BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — A first-of-its-kind Muslim-American television network launched a year ago has gone from being a premium pay channel to a basic-cable offering on several cable and satellite systems, broadening its reach from 10,000 to more than 1 million U.S. homes. Bridges TV, featuring Muslim-American lifestyle and cultural programming, also has been approved by the Canadian Radio & Television Commission to start broadcasting in Canada. Founder and Chief Executive Muzzammil Hassan said the transition in markets including Detroit, Chicago, Boston and Washington means viewers while channel-surfing between Fox News Channel and CNN are coming across the English-language network and its coverage of issues like the Dubai ports controversy. “That completely changes and gives America a completely different and unique perspective that America has never had available before,” Hassan said. “That has been the biggest driving factor.” Bridges TV, with a staff of 25 to 30, produces a daily hourlong newscast at its studio in suburban Orchard Park. Broadcasts also include children’s educational programming, current affairs, cooking and travel shows, soccer and cricket matches, documentaries and sitcoms. As a premium channel for $14.99 per month, virtually all Bridges TV subscribers were Arabs and Muslims, Hassan said, giving the sense the network was preaching to the choir rather than advancing its goal of bridging understanding of American and Muslim cultures. The network “really fills a void,” said Adnan Mirza, a director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “There’s a clear disconnect between popular American media and the Muslim audience. … Americans are increasingly interested in better understanding Middle Eastern cultures, and Muslim Americans want to be better understood. Bridges TV creates a public platform for this dialogue.” The Buffalo office of the FBI has taken notice and will use the network for an “FBI Townhall Meeting” May 15, during which an FBI agent will field on-air questions and comments from Muslim and Arab-American viewers. Over the last several weeks, the network has been added to the basic cable packages of WOW! Cable, which has a presence in Chicago, Detroit and Columbus; Buckeye Cable in Ohio; and Shrewsbury Cable in Massachusetts. Verizon FiOS, a broadband service, and Globecast Satellite reach markets in Boston, Dallas, Tampa, Fla., and Washington, D.C. Bridges TV will soon launch on Rogers Cable in Canada. A charter sponsorship by Ford Motor Co. has offset the loss of premium subscription revenue, Hassan said. In its hometown market of Buffalo, Adelphia Communications will keep Bridges TV as a premium channel. A spokesman, Thomas Haywood, cited a low subscriber rate.
M. Elizabeth Roman, Telegram & Gazette WORCESTER – On the door outside Juan Perez’s home, a hand-written sign asks visitors to respect the Islamic custom of removing shoes before entering. The sign is one of the only indicators that this young Latino father, his wife and four small children tend an Islamic household. Inside, a person is likely to see the Hispanic cartoon character “Dora the Explorer” on the television, hear the sound of a rhythmic salsa band on the radio, or smell the aroma of adobo cooking in the kitchen. “As Latinos, we are a passionate people,” Mr. Perez says as he cradles his 1-1/2-year-old baby while his 3-year-old daughter, Mia, lightly kisses the child on the cheek. “Islam covers every aspect of your life; it’s not just going to church and praying. It deals with marriage, divorce, wills, orphans, what to eat, what not to eat. As Latinos, when we do something, we go full-fledged into it.” The Perez family is among an estimated 150 Latino converts to Islam in Worcester, reflecting a trend that researchers have taken note of in recent years. A 2001 study on faith communities, coordinated by Hartford Institute for Religious Research and conducted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, indicated Latinos made up 6 percent of all converts, which at approximately 60,000, made them the third-largest segment. The growth of this population can also be seen by the creation of bilingual Islamic centers in Chicago, Los Angeles, California’s San Fernando Valley, San Francisco, Florida, New York and Atlanta. Each site reports having hundreds of members and offers publications translated into Spanish. In addition, chapters of the Hispanic Muslim organization Latino Dawah are located in Massachusetts, Illinois, Texas and Arizona. “It is easy to accept once they found out what it is,” said Jason Perez, who, like his brother Juan, converted to Islam. “It is almost impossible to find a Latino that is an atheist because of our struggle. Being poor, we know it is the miracle of God when we get food. We know that it is not just our own work that helps us survive; we survive with the help of God.” In addition, many Latino converts profess that they do not give up any of their heritage to convert to Islam, but in fact learn more about their cultural roots. “Islam connected me with the struggle for self-determination and the struggles with the natives of Puerto Rico,” Mr. Perez says, adding that many Latino expressions and surnames originate in Islamic culture. “It’s not an Arabic culture thing,” said Adolfo Arrastia, executive director of the Worcester Youth Center for 10 years. “Only 15 percent of the Islamic population around the world is Arab. It’s amazing the amount of people that are Muslim, including people from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Mexico.” Mr. Arrastia converted 31 years ago in New York City. “It fit me like a hand in a glove,” he said. “Islam tells you to be a part of the community; to stand up against injustice. It gives me guidelines in how to be an activist without hurting and causing injury.” Juan and Jason Perez grew up down the street from the mosque in Plumley Village with a group of close friends, most of whom have also converted to Islam. Some of the friends, including Jason, now live in Pennsylvania, where they are learning how to translate ancient African manuscripts at the Sankore Institute. They were raised Catholic and even attended Catholic school, but when they had questions about the Holy Trinity and other Catholic doctrine, the brothers say, they were admonished, which made them move away from the church. “But I was involved in the street life and it wasn’t bringing me happiness,” Jason Perez said in a telephone interview from the institute. So despite the fact that neighborhood friends used to think the mosque was a satanic church, Jason decided to visit after his Islamic roommate encouraged him. “I jumped in and loved it,” he said. He said his mother was not opposed to him converting to Islam because he stopped smoking marijuana and began respecting and helping her any way he could, as instructed by the religion. “Latinos love Jesus and Mary – the Muslims do too,” Juan Perez said when describing the similarities between Islam and Christianity.