Satellite Sheiks Appeal to Youth

Satellite Sheiks Appeal to Youth

Ahmad al-Shugairi is among a new generation of TV preachers who are shaping new ways for young people throughout the Middle East to experience Islam.

Ahmad al-Shugairi, 35, is a rising star in a new generation of “satellite sheiks” whose religion-themed television shows have helped fuel a religious revival across the Arab world. Over the past decade, the number of satellite channels devoted exclusively to religion has risen from 1 to more than 30, and religious programming on general interest stations, like the one that features Mr. Shugairi’s show, has soared. Shugairi and others like him have succeeded by appealing to a young audience that is hungry for religious identity but deeply alienated from both politics and the traditional religious establishment, especially in the fundamentalist forms now common in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

In this narrated New York Times video profile, we see how the telegenic Shugairi effortlessly mixes deep religious commitment with hip, playful humor. But his message of sincere religious moderation is tremendously powerful in the Middle East. For young Arabs, he offers a way to reconcile a world painfully divided between East and West, pleasure and duty, the rigor of the mosque and the baffling freedoms of the Internet.

Length: 4:21

Videography/Photography: Bryan Denton, Vijai Singh, Shawn Baldwin
Reporting/Writing: Robert F. Worth