As Salaam Alaykum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuhu
CAIRO — Ahmed Abu-Haiba is helping create a new Islamic TV: technology-savvy, contemporary and moderate, while retaining Muslims' very own cultural and religious identity.
"The Islamic media was so poor, so traditional,"
the Egyptian playwright and TV producer told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, April 6.
"I want a new Islamic media."
Abu-Haiba, 39, says he started his dream years ago after seeing the old-fashioned religious programs losing the battle against the influx of Western media spreading through a satellite landscape.
"It wasn't television. It was televised radio, a man in front of a camera speaking for hours and hours about obscure religious texts with no appeal…Words with nothing connected to life."
Abu-Haiba, who studied mechanical engineering before turning to media, first production was a series called "Boys and Girls," a chaste, Arabic version of the famed US sitcom "Friends."
One year later, he produced a new kind of religious TV show with long-time friend Amr Khaled, now a famed televangelist and preacher, playing the host.
They produced four episodes of the "Words From the Heart" talk show, but investors and dozens of Egyptian broadcast and satellite TV networks were not satisfied with the new-style show that broke age-old taboos.
Failing to find a buyer, Abu-Haiba eventually passed tapes of the shows to Cairo street vendors.
Surprisingly, the show proved a hit with tens of thousands of copies sold and a satellite network in Egypt offered them air time for the four original episodes and 11 new ones.
"People suddenly started talking about this new trend, of how to plant the root of Islam in life,"
recalled Abu Haiba.
Abu-Haiba, a father of three, is already putting the final touches on his latest project to bring a media revolution with a sleek, contemporary style.
He will soon launch a first-of–a-kind Islamic-themed music channel to compete for winning Arab youngsters from Western music video channels such as MTV.
It will feature music with slickly-produced Arabic rhythms to attract Arab and Muslim youngsters into their own culture and religious identity.
Abu-Haiba notes that Egyptian youths from the 15-24 age group, who make up 50 to 64 percent of TV viewers, turn to nearly 70 Western-style music channels.
"My point is not to condemn the West, but to build my culture with its own seeds, its own matrix,"
"I am more worried about Western culture than politics. It affects our thinking and ideals.
"It's a major danger we're facing on our beliefs, role models and habits."
Abu-Haiba is hoping the music video channel will have the same success as his earlier talk shows with preacher Khaled.
He believes that Islamic media can combine Western media's powers of modernity, style and marketing without compromising the essence of Arab and Muslim culture.
"If I lose my culture, I become a stranger in my own country."