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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Junior doctors’ strikes: the greatest union failure in a generation

The first wave of junior doctor contract impositions began this week. Here’s how the BMA union failed junior doctors.

In Robert Tressell’s novel, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, the author ridicules the notion of work as a virtuous end per se:

“And when you are all dragging out a miserable existence, gasping for breath or dying for want of air, if one of your number suggests smashing a hole in the side of one of the gasometers, you will all fall upon him in the name of law and order.”

Tressell’s characters are subdued and eroded by the daily disgraces of working life; casualised labour, poor working conditions, debt and poverty.

Although the Junior Doctors’ dispute is a far cry from the Edwardian working-poor, the eruption of fervour from Junior Doctors during the dispute channelled similar overtones of dire working standards, systemic abuse, and a spiralling accrual of discontent at the notion of “noble” work as a reward in itself. 

While the days of union activity precipitating governmental collapse are long over, the BMA (British Medical Association) mandate for industrial action occurred in a favourable context that the trade union movement has not witnessed in decades. 

Not only did members vote overwhelmingly for industrial action with the confidence of a wider public, but as a representative of an ostensibly middle-class profession with an irreplaceable skillset, the BMA had the necessary cultural capital to make its case regularly in media print and TV – a privilege routinely denied to almost all other striking workers.

Even the Labour party, which displays parliamentary reluctance in supporting outright strike action, had key members of the leadership join protests in a spectacle inconceivable just a few years earlier under the leadership of “Red Ed”.

Despite these advantageous circumstances, the first wave of contract impositions began this week. The great failures of the BMA are entirely self-inflicted: its deference to conservative narratives, an overestimation of its own method, and woeful ignorance of the difference between a trade dispute and moralising conundrums.

These right-wing discourses have assumed various metamorphoses, but at their core rest charges of immorality and betrayal – to themselves, to the profession, and ultimately to the country. These narratives have been successfully deployed since as far back as the First World War to delegitimise strikes as immoral and “un-British” – something that has remarkably haunted mainstream left-wing and union politics for over 100 years.

Unfortunately, the BMA has inherited this doubt and suspicion. Tellingly, a direct missive from the state machinery that the BMA was “trying to topple the government” helped reinforce the same historic fears of betrayal and unpatriotic behaviour that somehow crossed a sentient threshold.

Often this led to abstract and cynical theorising such as whether doctors would return to work in the face of fantastical terrorist attacks, distracting the BMA from the trade dispute at hand.

In time, with much complicity from the BMA, direct action is slowly substituted for direct inaction with no real purpose and focus ever-shifting from the contract. The health service is superficially lamented as under-resourced and underfunded, yes, but certainly no serious plan or comment on how political factors and ideologies have contributed to its present condition.

There is little to be said by the BMA for how responsibility for welfare provision lay with government rather than individual doctors; virtually nothing on the role of austerity policies; and total silence on how neoliberal policies act as a system of corporate welfare, eliciting government action when in the direct interests of corporatism.

In place of safeguards demanded by the grassroots, there are instead vague quick-fixes. Indeed, there can be no protections for whistleblowers without recourse to definable and tested legal safeguards. There are limited incentives for compliance by employers because of atomised union representation and there can be no exposure of a failing system when workers are treated as passive objects requiring ever-greater regulation.

In many ways, the BMA exists as the archetypal “union for a union’s sake”, whose material and functional interest is largely self-intuitive. The preservation of the union as an entity is an end in itself.

Addressing conflict in a manner consistent with corporate and business frameworks, there remains at all times overarching emphasis on stability (“the BMA is the only union for doctors”), controlled compromise (“this is the best deal we can get”) and appeasement to “greater” interests (“think of the patients”). These are reiterated even when diametrically opposed to its own members or irrelevant to the trade dispute.

With great chutzpah, the BMA often moves from one impasse to the next, framing defeats as somehow in the interests of the membership. Channels of communication between hierarchy and members remain opaque, allowing decisions such as revocation of the democratic mandate for industrial action to be made with frightening informality.

Pointedly, although the BMA often appears to be doing nothing, the hierarchy is in fact continually defining the scope of choice available to members – silence equals facilitation and de facto acceptance of imposition. You don’t get a sense of cumulative unionism ready to inspire its members towards a swift and decisive victory.

The BMA has woefully wasted the potential for direct action. It has encouraged a passive and pessimistic malaise among its remaining membership and presided over the most spectacular failure of union representation in a generation.

Ahmed Wakas Khan is a junior doctor, freelance journalist and editorials lead at The Platform. He tweets @SireAhmed.