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Finding a voice

Maria McCloy : In your ear

There are signs that Gautengs second Muslim radio station, The Voice, is very different from South Africas other Muslim stations. Two stations in Cape Town have proved extremely popular, while Durban has a couple in the pipeline and Gauteng boasts Radio Islam.

Shamima Shaikh, chair of The Muslim Community Broadcasting Trust, which owns The Voice (on air since August 29), says: This station is open, vibrant, exciting and Muslim, and definitely not condescending and self-righteous.

Lenasias Radio Islam had complaints earlier this year that centred around women being excluded from air and in the running of the station. The dynamic Shaikh has been at the forefront of the fight to have women allowed in mosques, and although not deliberately planned, The Voice is mainly run by women.

According to Shaikh, the birth of a radio station came about because Muslims didnt feel they had a stake in local broadcasting. Although Muslim issues and the Muslim world attract a lot of mainstream media attention, Muslim voices are not always part of these debates.

Diversity of opinion on air is an important focus to Shaikh, within a scenario where power is controlled by a few, saying the station wants to be a voice of the whole community, not just a small section of it.

So how is the station different to Lenasias Radio Islam? There are no call- ins [on Radio Islam] nor is there the kind of participation we want to encourage. Its very much talk from one person and they generally have the clergy speaking.

Shaikh and Basit Bulbulia host a talk show on Tuesday nights. There were several calls on the show about the experiences of black Muslims, and there are sure to be more when they examine the theory espoused by some that womens voices should not be on air.

Shaikh says they are keen to hear a variety of voices on the experiences of gay Muslims, and to explore racism, classism and cultural divides within the Muslim community. In addition there are current affairs, cultural and sports programmes.

Along with the five-times-a-day call to prayer (adhan), The Voice offers specifically Islamic shows which look at themes in the Quran, Islamic law and history. The station is also planning a regular show that will look at the powerful and important women in the Quran who are often ignored.

Shaikh says the station needs to reflect the diversity of a Muslim audience that is of Arab, Indian, Malay and African descent. The station does this with music which ranges from African musicians Pops Mohomed, Abdullah Ibrahim, Salif Keita, and Ishmael Lo; to Indian and Pakistani artists like Nusret Fateh Ali Khan.

The Voice can be heard in Mayfair, Lenasia, Sandton, Soweto, Eldorado Park, Krugersdorp and Germiston.

The Station went on air just a fortnight ago, and Shaikh admit s there is still work to be done in terms of building up resources, providing training and hooking up with community radio organisations.

And even if religious leaders have been frosty towards the new station, the launch felt like a happy community affair. After all, it is the Mayfair community who payed for the rent of the equipment and studio.

The station now hopes for sponsorship to keep its voice on the air.

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