Is Tunisian media discourse on religion too 'superficial'?
By Houda Trabelsi for Magharebia in Tunis – 25/06/10
A government policy that encourages imams to deliver messages of compassion and moderation in mosques and the media is sparking debate among Tunisians.
Religious Affairs Minister Boubaker El Akzhouri hosted a workshop in May that encouraged imams to spread the values of harmony, compassion and co-operation during Friday prayers and in their radio and television programmes.
"It is a sound discourse that rejects extremism and promotes moderation," said Laila Moubarki, a professor of Islamic studies.
"The adopted method is the closest to the viewers' mentalities, because they're from different groups and have different educational backgrounds," she said.
Moubarki praised Sheikh Mohamed Macfer, a popular host of religious radio and TV programmes, for his "simple and moderate approach that doesn't contradict the religion or public preferences".
"The Tunisian religious discourse in the media uses an educational approach, which is easy to understand and accessible to all social groups, especially the lower class," fellow professor Zied Kilani told Magharebia.
Kilani said Macfer "uses colloquial language that's familiar to the average citizen" and has a style that "matches the moderate way of practising Islam in Tunisia".
But others are critical of the media's approach to religion.
"The religious discourse is sporadic, serves those in power only and is a customised discourse for the minority," lawyer Chawki Abd Ennahar told Magharebia.
Religious programmes "make no difference, and they don't relate to Muslims in Tunisia or in other countries", he added.
Mohamed, a reporter who covers religion, called the mainstream media's discussion of religious affairs "superficial", adding that it is "very simplistic" and closely monitored by the state.
The religious media "can be used to educate the youth, and assist the society in adopting moderation when exercising their religion in Tunisia", added the reporter, who asked that his last name be withheld to protect his privacy.
Lobna Oun, a viewer of religious programming, told Magharebia that she does not watch Tunisian shows because the hosts "are not qualified, unlike the ones on the Middle Eastern and Arab Gulf satellite channels".
Oun said she refuses to watch Sheikh Macfer because his discourse is "simple, and he uses a lot of jokes, and the colloquial and sordid language".
Hosts should use respect and accuracy when delivering the religious message, she added.
Sheik Macfer told Magharebia that he adopted his particular style in order to reach out to young people.
"I spend a lot of time thinking about the approach I'll use to help the youth love God and his Prophet, and about a kind of language that will attract them, not push them away," he said, adding that he once used a doll and a piece of cloth to show youth the proper way to wash the dead.
"I review the references of Andalusia's scholars who are known for their moderation and enlightenment, and I watch the satellite channels and films and discuss their content during seminars at the mosque," Macfer said.
"We always assert that the Qur'an and sunnah are for all times and places, if only Muslims get the message," he added.
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