British TV channel to air Muslim call to prayer

LONDON Wed Jul 3, 2013 12:43am IST

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LONDON (Reuters) - A British television station will broadcast the Muslim call to prayer every morning during Ramadan to give a voice to Britain's Muslim minority, which has faced a backlash since the murder of a soldier on a London street.

Channel 4 on Tuesday announced it would be the first mainstream national broadcaster to air the call, issuing it at 3 a.m. daily from July 9 for the entire Muslim month of fasting.

The publicly-owned broadcaster, set up to appeal to minority audiences, will also interrupt its programming four times on the first day of Ramadan with 20-second films to remind viewers of the call to prayer.

Christian programming is a familiar feature of British national radio and television, although its audiences are dwindling.

Ralph Lee, Channel's 4 head of factual programmes, said he expected the station would be criticized for focusing attention on a minority religion. But he said he hoped to give a voice to mainstream, law-abiding Muslims.

"The calls to prayer prompt Muslims to carry out quiet moments of worship, but hopefully they'll also make other viewers sit up and notice that this event is taking place," Lee said in a statement.

British Muslims have suffered reprisals since two men murdered soldier Lee Rigby, a 25-year-old veteran of the war in Afghanistan, in broad daylight outside London's Woolwich barracks in May.

Since then, there have been a series of demonstrations against Islam and a rise in islamophobic attacks, including suspected arson at an Islamic center in London.

Prime Minister David Cameron called the Woolwich attack "a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country".

Lee told the magazine Radio Times: "There has surely never been a more pressing need to give a voice to the moderate mainstream majority."

The Muslim Council of Britain, which represents Britain's nearly 3 million Muslims, supported Channel 4's move, saying:

"This is a very special month for Muslims and its recognition on a mainstream channel is not only symbolic for belonging and solidarity but will hopefully help to portray a more realistic account of Islam and Muslims."

Hundreds of people took to Twitter to voice their opinions, some supporting the move but others attacking the "Islamification of the UK".

Channel 4 has a history of controversial programming: in 2008 it asked the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to deliver an alternative to Queen Elizabeth's annual Christmas message.

(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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