What makes Salam TV unique is that it airs on a largely Spanish-language network (Channel 44), and represents a groundbreaking partnership between the Muslim and Hispanic media in the city.
Both Muslim and Hispanic media outlets pointed to SB 1070, the law that Arizona governor Jan Brewer enacted about a year ago making it a state crime to be an undocumented immigrant, as the catalyst for crossing cultural boundaries.
“SB 1070 is really making us get closer together because we are all foreigners,” said Mariela Gomez, a consultant for Channel 44 who has been helping with Salam TV. “A lot of ethnicities are complaining and we realized that it’s not only against Hispanics.”
With approximately 120,000 Muslims in Phoenix, Ahmad said, “What happens in the immigration environment definitely affects Muslims. Arizona hasn’t been a very open state towards us.”
Gomez introduced Ahmad to many people in Latino media community.
Arwat warned KPHE TV 44 General Manager John Troglia that having an Islamic show on his channel might be a headache, but Troglia was undeterred. “I was very excited that we could bring something to the Muslim community. It’s a beautiful, faith-based community,” said Troglia.
Having not worked together before, Hispanic and Muslim media are finding the partnership eye opening. “The crew from Channel 44 that goes on-site to shoot the “Join us for Iftar” segment, which showcases how different Muslim families celebrate Ramadan, has been excited to go to people’s homes and learn about their culture,” observed Ahmad.
For Gomez, the experience has been especially life-changing. After traveling to Bahrain every year to produce documentaries about their Latino community, she became interested in converting to Islam and it was during her time working on Salam TV that she finally had the right opportunity.
While working on the segment “Join us for Iftar” Gomez was able to better understand the Islamic culture. “Getting to know all these families opened the door for me to go to the mosque and convert,” said Gomez. Gomez has encouraged many of her Latino friends to watch the show, and learning basic facts about Islam and Ramadan surprised them.
Broken into 15-minute segments, the show includes Islamic cartoons for kids, cooking shows, comedy segments, and interviews with local families about how they celebrate Ramadan. At the end, a local imam gives a short talk relating to Ramadan and the Adhan, or the call to prayer, is broadcast. Providing an English translation for passages recited from the Quran is one of many ways the show attempts to make Islam understandable to non-Muslims.
Educating the public about Islam is one of Salam TV’s main goals. While one segment of the show’s target audience is the large Muslim community in Phoenix, they also want to connect with non-Muslims. “We want to show them a different side of Islam that they’ve never been introduced to,” said Ahmad, “we want to show that Muslims are like any other community. We like to eat, and entertain ourselves, and have fun. We’re no different, but at the same time we like to worship god in our own way.”
Public service announcements from local politicians help to create a positive impression of Muslims. “We wanted to reach politicians and tell them to give a message to the community to recognize us,” said Ahmad. After some initial hesitation, several have signed on, including the mayors of Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Mason and Democratic state Senator Kyrsten Sinema. The first show included a message from President Obama wishing the American Muslim community “Ramadan Kareem” and a blessed month.
Initially, attracting advertisers was a challenge. However, because Ahmad has been publishing his own newspaper locally for 16 years, he was able to package deals with advertisers between newspapers and the TV show.
Thus far, the responses have all been positive. Ahmad has heard many express the sentiment, “It’s the right time, we need our own program that gives our side of the story.” It is too early to tell how successful the show will end up being, but for now their website, which puts up the shows after they are broadcast, receives about 300 page views a day.
Ahmad’s brainchild has been a year in the making, and he plans to keep going after the month is over, “Our goal is to have our own network one day,” he said. Hopeful that the Hispanic-Muslim partnership will also continue, Troglia added, “I believe that we are going to be a part of that.”
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