On Wednesday (July 10) Channel 4 became the first broadcaster in the UK to air the Muslim call to prayer every morning during Ramadan.
Channel 4 announced it would be the first mainstream national broadcaster to air the call, issuing it at 3 a.m. daily from July 10 for the entire Muslim month of fasting.
It will also interrupt its programming four times on the first day of Ramadan with 20-second films to remind viewers of the call to prayer. Throughout the remainder of the month, the channel will air the pre-dawn call to prayer on TV, and the other four prayer times will be aired on its website.
The initiative has stirred controversy in the UK, where Muslims make up just under five percent of the population. The murder of soldier Lee Rigby outside London's Woolwich barracks last month, which is being treated as terrorism by police, has prompted a series of demonstrations against Islam and a rise in islamophobic attacks, including suspected arson at an Islamic centre in London.
Ralph Lee, head of factual programmes at Channel 4, defended the broadcaster's decision to go ahead with airing the daily call to prayer, which is the highlight of a month-long series of programmes focused on Ramadan.
"Our hope for the whole thing really is to draw attention to, you know, a significant minority in Britain. There are nearly three million Muslims in Britain. For most of them, Ramadan is going to be a major part of their year. Most of them will go about the practice of Ramadan without making a big noise about it, without necessarily telling everyone about it. And hopefully this will bring a bit of attention to the experience of Ramadan and what they're going through in this period," he said.
Lee rejected claims made in some sections of the media and among right-wing politicians that the move was an attempt to seek publicity.
"I can assure them that it's not a publicity stunt. In the end it comes back to what Channel 4's here to do, which is to represent alternative voices and different ideas. Not everyone in Britain is going to be happy about that but ultimately that's what Channel 4's purpose is, and so I hope that those being dismissive of it will actually sample it, have a look and it and perhaps, you know, if they want to continue to be critical of it, then we'll listen to that criticism," said Lee.
The eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP) said Channel 4's decision to air the Muslim call to prayer was both provocative and inopportune.
"We feel that this Channel 4 taking its traditional role as it sees itself to wind up 'middle England' and those who do not share its views and its approach. And though we wouldn't have a huge problem with this if this was a commercial channel, there are commercial channels, in fact, who show this call to prayer - Islam Channel and Al Jazeera and others. However, this is a tax-payer funded channel tweaking the nose of 'middle England' having picked its pocket in order to pay for that tweaking," said Gawain Towler, UKIP press spokesman.
"Now, we feel that particularly in the light of the horrors that took place in Woolwich, this is neither the time, the place nor the finance with which to do it," Towler added.
The man whose voice was used to record the Adhan for Channel 4 in a specially commissioned video said the broadcaster had shown leadership and courage.
South African-born musician and leading muezzin Hassen Rasool said it was a "fantastic opportunity" to show a different image of Islam to the network's predominantly non-Muslim audience.
"Hats off to Channel 4 here in England for doing this. It's a real eye of vision to those on the top, you know, and we're very tired of seeing Islam painted negatively on the screens across the world. It's high time that people in top level positions in the media utilise their responsibility to show the real picture, come on!" said Rasool.
Presented by Adam Justice