Young Egyptians Put Faith In Televangelists The Arab equivalent of televangelists preach a moderate brand of Islam in Cairo, and it's catching on with young Muslims. Critics say they're promoting Islam "lite," a watered-down version of Islam that ignores the inherent clashes between the religion and western life.
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Young Egyptians Put Faith In Televangelists

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Young Egyptians Put Faith In Televangelists

Young Egyptians Put Faith In Televangelists

Young Egyptians Put Faith In Televangelists

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The Arab equivalent of televangelists preach a moderate brand of Islam in Cairo, and it's catching on with young Muslims. Critics say they're promoting Islam "lite," a watered-down version of Islam that ignores the inherent clashes between the religion and western life.

JACKI LYDEN, host:

Al Jazeera covers a lot more than just news in the Muslim world. It operates sports channels, a documentary channel, even a children's channel.

Egyptian TV watchers are also tuning in to what was once considered a uniquely American phenomenon: the flashy televangelist. NPR's Susannah George makes the connection in Cairo, Egypt.

(Soundbite of television program)

(Soundbite of music)

SUSANNAH GEORGE: This is the theme song from (speaking foreign language), the right path.

(Soundbite of television program)

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) (Speaking foreign language).

GEORGE: Host Moez Masoud is an unlikely televangelist. He left university with an economics degree. He wears a neat, Western-style suit and doesn't sport a beard. The show airs on the Iqraa Channel. Its fancy graphics, sleek set and crisp lighting look like something straight out of MTV.

Moez preaches modern Islam. His show addresses subjects that range from first date etiquette to how to wear your head scarf. One of his toughest challenges? Battling misconceptions that Muslims have about their own faith, even on the simplest level.

Mr. MOEZ MASOUD (Televangelist): It's the idea of happiness. We think that while on the right path that we're not allowed to be happy. Religion has been presented in such a way to us that it makes us feel that happiness and being a pious Muslim are mutually exclusive.

GEORGE: Moez is hardly the only person preaching Islam on TV. Egyptian Ahmer Halid(ph) studied accounting before he began giving religious lectures in Cairo nearly 10 years ago. Today, he preaches on the Egyptian television channel El Mehwar. He's sometimes known as the Dr. Phil of the Arab world.

Mr. AHMER HALID (Televangelist): My message very clear to make development in this area of the world, the Middle East, through youth and women because I believe that youth and women in this area can do a big role to change, unfortunately, the very bad image about our countries.

GEORGE: But unlike Moez, Ahmer is not concerned with reconciling a Muslim faith with a Western lifestyle.

Mr. HALID: I open channels to ask people, put your faith in this area to make a better future for your country. If you are going to listen to the few numbers of people who want to destroy, you will get nothing. I'm talking on behalf of youth. They want to build, not destroy.

GEORGE: Ahmer says that if you really want to reach youth in the Arab world, Islam has got to be an essential part of your message.

Mr. HALID: The faith in this area of the world is the language. To say we don't want you to talk about faith in the Middle East, you are not understand what is the roots of this area of the world.

GEORGE: Televangelists like Ahmer Halid and Moez Masoud are not without their detractors. Critics of Moez claim that he is promoting Islam-lite, a watered-down version of Islam that ignores the inherent clashes between the religion and a Western life. Moez's response?

Mr. MASOUD: I'm flattered because Islam is all about light, L-I-G-H-T. But of course, if they want to spell it L-I-T-E, if by that you mean that I've gotten rid of all the excessive baggage that you've put onto it because of your narrow-mindedness, then yes, it's a lot lighter than your overweight Islam. But if they mean that I've actually taken something away from the essentials of the faith, then I would say that's a very bold accusation, and I would like to see proof.

GEORGE: Their messages are slightly different, but both Moez Masoud and Ahmer Halid particularly appeal to young Muslims. Moez says they can identify with him.

Mr. MASOUD: Maybe they consider me someone who's been there and done that, you know, traveled the world and also lived the, quote-unquote, "party lifestyle" and stuff. It's like Bob Dylan. He said, and don't criticize what you cannot understand. And I think that we feel this way towards those people who speak to us about the faith but from an ivory tower and who've never been there and done that.

GEORGE: Whether or not moderate preachers like Moez Masoud and Ahmer Halid are antidotes to extremism or just passing fads isn't clear, but both have a large and growing following. Susannah George, NPR News, Cairo.

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