The new television network Bridges TV was launched Tuesday from Buffalo amid great hopes that it would help portray Muslims in a more positive light.
While the new network primarily targets an American Muslim audience, many Muslims are counting on the programming to dispel stereotypes many non-Muslims have about Islam.
"We see the face of terrorists, the face of political people who are angry . . . but we don't see the picture of the whole Muslim individual and the whole life of the Muslim," said Imam W. Deen Mohammed, president of Mosque Care. "I don't think American people know us well enough."
Mohammed, who leads the nation's largest American Muslim organization, with 2 million African-American Muslims and 600 American mosques, was one of many Muslims on hand for a news conference in the Buffalo Niagara Marriott in Amherst announcing the premiere of the network.
One of the country's most well-known Muslims, former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, has endorsed the project.
Nearly three years in the making, Bridges TV will weave news coverage with music videos, animated children's programs, classic movies and shows about food, travel and culture -- all with an underlying theme appealing to American Muslims.
Muslims also view the network as a huge opportunity to balance negative portrayals of Islam that have dominated American media since Sept. 11, 2001, and to turn around public opinion about their faith.
Americans continue to have conflicting feelings about Islam and Muslims, according to national polls.
More than a third of Americans surveyed in July by the Pew Research Center said they had an unfavorable view of Islam. And nearly half said they believe Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence among believers.
But Dr. Khalid Qazi, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council of Western New York, said the new network could be a way to "win hearts and minds" of people in the United States and other parts of the world.
The English language network was three years in the making and will emphasize "family-friendly content," said Muzzammil S. Hassan, founder and chief executive officer.
It currently is available through Globecast World TV, a national satellite provider, which has more than a million subscribers, and via Broadband television on the Internet.
It will also be seen shortly on Comcast Cable Co., the nation's largest cable operator, in Greater Detroit, home to a large American Muslim population, and on Buckeye Cable in Northern Ohio and Southern Michigan.
In the Buffalo area, Bridges TV hopes to obtain an agreement with Adelphia Cable, which is trying to gauge local interest.
"Our biggest issue is shelf space. We have to have the capacity to carry stuff," said Jeanne Coleman, Adelphia general manager.
Once carried, it's difficult to remove a channel, so cable operators carefully weigh the decision to run a new network.
"It's an interesting idea," Coleman said. "What's unique about Bridges is there isn't another channel like it."
Bridges TV programming will be delivered nationwide via a fiber optic link from the studios of WNED-TV in downtown Buffalo to a satellite provider on Staten Island.
It costs about $15 per month as a premium channel for subscribers.