Baghdad woman, Rana Adbul-Kaleem, never used to watch any TV shows on the satellite channels run by religious organisations. The 25-year-old considers herself uninterested in religion and she declares that she doesn’t want to watch channels with such obvious agendas; she has no interest in Iraqi politics either, she says.
But recently Adbul-Kaleem’s attitude changed. She ran across a clip from a TV show on a friend’s Facebook page and now she watches the segment on television every day. The show, called Organize Your Life, is on the Al Furat TV channel, a station closely affiliated to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a prominent Shiite Muslim bloc in Baghdad’s parliament.
Some people have strange ideas about religion. Al Furat is trying to correct those.
“The show and the topics they tackle really touch on things of concern in our daily lives,” Adbul-Kaleem explains. “I used to watch it on YouTube but now I watch it on the TV.”
Unlike many of Al Furat’s other shows, this one doesn’t feature a woman in a headscarf with barely any make up or a cleric in a turban and cloak. Instead it is hosted by Hazem Dos, who wears a suit, not a robe, and has a degree from an American university.
Dos chooses topics for discussion that many in conservative Iraqi circles might describe as daring. He does not use religious quotations or verses to support his arguments either. In fact, at times, Dos even comes out against some of the ideas young Iraqis connect closely to Islamic practices, such as the marriage of minors – one of the episodes was dedicated to the damage caused by this practice. Other topics have included love affairs among university students, coming late to puberty and marital problems.
The show is now screened daily, for five minutes. Previously it was only on for 15 minutes, once a week.
At five minutes long, it may not seem all that important, but it is a change from the conservative way that many other Iraqi media outlets still work, most of the time. There are also other shows that address the issues that a new generation in Iraq finds important. Another one on Al Furat is called 360 Degrees, and this also garners the opinions of contemporary Iraqi youth.
Critics of the shows say that the Islamic Supreme Council’s head, the cleric Ammar al-Hakim, doesn’t really believe in a more liberal society. Rather, with these shows, he is campaigning for votes from young Iraqis for federal and provincial elections, most likely to be held in 2018 now. Others say that this is just al-Hakim’s way of enticing young Iraqis to watch the religious channel, arguing that by presenting a more moderate vision of Islam he hopes to win them over. In one of his last speeches, al-Hakim actually said that atheist ideas needed to be countered in Iraqi society.
“By re-thinking some of the programs the channel is trying to achieve a balance between political, business and social shows,” Sadoon Hameesh, the programming director at Al Furat, told NIQASH. “These shows focus on Iraqi youth and how to support them,” he added, noting that it had nothing to do with any sort of electioneering and that youth affairs were a pet subject for al-Hakim.
“Al Furat has its direction,” Hameesh continued, “but it is not just about religion. And some people have strange ideas about religion. Al Furat is trying to correct those.”