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Why Mickey Mouse must die, and other TV fatwas

Created 17/10/2008 - 17:16
BEIRUT, October 17, 2008 (AL-AKHBAR) – In the most recent fatwa circulating on the Internet, Sheikh Muhammad Saleh Al-Munjid, who is associated with the Sunni Islamist Al-Majd (The Glory) satellite TV channel, is seen warning viewers not to watch channels that "mix poison with honey, presenting a fragile version of true Islam, resorting to unvirtuous paths."

The fatwa, or religious edict, made by Sheikh Al-Munjid was just the latest example of a complicated religious media war that has been raging in the Muslim world. It was in fact clearly directed towards Al-Majd's rival satellite channel, Al-Risala (The Message).

Al-Akhbar was unable get a reaction or a confirmation from Sheikh Al-Munjid about this most recent fatwa because he was apparently busy defending himself from criticism about an undisputedly real fatwa he issued calling for the assassination of one of the West's most beloved symbols: Mickey Mouse.


The latest controversy follows earlier edicts by Sheikh Al-Munjid that indicted Al-Risala as a channel "that will never become worthy of true Muslims' trust as long as it is financed by the same people of Rotana and LBC."

[Editor's note: Rotana and LBC are financed by Al-Walid Bin Talal, a member of the Saudi Royal Family, and the 20th richest man in the world. Rival Saudi businessman Abdur-Rahman Ahmemri funds the Al-Majd TV network.]

Another controversy revolves around Amr Khaled, a popular TV figure who has been heavily targeted by Salafist Sheikhs outside of the television world for his program, Koran Stories.

At stake were religious interpretations of the Koran that might have challenged more fundamentalist takes on the religious text at local community levels. But Amr Khaled' program grew in popularity despite the criticism, and Koran Studies was broadcast on three different channels during this year's Ramadan period, something no other religious program has been able to do.

Amr Khaled is just one of a group of TV Sheikhs who have come to the forefront lately. Others, like Aed Al-Qurni, Salman Al-Awda and Omar Abdel Kafi, are cooperating with at least two TV channels each.

As for Islamic teachers, no one competes with Soad Saleh, a frequent guest on dozens of TV programs, while Abla Al-Kahlawi received unprecedented exposure from Al-Hayat channel, which approved moving the production units to her house when she suffered a health setback.

Increased public attention for religious shows has pushed the religious channels to review their programming schedules.

Three years ago, Al-Majd channel was the most prominent among religious channels with only minor competition from Iqra'. Al-Majd expanded in an attempt to capture an even bigger audience share by launching Al-Majd Kids and Al-Majd Holy Koran.

But in February 2008, Al Risala made a run for Al-Majd's popularity with a more moderate but still Islamic programming that allowed women to appear on TV shows and in advertisements.

Al-Majd had other problems as audience shares continued to be eaten away with the launching of more Egyptian Salafist channels this year attracting larger Egyptian audience shares.

But how did Sheikh Muhammad Saleh Al-Munjid of Al-Majd get to the point of issuing a fatwa against watching stations like Al-Risala?

Observers say some of the TV Sheikhs simply don't recognize the others' opinion, "so they see no problem with criticizing a competing channel, even if it is an Islamic one."

Al-Risala didn't wait for a confirmation of the alleged fatwa, but instead launched a counterattack from online forums.

Attacks against Al-Risala continued even after the channel stopped featuring veiled female artists, less than a year after its launch. The criticism went as far as attacking Ahmad Shuqeiri's program Khawater for even inviting women, even when their presence served to highlight the topic at hand.

In the end, Al-Risala's response to Al-Majd’s attacks has been to employ Muhammad Hassan and Muhammad Hussein Yacoub, two of the most radical Salafists on the scene, to present a program called Mafatih Al-Kheir (Buffet of Goodwill), effectively appeasing all detractors.

The audience now waits to see how the religious satellite channels will handle whatever new fatwas the Sheikhs will come up with next.

(This article was republished with permission from Lebanon's Al-Akhbar newspaper. Translation and editing by Menassat.)

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