Channel 4 will broadcast the Muslim call to prayer live every morning during the fasting month of Ramadan.
The channel said it was a deliberate act of “provocation” aimed at viewers who associate Islam with terrorism and extremism. The broadcaster, which was launched with a mission to appeal to minority audiences, will return to its controversial roots by screening a season of programmes around the Muslim period of prayer and fasting, which begins next Tuesday.
A senior Channel 4 executive defended the broadcaster’s decision to provide extensive coverage of the most significant event in the Islamic calendar by suggesting that Ramadan was of greater interest to its viewers than the “blanket coverage” given to the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation by its rivals.
Ralph Lee, head of factual programming, said that Channel 4 would become the first mainstream British television channel to broadcast the call to prayer (adhan) on a daily basis.
Writing in the Radio Times, Lee claimed: “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.”
Lee said that the “vast majority of people in Britain” would not be aware of the “mass act of personal sacrifice and worship” about to commence.
“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.
“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 Channel 4 News weather forecast will feature the sunrise and sunset times, to guide those fasting between those hours, and each of the daily adhans will be broadcast live on the Channel 4 website.
Lee believes the Ramadan season, which includes video diaries of British Muslims going about their lives during the 30-day period, will be a hit with younger viewers.
“No doubt Channel 4 will be criticised for focusing attention on a ‘minority’ religion but that’s what we’re here to do – provide space for the alternative and a voice to the under-represented.
“And let’s not forget that Islam is one of the few religions that’s flourishing, actually increasing in the UK. Like Channel 4’s target audience, its followers are young. It’s recently been reported that half of British Muslims are under 25.”
Lee concluded: “Nearly five per cent 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?”
However Channel 4 was warned not to give excessive coverage to Ramadan. Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: “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 UK 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 proselytising.”
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 said the prayer will be transmitted “directly into British living rooms at the exact time Muslims prepare for their first prayers and as they begin their fast every morning during Ramadan.” Delivered by leading muezzin Hassen Rasool, it will air every morning during Ramadan.