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From the Blog
Imam Sulaiman H. Ahmad
Imam & Religious Director
Madina Islamic Center
Islam and the Media
The Prophet (Peace be Upon Him) announced publicly at his farewell Hajj that “Convey on my behalf the message even though it is one verse”, which means it is the responsibility of every Muslim to preach whatever authentic source of knowledge he knows about Islam from the Quran and the Prophet’s teachings.
When a Muslim is not fulfilling this responsibility there will be someone else who will be educating or propagandizing about Islam without understanding what true Islam is all about. As Allah Most Glorious has said:
“They desire to put out the light of Allah (Islam) with their mouths but Allah will perfect His light though the unbelievers may be adverse to it” 61: 08
Today the perceptions of non-Muslims regarding Muslims is seriously distorted to depict the believers in a negative light. They see Muslims as a whole as responsible for violence, extremism and injustice.
Third World countries complained to the UN against western media for its coverage of their issues. The UN appointed McBride committee which found out that imbalance is huge in western media’s coverage of Third World issues. He also mentioned that an EU report said that western media has not been fair to Muslims. He said that spending on media in our societies comes third after food and clothing and we spend a lot of our time on media. He said that de-regulation as a result of WTO accords has allowed western media to penetrate our societies as never before. This is because we have allowed them to describe who we are when we should be defining ourselves. The Media has been responsible for sending messages again and again that Muslims are responsible for violence and injustice in the world. This continues unabated because Muslims have not been participating in the media. Since Islam is the third largest religion in the United States as well as the fastest growing religion in the West, so there should be a proportionate number of believers making presentations on Islam and commentaries on material presented by non-Muslims. Those who are in control of media are usually themselves ignorant of true Islam and do not realize that Islam is against forcing people to accept or practice of Islam. This is mentioned in the Quran in various places:
“Say: the truth is from your Lord, so let him who please believe and let him who please, disbelieve.”
“And if your Lord had pleased surely all those who are in the earth would have believed, all of them; will you then force men till they become believers.” 10:99
The most distortion is in regard to Jihad. In numerous places in the Quran this word it is to be interpreted as a struggle for the cause of Islam, for example the struggle to make the prayer. As the Prophet also mentioned, “Salah (prayer) is the best Jihad”. Jihad is only a last resort as a defense against aggression or oppression. There are numerous instances of the tolerance of the Prophet in response to aggression on the part of the non-Muslims not to mention the great amnesty offered to them at the conquest of Makkah. This attitude was continued on by his companions at the conquest of Jerusalem. Compare this to the taking over of Jerusalem by the Christians during the Crusades.
We have an immense opportunity to propagate Islam because the spotlight is on Islam and if we have the courage to speak we will be heard. Though 9/11 was a tragedy, it did make known the presence of Muslims in America. People who were entirely unaware of Islam began to ask questions about it and as a result there was a remarkable increase in conversions. We should ask ourselves where were we to give the answers? If one cannot speak himself then support those who do. Learn the Quran and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, Peace be upon him, defending the peaceful character of Islam and its tolerant attitude. The internet especially is a democratic tool that we can all use to speak. Adding our comments to correct statements that are in error as well as adding support to the positive ideas presented in articles, videos and audios has become an effective way of reaching a wide audience at one time. We have a chance to be heard in response to incidents as soon as they happen. The social network services such as Twitter and Facebook also present an opportunity to speak out and convey the true message of Islam.
The Muslims themselves must be advised to make their responses in a dignified manner and avoid anger and hatred in their responses as we unfortunately heard British Muslims in a rally against the Norwegian cartoonist in Norway stating they wished to cut off the head of the person who disrespected the Prophet (Peace be Upon Him). This type of reaction was grabbed by the media and only served to increase the negativity of the situation. When insults like this are made in the media it should be an opportunity to deliver the correct information in an intelligent and calm manner. Sometimes we hear a completely erroneous statement made by people commenting on articles and videos and to let the opportunity go by to correct it is sheer laziness. The Prophet advised: “If you cannot change something with your hand than do it with your tongue…” Even though this shows a weaker form of faith it is better than just resenting what is being said in our hearts. We have no authority to force anyone to accept the truth but we do have an obligation to speak the truth.
We can give full support to media that has already been established to propagate and defend Islam. By their courage, effort and sacrifice, they have opened a means for us to join the effort to teach and defend Islam in our country, which has given us the right to freedom of speech and religion and this is a great blessing from Allah and we should not disregard it. A lot of Muslim countries do not have that freedom although they are called Muslim countries. We should take out time in our daily lives to educate our children by reading to them stories of the great companions of the Prophet and we should never forget our identity. This identity will give us respect in our society and in the eyes of Allah and His Prophet. We have to ask what kind of country we want our children to grow up in and realize the importance of taking some action to correct the image of Islam that is being energetically propagated in the media. I pray to Allah to guide us to the straight path.
The US gave nominal support to the Arab Spring, because it was part of a worldwide movement that the US wanted to influence. But who exactly would the new voters in the Arabic-speaking countries vote for? Not for Islamists, US pundits repeatedly insisted. According to them, the Arab Spring was a revolution of media geeks, twitter-fixated Facebook users using the latest social media—and to give credit where credit is due, there’s no doubt that the twitterati, as some have called them, were indeed the vanguard of the democratic revolution. It was the brave and disaffected young women and men using non-violent tactics from Gene Sharp’s seminal tract “From Dictatorship to Revolution” that took Mubarak down in Egypt, and then took on Assad in Syria.
But when Tunisians and Egyptians actually marked their secret ballots, the winners were those very same Islamists that weren’t supposed to have a chance. Thus we are at an interesting moment in American foreign policy, since in the US “Islamist” has been a synonym for everything diabolical and nightmarish in the American imagination—after all, it was not so long ago that American diplomats won’t supposed to even meet with them. Islamists were only acceptable to the extent that they could be covertly funded to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, or perhaps used to agitate against secular nationalists—Islamists were, in other words, to be used in an imperial game of divide and conquer, but weren’t people you would actually sit down and talk to.
Americans typically associate Islamism with Iran, where religion is ensconced in the state. But the new Islamists of Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt are in a completely different league, because they operate in democracies driven by a separation of political powers.
They have created a dynamic new form of political Islam expressing itself through electoral parties in multi-party democracies, ensuring the peaceful transfer of power through recurring elections. They are Islamist, but adapted to the social needs of different Muslim-majority countries at this particular historical moment. What this means, pragmatically, is that when people elect an Islamic party to office, they can turn that same party out of office at the next election if they feel it hasn’t performed well.
Interestingly, these popular parties are not only in a position to initiate domestic reforms, but have also offered dynamic leadership of issues deeply felt by Muslims around the world. Nobody personifies this better than Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the 25th Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey. The former semi-pro footballer leads the Justice and Development Party (AKP), an Islamic party that holds a strong majority of seats in the Grand National Assembly. The AKP, while conservative on social issues, has supported broadly-defined social justice issues. Erdoğan’s party brought inflation under control and reduced interest rates, raised per capita incomes, gave supremacy of the European Court of Human Rights over Turkish courts, brought more women into the Assembly than before, and struck down many restrictions on freedom of the press. He also negotiated an end to the conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
But it was Erdoğan’s leadership on the world stage that has inspired Muslims most, such as when he confronted Israel’s Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland in 2009. The session was moderated by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius—who, like most housebroken US journalists, well understood that part of his job is to defer to the Israelis. He allowed Peres to loudly and provocatively defend Israel’s role in the Gaza conflict for 25 minutes, but didn’t even allow Erdoğan the nominal 12-15 minutes he was supposed to have. Furthermore, some of the Europeans present applauded Peres’ defense of the massacre in which 1300 people in Gaza died.
"I find it very sad that people applaud what you have said because you know how to kill people," Erdoğan maintained. As the moderator tried to silence him, Erdoğan rose to full height. "I do not think I will be coming back to Davos after this because you do not let me speak!" Erdoğan shouted before marching off the stage. Erdoğan’s gutsy rejection of European hypocrisy resonated with Muslims around the world. The way Erdoğan was treated seemed to Muslims to be simply one more instance in which defenders of Israel are given respect and preference in the West while Palestinians continue to die.
There was even more Muslim support for Erdoğan’s next bold move, which was sponsorship of a “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” of Turkish ships with humanitarian supplies for the people of Gaza. Since they were in international waters when the Israelis proposed to board the ships, 40 activists on the Mavi Marmara resisted. Nine passengers were killed, and a United Nations Human Rights Council investigation found that six were victims of “summary execution” by the Israeli commandoes. Erdoğan broke off relations with the Israelis and ended all diplomatic and military agreements with them.
Thus when Erdoğan made his first diplomatic visit to Egypt on 12 September 2011, Egyptians were ecstatic. Even though he arrived at midnight, thousands of Egyptians turned out waving Egyptian flags. He was publicly honored by many organizations, including by the Egyptian Revolutionary Youth Union, which was pivotal in calling out the first big demonstration on January 25, 2011. At least one of the newly licensed Islamic parties (the Islamist Wasat Party) cites Turkey under Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan as what they would like to see in Egypt.
Of course, the largest Islamist group in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood, which quickly moved to set up its political party, the Freedom and Justice Party. Interestingly, its Vice-President, Rafik Habib, is a Christian. (The Party is based on Islamic law, but set up to appeal to a much wider constituency than would normally support the Brothers.) The Party has pointedly made it clear that it will be open to all Egyptians who accept its political program, including Christians—which could mean that it may be more likely to accept electoral and legislative coalition with non-Salifi parties than Salifi ones.
The An-Nahdah party in Tunisia, another Islamist party with a modern democratic orientation, is similar. In the run-up to the Tunisian election it promised to support women’s rights and respect Tunisia’s strong tradition of secularism. An-Nahdah, like many Islamists in Egypt, also compared itself to Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party, committed to democracy and social justice but essentially pragmatic. “It will be a broad national government,” promised Said Ferjani, from An-Nahdah’s political bureau.
These dynamic Islamists have battled their way through mainly non-violent revolutions to stand for election, and have won the day. Once in power, they have often shown more willingness than some secular parties to protect the values of electoral democracy. Their parties seamlessly combine democratic values at their best, with Islam at its most pragmatic. But have not Muslim thinkers been telling the West that this is possible for decades? The real question is not about Islam, but about the West. Will it recognize the legitimacy of democracy in Muslim-majority countries by respecting the Islamists elected by the voters? The old imperial game of talking democracy while imposing tyrants is over in the Middle East. If America really supports democracy, it must respect the concerns of the Arab majority by listening to the people they elected. –30-
Umar bin al-Khattab (ra) relates that: “I heard Rasulullah (saw) saying, “Verily actions are by intentions, and for every person is what he intended…”(Bukhari; Muslim)
In a hadith Qudsi, the Prophet (saw) tells us that Allah (swt) said, “And My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more loved to Me than the religious duties I have obligated upon him. And My servant continues to draw near to me with nawaafil (extra good) deeds until I Love him. When I Love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, and his sight with which he sees, and his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him; and were he to seek refuge with Me, I would surely grant him refuge.” (Bukhari)
Ibn Al-Qayyim said, “Those who are the closest to Allah are the ones who have their Mubaah (allowed acts like sleep) turned into acts of worship and into a means of approach to Allah, on account of their good Niyyah. They no longer have a Mubaah that is equal on both sides (where doing or abandoning it are the same). All their deeds are leaning to one side, (that is, they always gain a reward).”
The first thing we need to do in preparing for the month of Ramadan is renewing our intentions, yes all the way from now! One of my teachers in Egypt had mentioned to me that the companions in order to increase the amount of reward they would get for a single good deed, would compete in seeing who can come up with the most amount of good intentions for that deed. Our practical tip for the day in renewing our intentions is two-fold:
The first part is to make a list of all that you want to accomplish in Ramadan.
This includes doing acts that are obligatory, recommended, and allowed as well as staying away from discouraged and prohibited acts. This list should cover every aspect of your life: your spiritual relationship with Allah, your knowledge, your activism and volunteering in teamwork in the community, your relationships (family, bonds of brotherhood, sisterhood, your neighbors, etc.), your speech and character, your career, your finances, everything. And think about making each goal something you seek sincerely for Allah (swt)’s pleasure. Make your goals challenging but within reach. If they are too easy you will take them for granted and if they are too difficult then they may discourage you. It has to be doable for you.
After you make your list, spend a few minutes making dua that Allah (swt) grants you success in achieving each and every intended act, and in achieving sincerity in them all. Give yourself at least 15-20 minutes for this tip! Also keep in mind, some of the goals you have will be covered in our Count-Down, and some won’t be. Try to practice in a gradual way the goals you have set for yourself all throughout the Count-Down days, and as such you will have habituated your soul on the good action even before entering Ramadan insha Allah!
The second part is something you can practice today and continue practicing during the count-down. That is try to renew your intention for everything you have to do today as many times as possible.
When you eat, seek Allah’s pleasure by intending to gain energy through the food in order to serve Him better. When you sit down at the internet, seek to gain or deliver beneficial knowledge that would draw you and others closer to Him (swt). When you send an email, seek to increase your bonds of ukhuwwah and better the relationship with the other person for the sake of Allah (swt). When you pray, seek to have the most concentration in order to increase the reward of that prayer, etc. etc. etc.
You will find, insha Allah—the more you renew your intentions, the better each act becomes, and the more blessings you find in them. Even chores will have a sweetness to complete when the remembrance of Allah (swt) is present in the heart. You will find that just by renewing your intentions constantly, you will also find yourself speaking to Him more and making more dua. Remember and rejoice in Allah’s Generosity! There is reward and Allah’s pleasure just in having good intentions, even if we were not able to accomplish the specific actions we wanted!
In a hadith Qudsi, the Prophet (saw) mentioned, “he who has intended a good deed and has not done it, Allah (swt) writes it down with Himself as a full good deed; but if he has intended it and has done it, Allah (swt) writes it down with Himself as from ten good deeds to seven hundred times, or many times over. But if he has intended a bad deed and has not done it, Allah (swt) writes it down with Himself as a full good deed, but if he has intended it and has done it, Allah (swt) writes it down as one bad deed. (Bukhari and Muslim)
May Allah (swt) bless both the quantity and quality of our intentions, and grant us success in them in this life and in the hereafter. Ameen.