Muslims struggle to be heard
|By Benjamin Duncan
in Washington, DC |
Wednesday 26 May
2004, 21:12 Makka Time, 18:12 GMT
is 5pm in Springfield, Virginia and the heat of the afternoon sun is
bearing down on a sparse studio as a radio host begins a programme
on politics and religion.
the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, I’m your
host Mahdi Bray."
listeners in the United States are unlikely to hear many such
show is called The Crescent Report, broadcast on AMIN Radio, one of
the few Islamic radio stations in the country.
2-6 pm, the station airs an array of programming, shows delving into
politics, religion, health issues, youth talk and family
Founded in 2001, it went off the air in early 2003 after a
dispute with the station owner, and finally came back on air in
means a large-scale operation, the station functions on a miniscule
budget and funds itself through listener contributions and by
selling commercial time to a few local businesses.
only the most basic equipment it has managed to generate a small but
loyal audience, drawn to a mixture of shows in both English and
office is small and unassuming, with bare, turquoise-blue walls, a
single computer and a few empty desks leading into a tiny sound
booth and a dim-lit studio.
Bray, the executive director of the Muslim American Freedom
Foundation and host of The Crescent Report, calls the station a
think it is something that needs to be done," Bray
his program with a
discussion about faith-based programmes in the US prison system.
There are seven to eight
Muslims in the United
with a co-host who phones in from Boston, he is concerned that some
politicians and members of the Christian right are using
government-funded faith-based programs to promote Christianity in
Despite the fact that there has been what he calls "a
tremendous growth of Islam in the prison system", Bray says there
has been a "demonisation" of Islam by some organisations pushing a
message that Muslim groups in prison are a breeding ground for
the religious right gains a foothold in the prison system, then
there will be a subtle move to get Islam out of the prison system,"
his co-host says.
that, Bray invites listeners to call in with any thoughts they might
have on the subject.
not screen our calls ... We have a first amendment line," he says.
"You can call and disagree with us."
Two individuals call in during a segment on the
Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.
The first man says while those who committed
"these crimes" must be held accountable, "Anything is better than
the previous [Iraqi] administration."
Caller number two asks whether the prisoner abuse
pictures will taint the administration.
'Ignorance about Islam'
Bray, who speaks in a rapid-fire cadence,
responds, saying he does not know if the pictures "will be the
salient factor", in the occupation, but thinks "Iraq is a mess".
Even listeners who call in to disagree are
generally respectful and courteous, says producer Ayman Bin
caller got through who referred to Muslims as "rag heads", but those
calls are rare, Bin Kulaib says.
"I do not think that
what we need are more people [on air] who actually are
Muslims, what we need are more people with a more
sophisticated international perspective"
Bray says the show gives him the chance to dispel
what he calls the "ignorance about Islam".
"Here is an opportunity for people to get it
straight from the source," he says.
He knows of only a handful of Islamic radio
stations in the country, a number he hopes will grow in the coming
"I think Muslims need to be more visible, and in
this case audio, in the media," he says.
Muslims in media
There are several Islamic websites that produce
online radio programming, one of which is IslamiCity.com.
Avais Chghtai, a spokesman for the site, says, in
his opinion, Islam is not accurately portrayed in the mainstream US
media, a problem he attributes to the "lack of Muslims" on air.
"Islam is being depicted as a religion that is
nothing but terrorism; that is backwards ... which is not true at
all." Chghtai says.
"If you are going to speak about Muslims, who
better to speak to than a Muslim himself."
Some Muslim American organisations, however,
caution that getting Muslims on the radio or on television is not an
Sarah al-Tantawi, communications director for the
Muslim Public Affairs Council, agrees the community "needs more
Muslims out there who are giving the Muslim perspective," but says
she is not looking for the Muslim equivalent of "Christian talk
"I do not think that what we need are more people
[on air] who actually are Muslims, what we need are more people with
a more sophisticated international perspective," al-Tantawi
Marketplace of ideas
Organisations such as the Islamic Broadcasting
Network (IBN) are trying to do just that.
Based in Virginia,
IBN produces a slew of online English programmes on a wide variety
of subjects. IBN feeds it news programs to radio stations in the
Bahamas, Houston and Washington, DC.
US Islamic institutions in
walks of life are
People from more than 100 countries go to the IBN
website to listen to programmes about "what is happening here and
throughout the Muslim world", says Mamduh Rezeika, an IBN
"We need to get our next door neighbours to
understand who we are on our own terms as American Muslims," Rezeika
IBN is even working to create an English-language
Islamic television station for US viewers.
Bray says he hopes stations like IBN and AMIN can
demonstrate the value of the Muslim perspective in America.
"I think that as a Muslim, our ideas can stand
with any other ideas in the free marketplace of