‘Islamic Netflix’ seeks positive representation of Muslims



London, The Arab Weekly – Alchemiya, an emerg­ing video-on-demand service that has been likened to an “Islamic Netflix”, is seeking to do the seemingly impossible: por­tray Islam and Muslims in a posi­tive light. In the era of the Islamic State (ISIS), of global terrorism and Middle East chaos, that is easier said than done.

“This project is a chance to pre­sent a side of Islam and Muslims that is widely unknown and inject a dose of positivity, with uplifting, heart-warming content,” Alchemi­ya’s manifesto promises. Less than one year into the endeavour, and gearing up for the channel’s sec­ond phase, this is a philosophy that remains at the heart of Al­chemiya.

“That’s a choice we took very early on. We think there is plen­ty of content about extremism and terrorism around. What we are concentrating on is the gap — where are those amazing films about Islamic culture and civili­sation?” Alchemiya founder and Chief Executive Officer Navid Akhtar asked.

There is not just a dearth of con­tent about Islamic history, that en­compasses contemporary issues as well, he said. “We’ve made a conscious choice to look at what’s working, what’s succeeding [in the Islamic world] in terms of creativ­ity, business and social change.”

Alchemiya is far from a one-man show. Akhtar has been joined by well-known British broadcaster, politician and imam Ajmal Mas­roor among others — Muslims and non-Muslims — who are seeking to put forward a more positive, more realistic image of Islam than the one depicted on the nightly news.

“I believe something very sim­ple: We should all be involved in informing people, inspiring peo­ple and influencing change.

Let’s start those changes from within. If the core of our being changes, the world will change. And that’s what we are talking about when we talk about Al­chemiya,” Masroor said.

Alchemiya, a successful ex­ample of crowd-funding, has 52 documentaries on offer. Soon that number will be closer to 500 as the service expands and reaches new subscribers in new ways.

“That’s where the next expan­sion comes. In addition to in­creasing the amount of content on the platform, we’re looking at facilitating how subscribers can watch. We’re looking at things like Chromecast, Apple TV, iOS, An­droid apps and probably Samsung Smart Hub,” Akhtar said.

As for whom Alchemiya is look­ing to target, it is clear the service has done its homework.

“When we started to do research we had a hunch about who our customers would be and that is when we came up with the term Global Urban Muslim. The Global Urban Muslim is in about 19 coun­tries across the world, from Syd­ney, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Istanbul to Berlin, Munich, London, as well as Toronto, New York and Los Ange­les,” Akhtar said.

“They [Global Urban Muslims] are quite highly educated. They travel a lot. They may have been born in the East or live in the West… [but] they don’t really see themselves as Eastern or Western. They move very comfortably be­tween these two spaces. They’re not really religious with a capital ‘r’; they’re more spiritual,” he said.

“They don’t want programmes that are going to tell them how to practice Islam.

What they want is programmes that celebrate aspects of the faith and particularly cultural aspects of Islam,” Akhtar added.

Akhtar has 25 years’ experience in television to draw on, including stints at the BBC and Channel 4. His background is in the arts, his­tory and culture — not news. He has produced documentaries on the haj, on Ramadan and on Mus­lims in Spain. It is content such as this that Alchemiya hopes to pro­cure the rights to and produce it­self.

“One of the most watched [doc­umentaries] on the channel is The Muslim Traveller’s Guide to Grana­da, which looks at the things you should visit if you were to travel to the city of Granada in Spain,” he said.

Other available documentaries include Goal Dreams about the Palestinian national football team; Talking Through Walls, about one man’s mission to build a mosque in suburban America; as well as films looking at Afghan skateboarders and a call-to-prayer competition.

“But we are looking predomi­nately to find talents that we can commission and give them the op­portunity to go out and make con­tent for us,” Akhtar said. “We’ve already found a lot of producers who we know but we also have come across new producers from everything from Pakistan to Tur­key to Cairo.”

As for the Netflix comparison, Akhtar laughs. “Yes, we had a bit of a joke in the office about that,” but he says that he does not dis­courage the media-friendly term.

“When you say ‘Netflix’ people immediately understand that you can go online and watch content so it helps us in that way,” he said. “But at some point we’re looking to just be Alchemiya and for peo­ple to understand what it means. So as the brand develops we don’t have a problem with that compari­son.”

This article was originally published here.