The trend of running FM radio stations from mosques and madrassahs — a status symbol for the clergy in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa — did not come to an end after Maulana Fazlullah went off air and west of Swat. Illegal FM stations continue, albeit on a small scale, without inviting much attention from authorities.
There are at least three such stations in Mattani village; two regularly air wa’az (sermons) during Ramazan. Often the airplay includes a daras (lecture) or Quranic tafseer.
“There are three rival madrassahs in our village which have an FM radio station of their own since 2004 and they regularly preach their own viewpoint on air,” an elder from Mattani village told The Express Tribune. In most cases, the sermon is aired in the evening. However, one enthused madrassah runs a morning show from 9am to noon during Ramazan.
“There is an influential cleric who started this practice in 2004 but it’s rumoured that security forces directed him to keep his channel off air, threatening strict action otherwise,” he added. The cleric’s brother still operates his own FM channel while a rival Barelvi madrassah also has a station which is not frequently on air but does run the odd Ramazan broadcast.
A game of whac-a-mole
There used to be three FM stations in Safan, Badhaber. “Last year a team of government officials raided the famous Safan madrassah and dismantled the FM apparatus, taking it away with them,” said another elder of Badhaber village.
However, it does not take long for another channel to pop up, as the equipment needed to set up an FM radio station is easily available in Karimpura inside the walled city and is cheap.
“An FM will cost you as little as Rs8,000 and as much as Rs30,000,” said the Badhaber elder. “Radio mechanics in Karim Pura assemble it using readily-available parts.”
When’s it gonna stop DJ
The FM trend started around 2003-04 when Mufti Munir Shakir, the founding father of Lashkar-e-Islam, established his foothold in Nala area of Bara, Khyber Agency and installed an FM in his mosque. Shakir became a popular cleric overnight as the channel could be heard several kilometres away — as far as Mattani, Sarband, Masho Khel, Badhaber, and Sheikhan.
Other clerics who felt threatened by Shakir’s rising stardom followed suit and soon FM stations were piped out of at least six madrassahs in Badhaber and Mattani. Not to mention rival stations run by the Ansarul Islam in Malikdin Khel, Tirah Valley, transmitting talks by Mufti Mehboobul Haq.
“The Lashkar-e-Islam channel is now used by Mangal Bagh, but he is not as gifted a speaker as Mufti Munir Shakir,” said the elder. “Nevertheless, people listen to it as it reflects the policies of the lashkar against Bagh’s opponents and government.”
When contacted, a Pemra official in Peshawar said their frequency allocation board is responsible for detecting illegal stations and is based in Islamabad.
“You cannot run a radio channel from your house or mosque. It is illegal and our teams detect and seize such machines,” he said. Only when a licence is issued by Pemra are proper frequencies allocated to each radio station, added the official. “These are strictly monitored. Our teams can detect any radio station, no matter how weak its frequency.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2014.
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