Medium and message

Middle East | Radio broadcasting goes where publishers and evangelists fear to tread

Issue: "Broken promises," March 25, 2006

From the the parliamentary victory of Hamas to Baghdad violence over last month's bombed shrine in Samarra to the never-ending cartoon controversy over depictions of Muhammad wearing a bomb as a turban-Islam, it appears, is "all the rage" in the Middle East. So it's surprising that those on the frontlines of Christian broadcasting in the Middle East tell this story: "I have no doubt that the hold of Islam on the Muslim people has crumbled. We shouldn't be deceived by the superficiality of the political scene." Those are the words of one Christian broadcaster in the Middle East, who spoke to WORLD and asked that his name not be used because, while he believes what he said, they are words that could cost him his ministry-or his life-in the present climate.

Radio and television broadcasts are penetrating oppressive walls and rules in the Middle East. Medium-wave and short-wave radio broadcasts are particularly instrumental because they have the ability to bounce signals off the earth's atmosphere, sending them miles and miles away.

With an estimated 97 percent of households in the region with radio access, Christian broadcasters are taking advantage of the waves. Using indigenous Christians to produce quality programs, broadcasters have the potential to reach almost every household in the 22 nations of the overwhelmingly Islamic Arab League.

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The medium is most effective because, according to a study conducted by Radio Monte Carlo, literacy remains low in the region: Only 61 percent of the 340 million Arabic-speaking people in the Middle East can read and write. Only 44 percent regularly read books, magazines, and newspapers. At least 97 percent, however, have access to a radio.

Message broadcasts also circumvent the laws of most Arab League countries, which forbid proselytizing by non-Muslims. Converting to any faith but Islam is often punishable-in some countries by death. And while restrictions hold on the printing of religious literature and conducting of public religious ceremonies, the explosion of information technology is making it hard to control religious life. With violence and unrest plaguing many nations in the region, "a growing number of Muslims are disenchanted with Islam," according to the Christian broadcaster, and are ready to respond to a gospel message when they hear it.

Middle East native Nabila Brooks agrees. Raised in both Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, Ms. Brooks became a Christian after she married and moved to the United States. She currently lives in Washington and produces devotional tapes in Arabic that are broadcast across the Middle East through High Adventure Gospel Communication Ministries in Canada and Bible Voice of the U.K. and the U.S.-a cooperative effort that broadcasts from the island of Cyprus.

Her tapes primarily target Muslim women, but she also receives a large number of letters from men-particularly those in prison. Ms. Brooks says the letters she receives from listeners across the Middle East reveal a deep-seated longing: "You can tell they are crying to the real God, trying to connect." Ms. Brooks says she knows of many Muslims who have become Christians through radio programs, and although their conversions are typically not made public, they usually find fellowship with quiet groups of believers in otherwise restrictive Muslim-dominated countries. She receives many letters from Muslims acknowledging that "the words of your God comfort us," she said.

Ms. Brooks tries to meet personally with some of her listeners when she travels to the region. Trips to Saudi Arabia create opportunities to share with some of its leaders. She emphasizes the amount of hurt in the region, she said, and the comfort and peace many find in the message of the gospel.

Newer Christian radio stations, and those lacking staff experienced in living and working in the Islamic world, often aim to discredit Muhammad and the Quran, according to Victor Atallah, director of Middle East Reformed Fellowship (MERF). These broadcasts-often funded by U.S. charismatic and healing-oriented denominations-only incite anger among Muslims.

MERF, working together with Back to God Bible Hour and Words of Hope, is the largest Arabic broadcast ministry in the Middle East. The popular Arabic commercial station Radio Monte Carlo airs its broadcasts, and with two transmitters operating in southern France and Cyprus, MERF programming reaches an estimated audience of 4 million people and generates about 300 letters a month from new listeners. Many of the letters indicate that listeners are considering alternatives to Islam. Mr. Atallah says his desire is to create a contact point through radio ministry that challenges listeners in the Arab world to think beyond the borders of their own religion. "Our biggest challenge is to present Christ the way He is outside any cultural package-being able to make sense to Muslims without condemning or condoning their religion."


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