As Muslims, we are expected to respond to the call to prayer, the Aazan, five times a day. There is not a single town or village in Pakistan where the Aazan is not heard. In the days of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the call to prayer would reach out as far as the human voice would go. Then, other methods were used to maximize the distance the human voice could cover for the purpose. After this, came the loudspeakers and today in almost every city, town, village and street of Pakistan, the minarets of mosques communicate the message loudly, and are the most powerful modes of communication. Apart from this, the local FM community radio stations are also effective in reminding their audience of their religious obligations. This is particularly true during the special transmissions in the holy month of Ramadan. The mobile phone alarms for prayer timings are another facility of this age.

Last week, a letter from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) addressed all private TV channels in Pakistan and “requested” them to “ensure” that the call to prayer five times a day is aired on scheduled prayer timings. Once contacted, some officials from the regulatory authority said this was a mistake because it was supposed to be a non-binding suggestion and not a directive for compliance. Interestingly, the suggestion/directive was based on a resolution only moved in the Parliament by some members, and not even passed by them. The yet to be passed resolution read, “This house is of the opinion that the government should require all official and private TV channels to telecast the Aazan at the scheduled hours of the five prayers (Namaz).” The letter concluded by saying, “foregoing in view, all satellite TV channels are requested to ensure that the Aazan is aired on their respective TV channels at the scheduled time, please.”

Of course, as Muslims we love to recite and listen to the words of the Holy Quran. All Muslims ultimately remember God in their hour of dire need. The verses of the Aazan are undoubtedly calling us to the attention of God, and providing us with a moment to pause and reflect in a world full of materialism. Having said this, the latest PEMRA directives to TV channels is ostensibly a typical religious facade created by the government to appease some people and groups rather than God Almighty. In the current scenario, the authority is trying to preempt a religious onslaught on its policies during a debate on the resolution in the Parliament especially after the incident of Geo TV’s coverage of the attack on Hamid Mir. This is reminiscent of General Zia Ul Haq’s era when Islam was used to prolong dictatorship and the state run PTV directed to ensure dupattas (scarves) for its female newscasters. The self preserving instincts of the authority and its officials are no different from those private companies who, during religious protests over issues like blasphemy, would put banners on their buildings printed with Kalm-e-Tayaba and other Quranic verses. Newspapers too print Quranic versus on their mastheads for a religious and patriotic alibi in case of a mistaken publication related crime.

Apart from religion and it’s apparent political use as outlined above, the technical and logical rationale behind PEMRA’s new religious edict is also interesting if not amusing. A satellite channel which is to be watched across the country and of course around the world, can never fix a standard time schedule for calls to prayer five times a day. Obviously, due to the time differences of prayer timings even within the country, let alone the whole world; a satellite TV channel will not be able to serve any religious cause in this manner. The state run PTV used to do it when it was terrestrial and only accessible in Pakistan. Then, even people in Pakistan had little idea of how the then dictators and religious politicians would take them for a ride in the name of Islam. The private media of today has raised their levels of awareness.

It is expected that if and when the resolution about prayer calls on TV channels is debated in the National Assembly, all members of the house will discuss all the factors. Unfortunately, the earlier experience of a healthy and open debate during the legislation on religious matters has not been very good. The elected parliamentarians should know that failed obligations towards God are pardonable by the Almighty who has clearly stated that failed obligations towards His creation, the people, will not be pardonable. Reaching out to the truth and immediately spreading the information to save humanity and of course Muslims, cannot be and should not be postponed in the name of a religious obligation. In today’s age of chaos and uncertainty, information saves lives and serves humanity. Shouldn’t a praying Muslim abandon his prayer for a time being if his inaction is leading to the death of a fellow human being nearby? But if and when the authority is implemented, who will break the news in the middle of a call to prayer? Ironically, some TV channels are very capable of finding a few sponsors even for such a purpose.

In a nutshell, PEMRA should not hide itself behind religious scripts like politicians and instead provide a vision for a moderate and tolerant Pakistani media and society. The authority should know that some licensed and unlicensed religious channels are already serving the cause of Islam through 24 hour transmissions which include the calls to prayer. So let the peoples’ right to choose survive at least on screen, otherwise the authority might like to consider forcing foreign news channels like CNN and BBC to air the Aazan five times a day before granting them the landing rights for the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

 The writer is a senior supreme court reporter and anchor for Waqt News.