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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Who is the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier?

The former French foreign minister has shown signs that he will play hardball in negotiations.

The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator today set an October 2018 deadline for the terms of Britain’s divorce from the European Union to be agreed. Michel Barnier gave his first press conference since being appointed to head up what will be tough talks between the EU and UK.

Speaking in Brussels, he warned that UK-EU relations had entered “uncharted waters”. He used the conference to effectively shorten the time period for negotiations under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the legal process to take Britain out of the EU. The article sets out a two year period for a country to leave the bloc.

But Barnier, 65, warned that the period of actual negotiations would be shorter than two years and there would be less than 18 months to agree Brexit.  If the terms were set in October 2018, there would be five months for the European Parliament, European Council and UK Parliament to approve the deal before a March 2019 Brexit.

But who is the urbane Frenchman who was handpicked by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to steer the talks?

A centre-right career politician, Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A committed European and architect of closer eurozone banking integration, Barnier rose to prominence after being elected aged just 27 to the French National Assembly.  He is notorious in Brussels for his repeated references to the 1992 Winter Olympics he organised in Albertville with triple Olympic ski champion Jean-Claude Killy.

He first joined the French cabinet in 1993 as minister of the environment. In 1995, Jacques Chirac made him Secretary of State for European Affairs, teeing up a long and close relationship with Brussels.

Barnier has twice served as France’s European Commissioner, under the administrations of Romano Prodi and José Manuel BarrosoMost recently he was serving as an unpaid special advisor on European Defence Policy to Juncker until the former prime minister of Luxembourg made him Brexit boss.“I wanted an experienced politician for this difficult job,” Juncker said at the time of Barnier, who has supported moves towards an EU army.

 

Barnier and the Brits

Barnier’s appointment was controversial. Under Barroso, he was Internal Market commissioner. Responsible for financial services legislation at the height of the crisis, he clashed with the City of London.

During this period he was memorably described as a man who, in a hall of mirrors, would stop and check his reflection in every one.

Although his battles with London’s bankers were often exaggerated, the choice of Barnier was described as an “act of war” by some British journalists and was greeted with undisguised glee by Brussels europhiles.

Barnier moved to calm those fears today. At the press conference, he said, “I was 20 years old, a very long time ago, when I voted for the first time and it was in the French referendum on the accession of the UK to the EU.

“That time I campaigned for a yes vote. And I still think today that I made right choice.”

But Barnier, seen by some as aloof and arrogant, also showed a mischievous side.  It was reported during Theresa May’s first visit to Brussels as prime minister that he was demanding that all the Brexit talks be conducted in French.

While Barnier does speak English, he is far more comfortable talking in his native French. But the story, since denied, was seen as a snub to the notoriously monolingual Brits.

The long lens photo of a British Brexit strategy note that warned the EU team was “very French” may also have been on his mind as he took the podium in Brussels today.

Barnier asked, “In French or in English?” to laughter from the press.

He switched between English and French in his opening remarks but only answered questions in French, using translation to ensure he understood the questions.

Since his appointment Barnier has posted a series of tweets which could be seen as poking fun at Brexit. On a tour of Croatia to discuss the negotiations, he posed outside Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships asking, “Guess where we are today?”

 

 

He also tweeted a picture of himself drinking prosecco after Boris Johnson sparked ridicule by telling an Italian economics minister his country would have to offer the UK tariff-free trade to sell the drink in Britain.

But Barnier can also be tough. He forced through laws to regulate every financial sector, 40 pieces of legislation in four years, when he was internal market commissioner, in the face of sustained opposition from industry and some governments.

He warned today, "Being a member of the EU comes with rights and benefits. Third countries [the UK] can never have the same rights and benefits since they are not subject to same obligations.”

On the possibility of Britain curbing free movement of EU citizens and keeping access to the single market, he was unequivocal.

“The single market and four freedoms are indivisible. Cherry-picking is not an option,” he said.

He stressed that his priority in the Brexit negotiations would be the interests of the remaining 27 member states of the European Union, not Britain.

“Unity is the strength of the EU and President Juncker and I are determined to preserve the unity and interest of the EU-27 in the Brexit negotiations.”

In a thinly veiled swipe at the British, again greeted with laughter in the press room, he told reporters, “It is much better to show solidarity than stand alone. I repeat, it is much better to show solidarity than stand alone”.

Referring to the iconic British poster that urged Brits to "Keep Calm and Carry On” during World War Two, he today told reporters, “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

But Barnier’s calm in the face of the unprecedented challenge to the EU posed by Brexit masks a cold determination to defend the European project at any cost.

James Crisp is the news editor at EurActiv, an online EU news service.