The Egyptian actress Sabreen was at the peak of her fame when, in 2001, she underwent a religious "awakening," retired from acting, and donned the veil.Another step in the evolution of market Islam, packaged for the discerning consumer.
Now she's back on television, hosting a talk show on a new Islamic satellite channel called Al Risala ("The Message"). Sabreen, who is still a household name thanks to the popular films and TV shows she used to appear in, says she chose to make her come-back on Al Risala because the channel "talks about Islam in an enlightened, moderate way ... a very honest and frank way."
She's a far cry from the bearded men in white robes who dominate traditional religious programming here. With her smiling face framed by a stylish, sequined veil, Sabreen has become the spokesperson for a new sort of Islam: media-savvy, modern, and moderate. Her producers say they hope she will be the Muslim world's Oprah.
"For a very long time all religious programs were just isolated, artificial, old, obsolete," says Al Risala executive Ahmed Abu Haiba.
Al Risala, by contrast, has splashy graphics and state-of-the-art sets. The channel does air some traditional religious programming, but many of the shows have nothing overtly religious about them.