Would You Marry Hassan Nasrallah? And Other Relevant Matters

A question presented for discussion on the Arabic 'Ishrinat' (Twenties) Web site for young adults: Is it permissible to recite a personal request against Jews while praying?

Here is a question that was presented for discussion on the Arabic 'Ishrinat' (Twenties) Web site for young adults: Is it permissible to recite a personal request against Jews while praying?

This question cropped up after Egyptian Religious Affairs Minister Dr. Hamdi Zakzuk forbade imams from speaking either good or evil of Jews during the individual requests part of the service (immediately following regular prayers), or during the sermon. The Web site published an interview with a sharia expert who stated there must be a differentiation between Jews and Zionism, that it is important to remember that there are Jews who oppose Zionism and the establishment of Israel as a sovereign state.

Several young surfers posted responses to this ruling.

Ishrinat also has opinion polls, a feature that has become an integral part of most Internet sites. The current question: "Would you marry [Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan] Nasrallah?" The results have not yet been published. Another section of the site includes an ostensibly scientific article on daydreaming, where the author counters the theory that among young people this phenomenon is caused by thoughts of a beloved. The author contends that 60 percent of youth daydream for other reasons, and the article is accompanied by links to a series of concentration exercises.

Ishrinat is a part of the Arabic-language media targeting teenagers and young adults, the age group that constitutes the largest proportion (65-70 percent) of the population. Only in recent years have publishing houses and religious movements begun taking a greater interest in this demographic, after realizing it has unique demands as well as the money to fulfill them. Thus Ishrinat, which has a clear religious orientation, offers not complicated religious rulings or tiresome sermons, but rather a refreshing concept of religious outreach that speaks to surfers in their language and at their level.

The site's managers are young themselves - communications and business administration students who wear blue jeans and T-shirts, but the women among them also wear colorful head coverings. They are well aware of their sector's problems and know how to use street lingo alongside literary language. The graphics are not overdone, as in some religious Web sites, and no less important, surfers can respond to every article and voice opinions for or against.

Newspaper for young brokersThere are hundreds, if not thousands, of Web sites for Arab and Muslim youth. Most of the sites began as forums and developed into full-fledged sites with news, articles and advice. There are sites for finding a partner or obtaining advice on topics including lifestyle, kitchen design, furniture for young couples, and even sex. These sites join a new genre of printed magazines whose publishers have also identified the special needs of young people, and particularly the size of this market.

In Dubai alone close to 350 different magazines are sold. Most of them are imported from the West, some are from Russia, and others are from India, Pakistan and the Philippines and cater to foreign workers. There are also Arabic publishers who now produce magazines with unique content for the foreign workers, who constitute some two-thirds of the population. It turns out, for example, that the young foreigners are trying their hand at the stock markets in Saudi Arabia, and the local newspapers publish special sections with explanations for this age group, featuring articles on successful young investors.

Thanks to the younger set's interest in cars, the automotive supplement of the Al-Bian daily, published in the United Arab Emirates, has grown from a few pages into a full-blown color supplement written in its own style. The editor of this supplement, Rashed Dabdoub, added a special section where young people speak of their experiences with their vehicles, thus creating cults around certain car models.

There is a similar trend in Saudi Arabia, where close to 1,500 newspapers and magazines are sold. About 600 of them are in English, 89 in French and 50 or so in German, plus a few in Russian and the Asian languages. A closer look at some of the periodicals targeting the younger set, and which also have online versions, reveals an interesting change in content. Up until three or four years ago, these publications tried to show readers the image of the ideal wife and mother and the successful man. Now, however, one can find investigative articles on women's rights, the best places to study new professions, the best shopping locales and the proper way to conduct a conversation with men or women. There is also no lack of religious magazines and Web sites targeting this demographic, but they are already facing stiff competition from the more liberal, western-style sites and publications.

Straight answersAnother new phenomenon is the additional time radio stations are allocating for youth-centered broadcasts. In Saudi Arabia, for example, two private radio stations have specific hours for the younger crowd, featuring western music or modern Arabic music from Lebanon or Egypt. In Tunisia the official radio station has a call-in program during which young people can ask questions about personal problems and receive straight answers.

In Iraq, on the other hand, young people have to make do with Radio Sawa, the western station financed by the American administration. Sawa's headquarters are in Washington but the broadcasts come from Dubai. It is a very popular station, and not only in Iraq, thanks to its contemporary content. However, while other Arab countries are broadcasting more and more programs featuring new Western music, in Iraq, where listeners had been enjoying a steady flow of media since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the religious and ethnic civil war is stymieing the development of new content.

Whereas the Arabic communications revolution had been measured by the news content relayed by the supranational satellite stations, this cultural revolution will now have to be recognized as being much wider. All one has to do is tune in to the radio stations or leaf through the new magazines.