslim will actually be watching C4 to hear the call to prayer and that it’s another case of how the channel “worships controversy” with such programmes as Dogging Tales and The Man with the Ten Stone Testicles. AN Wilson suggests that they also carry the other four calls (as the Sun claims they are actually doing) and not carry adverts for alcohol if they were really serious about providing a service to Muslims.

My reaction to this sort of thing used to be “oh, why do they have to expose us to this sort of thing again and again?”, but since then I’ve got sick of blaming bigotry on people other than the bigots. The plain reason people object to the call to prayer being on TV is that it’s a Muslim call to prayer; they want Muslims to keep their heads down and not show their faces around (except for women, of course). It is a variant of the same nonsense about Muslims getting special treatment (banning piggy banks, Christmas etc), with an obvious overtone about our presence and visibility in the UK. The argument that “Muslims won’t be watching/don’t want it” is just an excuse.

I accept that there are a few practical problems: for a start, the time for the start of the morning fast differs from place to place because it takes place when the light of the sun first shows. That time is earlier in the north in the summer while sunset is later; the opposite is true in the winter, while both are later in the west all year round. Broadcasting the call to prayer on national TV is only going to be correct for one place, most likely London. Muslims have their own ways of keeping track of prayer and fasting times: we have books, local mosque websites, specially programmed clocks, even mobile apps nowadays. It probably is not true that Muslims will not be watching TV at all during Ramadan; some do not watch it at all, ever, but others will do so freely, particularly for news or shows that do not consist of raunchy entertainment; however, it’s true that many Muslims watch Islamic satellite TV channels and that Muslim consumption of mainstream TV will go down during Ramadan. At 3am, almost nobody will be watching; they will be up and having breakfast with their families if they are also fasting. Anila Baig claims that the only people up at 3am are “drunks rolling in from a night out”; there are also people who cannot sleep, or bedridden people who do not sleep at the usual times.

What I do disagree with is C4 interrupting programmes to bring people the call to prayer. This will cause others actual inconvenience and will cause resentment, particularly if Muslims are in the room while non-Muslims’ entertainment is interrupted. When the evening prayer is held earlier (before about 8pm), it would be appropriate to give that in public in the centres of towns with high Muslim populations, or in mosques in predominantly Muslim districts; when sunset is after 9pm, as it is now, there will be complaints that it is being done when children are in bed (although it is only for a minute and causes little more noise than there already is in any town). It would not interrupt anyone’s viewing but simply be heard in the background. All in all, the decision by C4 is a bad idea and they should have consulted people in the Muslim community before making it, but I would not want them to back down now in the face of resentful bigots peddling familiar stereotypes. We’re here to stay and we won’t hide, regardless of who hates it.

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