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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, June 5, 2010

Online radio station reaches out to young U.S. Muslims

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By Raja Abdulrahim
Los Angeles Times

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Hosts Amir Mertaban, left, and Mohamad Ahmad interview a guest during the online radio show "Boiling Point," at One Legacy Radio's studio in Irvine, Calif.

Photos by GLENN KOENIG | Los Angeles Times

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The hosts of "Boiling Point," which purports to take "taboo topics to the boiling point" are allowed one "What the heck" a show, said Ahmad.

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LOS ANGELES As jazzy music played overhead, radio hosts Amir Mertaban and Mohamad Ahmad chatted casually with their guest, Isaac Yerushalmi, setting a relaxed mood.

The show could have dissolved into a heated argument between two Muslims and a Jew, but in the inaugural run of "Boiling Point" on what's billed as the nation's first Muslim talk radio station, Mertaban was absorbed with more mundane matters.

Mertaban looked over the show's introduction. He glanced at Yerushalmi's biography and a few reminders he had jotted down. "OK, I can't use the word 'freakin,"' he said to no one in particular.

In the control room, Nour Mattar, one of the founders of One Legacy Radio, clicked off some of the banned words. "I mean we're cool, but we still have Islamic character and morals, especially we have a lot of kids, 16, 17, listening in. We don't want them to think this is OK."

The hosts of "Boiling Point" a show that purports to take "taboo topics to the boiling point" are allowed one "What the heck" a show, said Ahmad, a UCLA law school graduate.

One Legacy Radio is an online broadcast that officially launched on www.onelegacyradio.com in November, with four weekly shows. Its three founders Muslims in their late 20s and early 30s who grew up in Britain and the United States have slowly increased the station's programming while trying to strike a balance between religious sensibilities and a more edgy, youth-driven conversation.

Although some of the programming is conventional, such as a show about converts and one devoted to parenting, "Boiling Point" and the religiously challenging "Face the Faith" are more provocative.

"One Legacy is the fingerprint of the young Muslim ummah (community)," said Yasmin Bhuj, 31, a founder and marketing director who is married to Mattar. "It basically personifies the kind of ummah that we have right now. If the generation before us did a radio station, it would be unrecognizable to what One Legacy is."

Mattar said the station receives e-mails daily from young Muslims thanking them for tackling issues that are relevant to them.

"These are taboo topics that people don't talk about, but in Islam you are allowed to talk about it," Mattar, 32, said.

"Taboo" is a word heard often around the studio. The goal of the station and its founders isn't to ruffle religious feathers though that might happen but to create an outlet for the younger generation of Muslims in America whose parents mostly emigrated from parts of the Middle East and South Asia in the 1970s and '80s.

Saeed Khan, a history professor at Wayne State University who specializes in Muslim identity in the West, said many first-generation immigrants believed that Islam would act as a sort of divine shield against societal ills such as drug abuse and infidelity within the Muslim community.

Outlets like One Legacy, he said, have cropped up because of the limits of existing Muslim media.

During a January taping of "Objection!" about political issues and civil rights host Reem Salahi interviewed a man whose brother a U.S. citizen has been held for several years in solitary confinement awaiting trial by the U.S. government. In the control room, Mattar and his brother Sami Matar (who spells his last name differently) sat at the console.

In an adjacent office, Mattar runs his online company, which sells laptop computer parts and funds the station's $7,000-a-month budget enough to pay for three part-time employees. They hope to begin selling radio ads soon. Someday, they hope, the station will be profitable.

Mattar, Bhuj and Mohammad Harake, the third founder, formed One Legacy Media in 2008 to publish Islamic books, CDs and DVDs and hold educational seminars, the first of which was a marriage seminar.

That's when they came up with the idea of a Muslim radio station. Years ago, they considered broadcasting from a low-frequency radio station with a maximum radius of 40 miles before deciding it wasn't practical. In early 2009, the partners decided to take advantage of the rising popularity of online broadcast and cellphone radio apps.

For much of the first year, the station streamed only Quran and religious lectures.

"Seven to 10 listeners a day, max," said Harake, 26, sales and promotional director.

"A day? A month," Mattar said.

Since then, they have added iPhone, BlackBerry and Android apps. Mattar wouldn't disclose listenership numbers but said they have doubled each month and that about 4,000 people have downloaded one of their cellphone apps.