Islamic Idol lets pop fans keep the faith – By Hadeel Al-Salchi
CAIRO – Flames burst from the stage for a grand entrance, and fake fog swirls around a young man in a white robe. He clutches the microphone, gazes seriously into the camera and then, accompanied only by drums, he sings.
“I accept Allah as my God, His religion as my religion, and His messenger as my messenger,” he intones, as the audience, divided into men’s and women’s sections, claps along with the rhythm.
The singer is a contestant on a new Islamic version of American Idol, launched to promote and drum up talent for the Arab world’s first Islamic pop music video channel.
The satellite station, 4shbab – Arabic for “For the Youth” – is the brainchild of an Egyptian media worker, Ahmed Abu Heiba, who says his mission is to spread the message that observant Muslims can also be modern and in touch with today’s world.
“We have failed to deliver this message,” he said on the sidelines of the contest, which aired late last month. The show is called Your Voice is Heard, though Abu Heiba has nicknamed it “Islamic Idol.”
“What I am trying to do is to use the universal language of music to show what Islam looks like,” he said.
The channel, which was launched in February and can be seen across the Arab world, is a bid to capitalize on a generation of young Muslims who have become more observant but are also raised on Western pop.
But it’s hard to hit the right balance between conservative and liberal. The channel shows no female singers – or any other women – adhering to the mainstream view that women performers are taboo in Islam. Still, some conservatives are wary about mixing pop culture and religion.
So what does Islam look like on 4shbab? There’s rock and hip-hop from American and British Muslim bands, singing about the struggles of keeping up with daily prayers or dressing modestly. The Arab singers tend toward a more romantic pop style – young men with smouldering eyes and flowing shirts sing in the rain about leading a virtuous life, going to mosque and supporting their families.
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