WALNUT CREEK, Calif. – The country’s first Muslim-themed television channel is set to launch today with the aim of countering what its founders say are biased images of Muslims in the mainstream media.

The first day of Muslim-themed programming on Bridges TV will feature movies, a cooking show and an original news show, all presented in English, said program director Jamilah Fraser. The channel already claims more than 10,000 subscribers.

American Muslims such as Kalam Momin are helping to raise money and awareness for the channel.

Almost a third of Bridges TV’s subscribers come from the Bay Area, and many have contributed $10 a month for the past year to help launch the channel.

“They feel the need,” said Momin, of Dublin, Calif. “American Muslims feel Bridges TV can change the stereotype and shatter the distortions some people may have about Muslims.”

The station has received financial and moral support from high-profile American Muslims, including former boxing superstar Muhammad Ali.

“Bridges TV gives American Muslims a voice of their own on the airways for Americans of all races and religions to hear,” Ali said in a statement.

Station founder Muzzammil Hassan said he and his wife developed the idea after hearing what they considered anti-Muslim comments on a radio talk show.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, many Muslims have felt persecuted both by the U.S. government and by public opinion.

“The purpose is to build bridges of friendship and understanding with mainstream America,” Hassan said.

Estimates of the nation’s Muslim population range from 3 million to 7 million.

Starting Tuesday, the channel will be available to subscribers via national satellite broadcaster GlobeCast and on the Internet at www.bridgestv.com. Bridges TV has already been running free previews of its programs for about a week.

Viewers in Ohio and Michigan, home to thousands of Arabs, will be able to catch the station on cable starting in January, according to a station news release.

The station will eventually offer more original programming, including soap operas and children’s shows, Fraser said.

It aims not only to expose the general population to Muslim culture but also to introduce young Muslims born in the United States to their native heritage, Momin said.

“The first generation should view this channel as a means of instruction for the second generation,” he said.

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