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Published in the 1-15 Mar 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

For national media, even social reform is diktat from al-Qaeda
By MH Lakdawala

Mumbai: Recently a leading English evening newspaper carried a story comparing social reform efforts by the Imams and Muslim of Cheetah Camp in northeastern Mumbai to al-Qaeda. The reform efforts were projected with the headline "Are we being ruled by al-Qaeda?" 

The story was picked by other national media and vernacular newspapers and even a popular website which toes the same line projecting Muslim of Mumbai in a negative light in one of its lead story. Ironically the very same day, a leading Urdu daily, the sister publication of the eveninger, carried the story with a positive angle. Same story by the same reporters getting different treatment by two sister publications?

These stories once again projected Muslims of Mumbai in a negative light and strengthen the stereotype of their being fanatic and intolerant for no fault of theirs. Muslims living in the city are still to recover from the post-traumatic scare left by 92-93 riots and the recent bomb blasts.

When this correspondent visited the Cheetah Camp the facts were contrary to what was represented by the stories carried by various newspapers. The basic premise of these stories was that "The imams of Cheetah Camp, Trombay, have issued a diktat. Those who disobey will not have their weddings solemnised. Muslims in Cheetah Camp, Trombay, have been forbidden to dance, clap and play music during weddings and other celebrations by their imams. The ban was an attack on their freedom.

The interaction with the cross section of Muslim of Cheetah Camp revealed that no such diktat had been issued. The fact is that during last Ramadan, few citizens’ groups organised a meeting to discuss the nuisance of anti-social elements of the area. One of the issues discussed was the playing of music by loudspeaker in public during festival and marriages. 

Nurul Hassan of the Islamic Center said playing loudspeaker at public places was making life miserable for the resident of Cheetah Camp. "Students were being disturbed and aged people suffered loss of sleep. We the members of different social and welfare groups approached the imams and trustees of all the 11 mosques in the area and held discussion with them," he said. On our unanimous request imams unanimously passed a resolution banning ostentatious celebrations at public places.

They represent the Deobandi, Barelvi, Shafi sects and also the large Tamil-speaking Muslim community living in the area. Abdul Haq, a member of Tanzeem-ul-Muslimeen mosque, said the ban in fact helped to avoid disputes over loud music. "There used to be fights between families because children were disturbed by music during exams. Now we live in peace and harmony," he said.

Even the police has denied the charge leveled in the media. "We have given permissions as per rules and regulations. As for the resolution, it is their private affair," said a senior police inspector of the Trombay police station.
Cheetah Camp, second largest slum in Mumbai, has over 1,50,000 with 85 per cent Muslims. Even the talk of boycott in these stories were not true as not a single complaint as been registered with the local police nor any such boycott was called for. 

Abul Hassan, a social worker believes the media has blown their diktat out of proportion and is misreporting the entire event." They wrote that we are giving instructions like al-Qaeda to our Muslim brothers. This is not true. The change at the ground level has been tremendous in the last six months ever since the ban was imposed. We have small lanes and bylanes in our area. The houses are very close to each other. People don't quarrel with their neighbours at the time of weddings as they used to do earlier. So our locality is peaceful during weddings," he adds.

The Ulema react angrily when told that the media have likened the fatwa to those coming from the Taliban. "We have said what we have to, now it's up to the people to decide what they want. We are not threatening anyone. It is for the good of people because loud music at public place is a manifestation of the devil and even otherwise it disturbs the old and disorients students. It also leads to fights," said a trustee at the mosque.

Time and again national media project Muslims in a negative light. Even their social reform movements are shown in a negative light and compared to terrorist groups. Its high time Muslim give a thought to this issue and take remedial measures.

In fact Cheetah Camp once a communally sensitive spot today is an example of communal harmony. Most of the Muslim organisation conducting welfare activities devote a part of their budget to the non-Muslims of the area. Islamic Center which conducts free computer classes offer admission to non-Muslims too. "30% of our students are non Muslim", said Gayasuddin, general secretary of the Islamic Center. 

The following steps will go a long way in helping to overcome misrepresentations in the national media. Avoid speaking to the media if details are not known to you. Direct the journalist to someone who knows the facts; Do not answer any stereotype questions on emotional issue instead discuss the positive development within the community; Never enter into debate with journalist or start an argument; and, be courteous and offer all possible help but refuse to fall into the emotional trap which they lay for you to get a sensational statement. Its better not to get mentioned negatively in Media rather then get mentioned and spoil the image of the community. 

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