LAWRENCE — In America, Protestant preacher Billy Graham has used the television and radio airwaves to reach to millions of people.
His influence as a Christian evangelist over decades has extended to his role as a spiritual adviser, or “preacher to the presidents,” in his lifetime.
If Islam has a parallel to Graham, said Jacquelene Brinton, University of Kansas assistant professor of religious studies, it’s likely Muhammad Mitwalli Sha‘rawi, who became the first television preacher in Egypt around 1980. And 17 years after his death, his shows are still popular on satellite TV and the Internet.
“Shaykh Sha‘rawi was hired on state-run television to give a more moderate picture of Muslim practice,” Brinton said. “He didn’t really talk a lot about law. He just interpreted the Quran in a way that was relevant to people.”
In her new book, “Preaching Islamic Renewal: Religious Authority and Media in Contemporary Egypt,” Brinton argues that as a well-trained Sunni scholar, Sha-rawi’s message was not innovative itself — even though it helped restore a more classical view of the Islamic religion — but his use of media transformed access to the message.
“That point of view was under threat from some Islamist groups who attacked traditional religious scholars and said they had always capitulated to the government,” Brinton said. “By using TV to bring back the very well-established Sunni beliefs about God and ethics, he was trying to make his religious point of view dominant in the society.”
Like Graham with the American presidents, Sha’rawi was an adviser to Egyptian rulers — Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak — though he had run-ins with Nasser, for the president’s friendliness to communism and the Soviet Union, and some with Mubarak.
The full article is available on the KU News Service