ARE YOU FREE TO FOLLOW YOUR FAITH?
In many parts of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), people, and Christians in particular, are persecuted, discriminated against, and marginalised for their faith. Through culturally sensitive programming, SAT-7 aims to help break the silence and encourage open discussions on human rights such as Freedom of Religion and Belief (FORB).
“I grew up in a small village in North Africa. Life was never easy; my family is very conservative, and my father is a non-Christian religious leader. As I was the only boy in my family, my father took care of me, and as a child, he would take me with him to the non-Christian place of worship. I would spend almost entire days praying and reading the spiritual text. I never dared to ask my father about the God we adore and worship, until the day I watched one of your church-service programs on SAT-7 ARABIC. I contacted a Christian leader who welcomed me to the church, and there I gave my life to God. My family heard that I became a Christian and my father kicked me out of his house for a year. I’m thankful to God who used my mother, to convince my father, that everyone should be free to choose his religion…”
– Samy, a young man from North Africa
Discrimination and persecution
Millions of Christians in the MENA face discrimination and persecution. Those who are not born Christian, and learn about Jesus later in their life, are often shamed and shunned by their families and community.
The freedom to choose one’s religion and beliefs has been a prevalent issue on many SAT-7 programs. Hundreds of viewers like Samy contact our channels to share their stories of dedication and faithfulness to their chosen beliefs, despite the hardships they face.
Through satellite television, SAT-7 addresses the topic with culturally sensitive programs, providing a platform for open discussion, awareness, and honesty.
Breaking the silence
“During filming an episode of Needle and New Thread,” shares Producer Maggie Morgan, “it became obvious to me that the problem of Freedom of Religion and Belief (FORB) – in every Arab country where there are diverse cultural groups and different faith communities – is that it becomes complicated because we don’t talk about it!”
Maggie Morgan, Producer of SAT-7 ARABIC’s flagship women’s program Needle and New Thread, shares her thoughts after filming an episode addressing the topic of FORB.
“This was a really shocking and disheartening day for me. Here in Egypt, the Christian Coptic community is a minority in a predominantly non-Christian society, but it has been here since the first century. It is deeply ingrained into the fabric of society. Yet, when we were interviewing people about diversity and different religions, many of them were saying, ‘do you really want me to say what we say about Christians? Can I say that? Am I allowed to say that?’”
Needle and New Thread aims to provide a platform where people can talk openly. As Maggie suggests, “when we don’t talk about things, we don’t discover the tools to solve the problems, and part of the solution is just admitting that there is a problem.”
Being salt and light by speaking up
On SAT-7 PARS, the fourth season of Insiders is also tackling FORB. In Iran and Persian-speaking countries such as Afghanistan and Tajikistan, freedom of belief is considered blasphemous and can be punishable by death.
Opening this season, Presenter Hengameh Borji highlighted current statistics saying, “In August 2019 alone, around 75 men, women and children lost their lives in Afghanistan, and 20 Christians are currently in prison in Iran, because they do not have freedom of faith.”
The program featured guest speaker Mansour Borji, director of Article 18 – an organisation advocating for people’s freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.
Mansour shares, “[people] assume that faith, politics, and human rights are separate subjects. But this is not so…” He explains that as Christians, we are called to bring light into the darkness, to speak up about these topics and create awareness and a platform for open discussion.
“We cannot limit the light only to the inner spiritual life of the individual; we should be salt and light not just in politics, but in economics, culture, human rights, and other aspects of life in society.”
Freedom of religion for the new generation
SAT-7 ACADEMY’s program Puzzle, broadcast on SAT-7 KIDS, brings together children from various backgrounds of the MENA, to play and learn together. On the program, kids learn to voice their rights, and indirectly are encouraged to learn about the concept of FORB through games, helping them appreciate each other’s differences and cultures.
When production of Puzzle began, Director Rawad Daou noticed a transformation in the children on set after just a few episodes. “In the beginning, the kids from different backgrounds would not mingle, and during breaks they would spend their time on their mobile phones. After a few episodes, the children began to mingle with each other, and even after filming was finished, they wanted to stay on set and continue playing together.”
Presenter Milad Hadchiti adds, “after each episode, we would have a ‘confession booth’, where kids could tell us what they learned. Many kids would express that they weren’t aware of some of their rights to choose what they want for their own lives. Other’s would tell us how they enjoyed meeting other kids from different backgrounds and gaining new friends.”