Al Risala

Ursula has a nice story on Al Risala, a new "progressive" religious channel:

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.

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.
Another step in the evolution of market Islam, packaged for the discerning consumer.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.