“Islamic and yet modern television”
“So many people are spreading hate and fighting, that we feel we should spread peace and love by means of the true message of Islam. We only represent moderate and modern Islam”. Tareq Al-Suwaidan, producer of a new religious channel in Kuwait (Al-Risala), tells us about the goals of their television programme: “We show that being Muslim also means appreciating beauty, as Muslims we can enjoy ourselves, live in peace and love everyone – says Al-Suwaidan, Kuwaiti businessman who lived in the United States for 17 years. Thanks to new forms of media, freedom of expression has taken a huge step forward in comparison to twenty years ago. I truly believe that in 20 years the Arab world will be very different, more modern, and able to compete with the leaders of the world”.
The main feature of your channel seems to be this tension between modernity and tradition, an attempt to understand modernization in Arab and Muslim culture. Tell me something about the structure of this new Kuwaiti channel Al-Risala.
Al- Risala began with a wide range of programmes, but in the end we concentrated on religious features because we felt that the Muslim and Arab world needed a modern message about Islam. So many people are spreading hate and fighting, so we feel we should spread peace and love by means of the true message of Islam. Today, after only one and a half years, al Risala ranks at 18 out of 400 Arab satellite channels. We are aiming to be within the top 10 by next Ramadan, this is our goal. We only represent moderate and modern Islam, we have viewers all over the Arab world. Our programmes are not just recorded in one country, but from all over the United Arab Emirates to Morocco, we broadcast from Cairo and are financially sponsored by Prince Al Waleed. This is a brief summary of the structure of the channel.
Do you still work for MBC? What about your experience there? I heard you managed a famous religious programme called “Al Ransoon Al Ein” (the man prophet).
I no longer work at MBC, but MBC is the number one channel in the Arab world, no doubt about it. Of course my experience at MBC taught me a lot, and we had 20 million viewers when I was there. But right now I have to focus on this new channel, because MBC is an entertainment channel, while at Al Risala we speak to the minds and spirit. We fight to change people, and we feel our duty is extremely important.
What is your target audience?
Our target audience is of course pan-Arab, and we are trying to focus more on women (70% of our viewers are women), as well as young people, new generations. We have succeeded in becoming the number one religious channel outside of Saudi Arabia, and second place within Saudi Arabia. Our audience is pretty varied, from young and old, men and women, and for us this is a huge success.
Do you also address political issues?
No. We do not deal with political issues because the Arab world is covered in them. There are so many channels devoted to politics but not one channel devoted to a moderate and modern Islam. We believed this choice would be more successful.
Are you therefore trying to confront the problems faced daily by Muslims?
Not just this, we do not just describe a Muslim’s reality, but we show that being a Muslim does not mean that you can’t enjoy your life. We explain that to be a Muslim also means appreciating beauty, as Muslims we can enjoy ourselves, live in peace and love everyone, that is what our channel deals with.
Is there a motto which describes the philosophy of Al-Risala?
Yes: ‘Creative and authentic’. We return to the roots of Islam and the Koran, but we are also very creative in our representation and in our graphic representation, in our way of talking, but we are authentic in the principles of love and peace and in following the values of our religion.
Overall do you think that new media are creating an unprecedented level of freedom of expression within the Arab countries?
Definitely, freedom of expression has taken a huge step in comparison to twenty years ago. In Egypt for instance there are viewers who oppose the president, this would never have happened in Egypt twenty years ago. In Kuwait, our democracy is one of the most real democracies in the Arab world, so we are very optimistic. We are trying to emphasise the positive size of our situation because there is so much negative emphasis everywhere. I believe that in 20 years time the Arab world will be very different, more modern, and able to compete among the leaders of the world.