CAIRO - Amid rising polarization in Egypt, Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world, is planning a satellite channel to fight extremist ideologies and promote the moderate and tolerant teachings of Islam.
Al-Azhar will launch its own television channel, Grand Imam Ahmad Al Tayyeb was quoted as saying by Gulf News newspaper on Sunday, June 2.The channel will promote moderate teachings and tolerance of Islam.
The new channel is planned to go on air on trial in July to coincide with the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
The channel, which will feature religious, social, cultural and historical programs, aims to combat extremst ideologies.
It follows growing calls for the prestigious seat of learning to monitor content of religious channels which offer a wide source of information for social and personal issues.
A recent study by the Faculty of Mass Communication at Cairo University found that 70 percent of Egyptians frequently watch religious programs and 30 percent watch them sometimes.
It also found that Egyptians seek knowledge about religion and solutions through fatwa (a juristic ruling related to Shari`ah) for personal and social issues.
Al-Azhar is the highest seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world.
Established in 359 AH (971 CE), Al-Azhar mosque drew scholars from across the Muslim world and grew into a university, predating similar developments at Oxford University in London by more than a century.
From within its tall, crenellated walls, Al-Azhar's sheikhs spent more than 1,000 years studying Islam's holy texts and interpreting their meaning for the faithful, building an authority unrivalled in the Muslim world.
Al-Azhar, which means the "most flourishing and resplendent," was named after Fatima Al-Zahraa, daughter of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him).
The first courses at Al-Azhar were given in 975 CE and the first college was built 13 years later. Al-Azhar first admitted women students in 1961, albeit in separate classes.
Al-Azhar's channel also comes amid rising polarization in the Egyptian media, with some channels promoting certain political agendas.
Nowadays, these channels discuss politics a lot and this will cause fitna [chaos] in our society, Ahmad, a 26-year-old worker, told Gulf News.
These channels should be following Al Azhar's footsteps and doctrine.
Polarization has gripped Egyptian society since a popular revolution in 2011 that swept Hosni Mubarak from power.
The situation became further tense after the election of Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, as Egypt's President last year.
Islamists and secularists have taken their differences to air, with both camps are using religious and secular channels to support their views.
The polarization has raised concerns that both secular and religious channels are being used to sow sedition in the country.
Earlier this year, two sheikhs at Al Hafez channels were taken to court for comments deemed offensive.
Religious channels were also accused of launching smear campaigns against liberal and opposition figures.
Mohsin Kamal, a consultant for the Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, admitted that secular media is biased as well.Secular channels have also become less ethical since the revolution, but they tend to attract less criticism from the public.