The decision by Channel 4 to broadcast the adhaan in addition to video diaries documenting the lives of Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan has caused outrage among right-wing politicians, activists and media, writes Dr Ilyas Mohammed.
But Muslims, as expected, have seen it as a welcome relief from the endless barrage of hate. Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, assistant general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), in an interview with the London Evening Standard said the move by Channel 4 was “a brilliant idea.”
Right-wing politicians and press are not known to pass an opportunity to bash minorities. For the last decade it has been “Muslim season”, whereby politicians and the media have launched campaign after campaign of hate against Muslims in the UK.
Therefore, it is no surprise that tabloid newspapers such as The Sun and Daily Mail have connected Channel 4’s decision to terrorism by using images of extremist preachers and the Woolwich attack. The layout of the articles and their content, especially the sourcing of right-wing politicians and extremist preachers to give their opinions, clearly indicates the mindset and priority of the editors.
Channel 4 has openly stated that the decision to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer is a “provocation.” The deployment of the term is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, it not only identifies but also challenges those members of the public, political fraternity and media that hold the opinion which connects Islam and Muslims to violence and terrorism.
“Provocation” also has a double usage and goes hand-in-hand with freedom of expression and it can be instrumentalized for productive and counter-productive goals depending on who deploys the term and their interests.
For example, Pastor Terry Jones’s burning of the Quran in 2011 and the publication of cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad (saw) as a terrorist by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten were “provocative” acts that used freedom of expression as a vehicle to disseminate their opinions.
Both proved to be counter-productive because of the moral outrage and violence they caused. The incidents also identify the power of provocation to inflict pain and suffering on the target audience as was observed through the above incidents.
I consider Channel 4’s decision to broadcast the adhaan and aim to “provoke” as a positive instrumentation of the term. The broadcast will intervene at a critical moment in the relationship between Muslims and non Muslim in Britain. The decision also asserts, maybe unknowingly, to those in charge of Channel 4 broadcasting that Islam is a “European religion,” like the other two Abrahamic monotheistic religions, and its followers positively contribute to and are part of the ever-changing sociopolitical fabric of British society.
In this sense, Muslims cannot be ignored and treated as outcasts. Instead their traditions must be regarded as part of British society and celebrated, given that they have lived in Europe since the twelfth century.
I for one, hope that Channel 4 commissions more programs that aim to provoke and further the understanding between communities and acknowledge the diversity of Britain. Although the broadcast is a small step towards introducing Islam and Muslims to the wider public without connecting both to terrorism, but in the long term it could prove to be a watershed moment.