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Published in the 16-30 Apr 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition


Muslim image in the media

By Zafarul-Islam Khan

The Milli Gazette Online 

The issue of the "Muslim image" in the media, Indian as well as foreign, is constantly debated in our meetings and seminars. Since, as a community we are not serious about anything, this crucial issue too is tackled in the usual way of nashistand, guftand-o barkhastand: discussed, resolutions passed only to be forgotten. We are simply not ready to pay the price needed to do the image-correction.

It is true that the Muslim image in India as well as abroad is not good. But is the media wholly to blame? I do not think that the mainstream media has any plan to paint Muslims, or any community for that matter, black or blue. They report what they see and they see in a hurry and listen to those only who are ready to make them listen. 

Our image in the media is not very different from what we really are. Is it not a fact that we are poor, illiterate or semi-literate? Is it not correct that we carry no economic or political weight today? Who cares about such people in any society? Is it not also a fact that our institutions are the worst run? That they are centres of nepotism, failures, corruption? Our leaders and institutions do not believe in transparency or excellence. What matters is faithfulness and blind obedience. In short, our institutions are not centres of excellence which they ought to be if we really followed Islam in its proper and true spirit.

It is our responsibility first to correct our behavior so that a wrong image is not conveyed and even if conveyed, it must be quickly corrected with right and truthful explanation. Young reporters in mainstream publications simply have no background about our issues, religion and history and therefore fail to fully understand and grasp many issues.

There is a fringe media as well, as marginal groups here and there have a vested interest in painting Muslims black. Such groups do not leave any opportunity without using their black brush to tarnish Islam and Muslims with. We may not be able to convince these lunatic fringe groups and their misguided publications about our just case but we can certainly change the outlook of the mainstream media in India and abroad if we are able to put our act together. In the long-run only the mainstream media matters as it reaches millions while the fringe media is limited to hundreds and thousands.

Our PR is almost non-existent. Almost all Muslim organisations are content to report about their activities to the Urdu press only. Non-Urdu press rarely covers our activities and opinions because we fail to reach out to them. 

Muslims should take it in a big way to do media courses, enter media organisations of all kinds, publish non-Urdu newspapers and magazines, set up websites, start radio and television stations as well as news agencies. Muslims should not just fume at what is published against them but must regularly write article and letters to editors to correct mistakes reported and to convey the Muslim points of view. 

Muslims in Kerala understood the importance of media and now they have three dailies (Madhyamam, Chandrika and Vartamanam) as well as many magazines in Malayalam. They even have a television channel. All this had had a good effect on the Kerala public opinion as well as on Malayali publications which now cannot feign ignorance. Moreover, non-Muslim publications now know that if they publish rubbish about Muslims, the very next day they will be exposed by a Muslim daily newspaper.

Muslims must also encourage their own non-Urdu media by buying such publications, promoting them and advertising in them. Unless we do this, we will not have our own important newspapers and magazines, since such publications are taken seriously only if they achieve five and six digit circulation figures. Our own publications will not only inform and prepare a public opinion, they will also educate other media organisations. 

Our interest in the media may be gauged from the sorrowful news that Muslim India, an extremely important documentation journal, had to be closed down for the second time last December. Earlier in 2002, its first publisher had decided to close it down after 20 years of continuous publication and now the second publisher too has decided to call it a day only after two years - simply because Muslims are not ready to buy and sustain such a basic journal which documented all their political, social and religious life. 

The Milli Gazette too may go the Muslim India way and for the same reasons. Although in its sixth year now, it continues to make losses. All agree that MG is the first successful attempt after Independence to publish an Indian Muslim newspaper in English but few and far between are ready to buy it and even lesser numbers are ready to advertise in it. We have to put our money where our mouth is. 

We should also realise that no one is going to respect us until and unless we prove our utility to the society and the country. Who can ignore APJ Abdul Kalam, Premji, Shah Rukh, Irfan Pathan, Kaif, Sania Mirza, Aamir, AR Rahman, Habil Khorakiwala, Dr Khalilullah, Abusaleh Shariff, and many others of this ilk who have served and honoured the country with their hard work in one field or another. 

Another reason for our worldly low status today is that we are so far away from our religion, Islam.. We hardly deserve to be called Muslims. We believe in an abstract Islam which ends with prayers, fasting, length of beard and pyjamas, burqa and does not impose social responsibilities on us. Our Islam does not make us good Muslims who care for others, who serve the humanity, who do not lie, who do not betray, who do not usurp others', including their sisters', properties. The Prophet said that a munafiq has three signs: he lies, does not keep his promise and betrays trust. Haven't all these evils become necessary attributes of an ordinary Muslim today? The Prophet said, "Religion is how you behave with others" (al-Deenu al-mu'amalah) but our faith today stops with a few rituals and does not reflect itself in our behavior. Unless we change ourselves drastically we cannot expect others, including the media, to respect us. To be a Muslim means to be a complete human being who cares for others and serves others, who lives for others. The attributes of a good human being are the same which are required of a Muslim. If we can retrieve these qualities, we will have no complaints towards anyone, including the media.

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