Channel 4 Airs Daily Muslim Call to Prayer During Ramadan

Date: 1 August 2013

Country: UK

hassen rasool tower bridge channel 4 ramadanThe broadcaster Channel 4 is offering its viewers 4Ramadan, a season of programmes to give a fresh perspective on the period of prayers and fasting, as well as the lives of British Muslims.

Channel 4, which was launched with the goal of targeting minority audiences and sparking viewer reactions leading to fruitful debates, is the first mainstream British TV channel to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer. The adhan has been aired live each morning at 3am since the beginning of Ramadan on 10 July and it will continue until the end.

Ralph Lee, head of programming, claimed on Radio Times: “Observing the adhan on Channel 4 will act as a nationwide tannoy system, a deliberate ‘provocation’ to all our viewers in the very real sense of the word.”“Not surprising when you consider its (Ramadan) near invisibility on mainstream TV. Contrast this with the way most Muslims are represented on television – nearly always appearing in contexts related to extremism or terrorism,” he wrote earlier this month.

Even when moderate Muslims do appear, it’s often only to provide a counterpoint to these issues. 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.”

The call to prayer is delivered by Muslim musician Hassen Rasool, considered one of the best muezzins in the UK. The three-minute call to prayer has been filmed in London, then Birmingham (20 July), and Bradford (30 July). The other four prayer times are broadcast on its website, which also offers Ramadan background and history, together with a list of practices.

hassen rasool quran sign channel 4 ramadanThe Ramadan programmes are mainly addressed to the British Muslims – five per cent of the population – half of which are reported to be young, like Channel 4’s target audience. But 4Ramadam, Hassen Rasool told Arise News, is also a “fantastic opportunity” for the non-Muslim population to get an insight into the spiritual aspect of the religion that is often overlooked, and to hear “the sweet, soothing sound of the call to prayer.”

A short video, Ramadan Reflections, is aired ahead of each morning’s call to prayer. The film features “a range of voices, from imams to architects, feminists to a former rock chick, each providing some serious Ramadan food for thought,” Channel 4 reports.

The decision of Channel 4 to broadcast the Muslim ritual has been 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.”

But the space given to Ramadan in a public service broadcaster has also stirred controversy, especially among right-wing organisations and secularists. Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said to the Independent: “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 […]. We don’t want to see any broadcaster becoming a platform for religious proselytising.”

In mid-July, Channel 4 chief executive David Abraham was questioned in the Commons about whether the broadcast of the call for prayer was patronising, as conservative MP Angie Bray claimed. Abraham rejected criticism and told MPs that the programme fits with its public service remit and that it has attracted 181,000 viewers.

I think it’s a very thoughtful exercise in public service broadcasting,” he said. “At a more general level, it is the case that the predominance of coverage associated [with Islam] is not positive and this is positive and it should be recognised for that.”