Channel 4 are right to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer

It will be a refreshing treat to listen to the call for prayer via a mainstream British media channel for the first time, says Imran Awan.

Channel 4’s "provocative" decision to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer during Ramadan should be welcomed. No doubt the cynics  both inside and outside the media will feel differently, though - the Sun has already unhelpfully thrown down the gauntlet with a piece entitled: "Ramadan a ding-dong" and "Holy month ‘bigger than the Jubilee’". Yet more sensationalised headlines that seek to portray Islam and Muslim affairs in a negative light. 

The reaction to the Woolwich incident is a testimony to the fact that a number of British media organisations are quick to make the usual lazy assumptions that Islam and extremism are somehow connected. In his statement on the decision to broadcast the call to prayer, Channel 4’s head of factual programming Ralph Lee appears to agree with this sentiment: “Not surprising when you consider [Ramadan's] 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.” 

For Muslims, the call to prayer is a time of critical reflection, and a means to get spiritually closer to God. It happens five times a day, although Channel 4 will only be showing the morning prayer (also be available online) delivered by the muezzin (in this case Hassen Rasool).  

There are estimated to be at least 2.8 million Muslims who will be benefiting from Channel 4’s decision. During Ramadan, Muslims across the UK will be waking up very early in the morning in anticipation of the morning call to prayer before fasting starts. I have always been accustomed to listening to my daily call for prayer via the usual Muslim digital TV channels, such as the Islam Channel, or on my mobile phone.  

However, it will be a refreshing treat to listen to the call for prayer via a mainstream British media channel for the first time. Of course there will be those who argue Channel 4 is doing this as a publicity stunt, in order to increase audiences and cause controversy. But I tend to agree with Ralph Lee, who told the Radio Times: “It’s easy for non-Muslims to see Islam through a superficial prism of what is forbidden, and Ramadan through the physical hardship of fasting and control.”

I think this is where Channel 4 will really help. Too often there is a misinformation regarding Ramadan and a media bias that places Muslims and Islam in the same context as acts of terrorism. For once, a mainstream British media channel will allow the wider public to see a true reflection of Islam and make up their minds in an informed manner. 

It’s in response to the kind of reporting by newspapers like the Daily Mail, and the Sun that has resulted in Channel 4 taking the decision they have. Historically, the call to prayer has always had an emotional and spiritual meaning for Muslims because it was initially delivered by a person, Bilal, who was an Abyssinian slave and considered to be an "outsider" in society at the time of the Prophet Muhammad.  

Let’s hope Channel 4's decision to broadcast the call to prayer and wider Ramadan programmes gives the British people a real taste of the beauty of Islam, which is so often blurred by negative media reporting.

A Muslim prays. Photograph: Getty Images

Imran Awan is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University.  You can follow him on Twitter @ImranELSS.

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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