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National Geographic Channel Opens a Window into the Volatile Paradox of Islam’s Most Sacred Te

15 Jul

For Immediate Release

Two-Hour Special Inside the Koran Offers Fresh Insight Into Islam's "Guide to Humanity," Vividly Illustrated With the Muslim World's Rich History

Inside the Koran Premieres Tuesday, August 5, 2008, at 9 PM ET/PT

"I don't see the Koran connected to the taking of lives. Koran is about existence, about tolerance, about mercy." - Dr. Sabri Saidam, Palestinian Expert

(WASHINGTON, D.C. - JULY 15, 2008) The Koran has become one of the most ideologically influential and controversial texts in the world. Muslims believe it to be the word of God, as first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad nearly 1,500 years ago. Yet within this single community of worshippers, there are profound differences in religious practices, the status of women, and attitudes toward peace, violence, punishment and forgiveness. But if the Koran is viewed as the irrefutable word of God, why do these differences exist? And how well do Muslims and non-Muslims alike really understand its key spiritual and ethical messages? These questions have never been more paramount.

Over the past few decades, the Middle East has been an epicenter of political and violent turmoil, often with religious conflict at its core. With so much at stake, an understanding of the Muslim faith and its most sacred text is more important than ever before. On Tuesday, August 5, 2008, at 9 PM ET/PT, National Geographic Channel (NGC) presents Inside the Koran, a journey into the heart of the Islamic world to discover a clearer understanding of this complex and seemingly contradictory spiritual guide. The show presents a cross-section of Muslims living according to their varied interpretations of the Koran - from ayatollahs and grand imams to simple farmers, and from women in positions of power to those living in veiled seclusion. NGC examines the Koran's messages of peace and tolerance - including what some perceive as justification in the text for violent conflict and suicide bombings that have increasingly been deployed against U.S. troops and their allies.

Using first-person accounts to present a comprehensive and compelling perspective on the Koran, the turbulent history of the Islamic world and what may lie ahead for this struggling region, the two-hour special includes fascinating historical footage and rarely seen interviews with Muslim leaders, notable experts, scholars and religious activists.

"The Koran is like a big store, a supermarket," says Palestinian peace activist Muhammad Hurani. In this Book, you are able to pick different answers. You are able to make peace, according to the Koran. You are able to declare war.... So many different voices come out of the Koran. Moderate people have their support in verses of the Koran. Radical people have the same thing."

Inside the Koran delves into the Islamic world to reveal a religion of vast dimensions. It is the second largest world religion after Christianity; well over a billion people - from the Americas to China, from Finland to the southern tip of Africa - are Muslim. Yet within this single universe of belief there are profound differences in the treatment of women and ethical practices. Some Muslim regimes deny girls an education and women the right to vote or drive. In some countries, on public transportation, veiled women scuttle through the rear doors of segregated buses. However, in other Muslim countries, women lead political parties and even become heads of state. In some places, executions by stoning, hanging and beheading are carried out in public. In others, the death penalty has been abolished altogether.

That is just one slice of the paradox of the Koran. On the one hand, proponents of peace quote the consistent message of life's sanctity. In verse after verse, suicide is explicitly forbidden - "Destroy not yourselves." And yet, suicide bombers are also quoting from the Koran when they say that those who die fighting in the name of Allah achieve martyrdom and receive their reward in Paradise. Both claim their cause is guided by God's hand, but can such conflicting views be reconciled?

Juxtaposed with present-day contrasts and contradictions, Inside the Koran reaches back into the golden age of Islamic civilization, when the Koran inspired values of freedom and tolerance - a culture of openness that led to astounding developments in architecture, mathematics, science and philosophy - while Europe was mired in its feudal Dark Ages. But in the ancient Islamic world, when Muslims felt threatened - either by external enemies or internal disruptions - the impulse was to take a very different message of retaliation from the Koran. With tensions in the Middle East at an all-time high, some Muslims believe they are now living in such a time. As the Muslim religion continues to grow, the message believers take from the Koran could have global repercussions for generations to come.

Additional interviewees include Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari, head of Naqshabandi Sufi in Jerusalem; Dr. Taj Hargey, Muslim Educational Centre at Oxford University; Sheikh Khalid Tafesh, Palestinian Hamas leader; Patrick Sookhdeo, Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity; Sheikh Tayser Rajab Al-Tamimi, supreme judge of Palestinian Islamic Shari'a Courts; Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy, grand imam of Al-Azhar Mosque; and Sheikh Yousuf Saanei, grand ayatollah of the Iranian city of Qom.

Inside the Koran is produced by Juniper Communications Ltd. Producer, writer and director is Antony Thomas. For National Geographic Channel, executive producer is Noah Morowitz, senior vice president of special programming is Michael Cascio, and executive vice president of content is Steve Burns.

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Based at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C., the National Geographic Channel (NGC) is a joint venture between National Geographic Ventures (NGV) and Fox Cable Networks (FCN). Since launching in January 2001, NGC initially earned some of the fastest distribution growth in the history of cable and more recently the fastest ratings growth in television. The network celebrated its fifth anniversary January 2006 with the launch of NGC HD which provides the spectacular imagery that National Geographic is known for in stunning high-definition. NGC has carriage with all of the nation's major cable and satellite television providers, making it currently available to nearly 68 million homes. For more information, please visit www.natgeotv.com.

NGC-448-070908--071508MEDIA CONTACTS:
Russell Howard, National Geographic Channel, 202-912-6652, RHoward@natgeochannel.com
Chris Albert, National Geographic Channel, 202-912-6526, CAlbert@natgeochannel.com
National Broadcast: Dara Klatt, National Geographic Channel, 202-912-6720, Dara.Klatt@natgeochannel.com
National & Local Radio: Johanna Ramos Boyer, 703-646-5137, Johanna@jrbcomm.com
National Print: Christie Parell, The Fratelli Group, 202-496-2124, CParell@fratelli.com
Local Print: Licet Ariza, The Fratelli Group, 202-496-2122, LAriza@fratelli.com
Photos: Christine Elasigue, National Geographic Channel, 202-912-6708, celasigu@ngs.org

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