We cannot imagine the world today or public opinion without the media. The power and influence of the media is beyond our imagination. Every group, every representative of any thought or interest, seeks to express or make public their ideas through the mass media; without it, it would be almost impossible to make any form of communication with society or with the rest of the world.
Communication through the mass media is not only vital, it is inevitable. Nevertheless, as for many of the other concepts of this era, living with the media, relying on the media, and "using" the media all pose an intricate set of problems which have already become an issue often discussed by specialists and forums. What if these debates were to be joined with the Islamic way of life and taken from an Islamic perspective? It would become a maze.
To speak in general, there is one of three motives behind use of the media by Islamic groups: to offer an alternative to those who have already dominated the international or national media, to propagate the Islamic discourse and to defend against the prejudices, assaults and denigration that the Western media often makes against Islam.
It can be said that the Islamic media raises the bar every day. Starting with Islamic newspapers and radios, formally only a few, there are thousands of Islamic TV channels broadcasting all over the world, in addition to the print media.
However, it is clear that one of the main problems in the relationship between Islam and the media is the problem of misconception and distortion of news about Islam or Muslims. For instance, it has become commonplace in the media that every Muslim is a terrorist and every terrorist is a Muslim. The stereotypes created, particularly in the Western media, and thus in the minds of people, are full of violence and extremism. Whereas Islam is the fastest growing religion in the West, it has also become the most complicated phenomenon in the public mind due to the complexity of the concepts and the misconceptions of the media. An example of this kind of misconception is that the Western media and some historians often claim that Islam is a religion that was spread by the sword, meaning that Muslims went from one end of the world to the other, forcing people to either convert or die. And since the majority of the American public only receives their information about Islam through the media, they accept this idea as true. This is how Islam has been presented as a menace or a threat to the Western communities.(1) Edward Said's book, Covering Islam, talks about how the media and experts determine how we see the rest of the world. In it he says that:
The term Islam as it is used today seems to mean one simple thing, but in fact is part fiction, part ideological label, part minimal designation of a religion called Islam. Today Islam is peculiarly traumatic news in the West. During the past few years, especially since events in Iran caught European and American attention so strongly, the media have therefore covered Islam: they have portrayed it, characterized it, analyzed it, given instant courses on it, and consequently they have made it known. But this coverage is misleadingly full, and a great deal in this energetic coverage is based on far from objective material. In many instances Islam has licensed not only patent inaccuracy, but also expressions of unrestrained ethnocentrism, cultural, and even racial hatred, deep yet paradoxically free-floating hostility." (2)
Apart from the qualifications and misconceptions about Islamic stereotypes, another and even more serious problem faces us; that is, not only the distortion of the facts, but also the humiliation of Islam and the Muslims. The depictions of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the Danish cartoon crisis are surely the best example for this. How this event mobilized millions of Muslims all over the world and aroused so many different kinds of reactions among other beliefs and religions shows us the immense power that the media can use over people.
Of course, the creation of stereotypes is not something new; however, considering the power and influence that the media has reached today people are now thinking of developing some kind of "counter-media" that would be responsible for repudiating these stereotypes and misconceptions about Islam and Muslims. On the other hand, some Western journalists object to the statement made by Muslims that the Western media continuously assaults and distorts the news about Islam. According to Klemens Ludwig from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, many of these arguments are far from being factual and in many programs and news bulletins in the European media, and particularly in Germany there is an increasing level of tolerance, which should be analyzed thoroughly. He gives some examples of specific programs that have been prepared for the Muslim populations in Germany like "Friday Talks" on ZDF or "Islamic Khutba" on Südwest Rundfunk SWR. (3) But of course it would not be realistic to draw a picture of a media that is optimistic and tolerant media towards Islam and the Muslims. Here at Lastprophet.info, we will try to put forward a more specified account about the relations between Islam and the media, since the subject merits thorough evaluation and discussion.