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INTERVIEW - Egypt's al-Azhar to launch Islamic TV channel
CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's seat of Islamic learning, al-Azhar, will launch a satellite channel to give the world a better understanding of Islam and counter some Islamic outlets preaching "extremist dialogue", its architects said on Sunday.
Sheikh Khaled Al-Guindy, a scholar at al-Azhar mosque and university, said the new channel would reach out to the world's 1.5 billion Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Al-Azhar, one of the oldest institutions in Sunni Islam, is headed by Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, who is selected by Egypt's president. The institution receives most of its funding from the Egyptian state.
"In the Age of Obama we realized it was time to look at new ways to deliver our message," Guindy said, four days before U.S. President Barack Obama visits Egypt to address the Muslim world.
"We cannot have a conversation with ourselves. We will include politicians, actors, thinkers, writers and all religions in our dialogue," he told Reuters in an interview.
The launch is planned for the start of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting and religious reflection, that begins in mid-August.
The channel, to be called Azhari, has received initial funding of 15 million Egyptian pounds ($2.7 million) from Libyan businessman Hassan Tatanaki, who estimated annual operating expenses at around $2.5 million.
"Associating with al-Azhar is the ultimate in the sense of promoting the proper interpretation of the religion," Tatanaki said.
Guindy did not name Islamic outlets he said were misleading the world about Islam but said "some of these channels unfortunately are preaching extremist dialogue, some of them are not respecting the freedom of others or the culture of others."
"Some of them are doing more harm to Islam than they are serving Islam," he said.
Guindy said the channel would engage in topical issues such as globalisation, cloning and genetics and organ donation, but would not challenge government decisions or be used for other political reasons.
"In short, we are dealing with religion for life, before it is for the afterlife," he said. "Our Islam is not going to be involved in politics. It is Islam without violence. Our Islam depends on interaction and dialogue with others."
The channel will feature a daily sermon from Tantawi, documentaries relating to al-Azhar, talk shows and an animated series on the Koran.
The channel will broadcast 75 percent of its output in Arabic, with the rest initially in English and French. Other languages will be added next year.
Azhari plans to extend its reach with the launch of a newspaper, a radio station, blogs and mobile services in 2010.
Guindy launched a telephone hotline in 2000 offering Koranic interpretation and guidance on legal and family issues. That project is available in twelve languages and recently launched in Britain.
($1 = 5.62 Egyptian pounds)
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