Battling negative stereotypes about the Arab world and defending women’s rights are just two of Mohammad Abu Obeid’s goals in life.
The Al Arabiya News Channel presenter fronts the program Studio Al-Hadath (The Event Studio). But he is also a poet, a calligrapher, a musician and actor.
Abu Obeid shared his views on religion, the West and the Arab media scene with Inside the Newsroom.
Q. Walk us through a given working day, what is your routine?
My first activity of the day is swimming for about an hour. I surf the internet for news, before heading to work, where the team holds a meeting to discuss topics set to be presented on the news bulletins.
I prepare the material for my daily show Studio al-Hadath, and sometimes may have extra news bulletins to present after finishing the show. After work, I also read for an hour and a half.
I also practice Arabic calligraphy on daily basis, a hobby that I returned to intensely after 16 years. I may write some poetry verses if I get inspired, I check my social media networks, then I go out with friends.
Q. What are your views on the West’s perception the Arab world?
Why do we love hamburgers, but Westerners don’t necessarily love thyme? It’s because of PR and propaganda. Terrorist operations, sabotage, and the clutter of fatwas – especially on women-related topics – unfortunately precede the reality of who and what we really are. We don’t have sufficient means to introduce the West to the truth, which has got distorted.
Q. Does the Arab world lack adequate platforms to communicate the correct message?
Even if the platforms are there, we are still using our old language to communicate the message. You cannot communicate with the West the way you communicate with Arabs. For example, when a taboo topic is discussed, we [Muslims] – among each other – base our arguments on what is stated in the Quran. But how can we base an argument with a Westerner on what was stated in the Quran? We need to communicate with Westerners using a language they understand.
Q. You joined Al Arabiya at its inception, presented Sabah Al Arabiya (Al Arabiya Morning) show for over seven years. Do you prefer presenting programs or news bulletins?
To me, both experiences – based on the feedback I got – were successful. But there are people who may prefer my appearance or performance on the program, others prefer me in news, some may find me good at both, and others may even find me bad at both. One must take all the views into consideration.
The morning show allows some space to show one’s true personality. It is an informative, social and entertainment program, but allows a smile, an anecdote. News bulletins on the other hand focus more on highlighting one’s argumentative capabilities and skills.
Q. You’ve said that you aim to change the image of Arab news presenters. What does that mean? And how far have you come in your quest?
The field of media, or appearing on TV are not matters to be taken for granted. These are man-made rules at the end of the day. I am not saying we go against the set standards and customs of media, but today on news bulletins for example, I try my best to be a storyteller rather than just a news presenter. When I address the camera it is like I am addressing another human being.
Q. Do you want to break stereotypes within the field of news?
I want to break the stereotypes, but I am not calling for wearing shorts and a T-shirt when presenting the news. However, we don’t need to pretend to be robots. We must show that there are human interactions, to show that bulletins are led by humans.
Q. You said that treatment of women in the Arab world is “unfair”. What are you doing about that?
Islam got distorted because of the involvement of some beliefs, customs, traditions, or even social norms and associating them with religion.
I [disagree] with those who oppress women under the slogan of religion, and women who believe it, claiming that this is the true religion.
The issue is not in Islam, but in those who falsely practice it.
Islam is falsely represented as a male-dominant religion, but it is not this way. Islam is a humane religion, and humans are males and females.
Q. Tell me about your relationship with language.
The Arabic language, just like women, is oppressed. Arabic is the language of literature, fiction, and poetry. What made most Arabs dislike it is the way by which it was taught in schools and the complicated way in which some intellectuals speak, pushing people away from it.
I advocate the facilitation of a language and developing it, but preserving its foundations and scales.
Those who don’t dive into Arabic will never know its true significance and its beautiful mysteries.
Q. What about calligraphy?
Arabic calligraphy is part of the beauty of the Arabic language, it is directly related to the Arabic alphabets. Calligraphy makes us unique; other civilizations are known for painting or sculpting.
Many trials were attempted to insert Arabic calligraphy into computer programs to use it for design, but none really succeeded.
There are three major mysteries about Arabic calligraphy: The hand of the calligrapher, the specific bamboo stick still used in calligraphy, and the special ink.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of Arabs who ignored this great art nowadays; some non-Arabs who are more mindful of Arabic calligraphy more than Arabs themselves, like Turkey and Iran.
Q. You held one exhibition for you calligraphy, are you planning another?
Definitely. I had suspended practicing calligraphy in 1996 due to lack of time. There are only so many things one can do at the same time. I picked it up again last April. Calligraphy, like any other form of arts, is like a baby. You need to give it enough time and attention, or else you’ll lose it.
Q. What about poetry?
I don’t want to publish any of my poems until I mature in poetry. If I were in a rush I would’ve had around 10 published collections by now.
Q. You’ve said before that if you published a poetry collection it would probably be banned in the Arab world, why?
I do not confirm that it will be banned, I just fear that it’ll be banned in some countries of the Arab world, because I’m bold in my writings. I do not touch on religious topics, but there are certain topics that people mix up with religion, and when you tap on them, they’d mistakenly think that you are messing with religion.SHOW MORE