LONDON — God is becoming big business for Arab satcasters.
The latest to tap into the trend is Saudi Arabia’s Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, who has set up the first Arab religious satcaster, Al-Resalah (The Message), to spread a moderate view of Islam across the Arab and Muslim world.
“We are offering an Islamic, Arabic-language channel to present true Islam,” says bin Talal, speaking at the Riyadh headquarters of his Kingdom Holding Co.
The satcaster, which bowed March 1, will target the sizable young Arab and Muslim auds with a mix of dramas, gameshows and educational programs, all in an Islamic context.
Bin Talal also plans to launch an English-language version.
Religious programming is a hit with Arab auds.
Egyptian preacher Amr Khaled, who claims to be the Arab world’s first tele-Islamist, has seen his popularity soar among youth attracted by his moderate message.
Spreading his word online and on the Arab Islamic Iqra channel on Nilesat, Egypt’s first satellite platform, Khaled’s popularity reached such heights that the Egyptian government banned him from speaking publicly three years ago.
He moved to London in self-imposed exile, but recently returned to Cairo and has set about establishing ties and contacts across Europe and the Middle East.
He will, for instance, attend a conference in Denmark for Christian and Muslim leaders aimed at promoting dialogue in the wake of the fiasco over cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed.
Tellingly, older TV clerics, such as Al-Jazeera’s Sheikh Qaradawi, have refused to participate in the summit.
The increasing appetite for religious programming isn’t limited to Muslim satcasters.
In November, Egypt’s first dedicated Christian Coptic channel, Aghapy TV, bowed.
The rise in religious shows and channels has had a knock-on effect on mainstream satcasters, including MBC, Dubai TV and others, who now include religious programming in their skeds.
“Religious programming is massive. It’s like democracy in the Arab world,” says Dubai TV head Ali Jaber. “Every time you open the door for democracy in one Arab country, Islam is likely to come in. Every time you open a religious TV station in the Arab world, audiences will rush in.”