By Nader Nasr
Time Magazine recently released a segment they called, “Top Ten Worst-Dressed World Leaders.” In it, they feature such word leaders like Kim Jong Il, the current leader of North Korea, Vladimir Putin, the current leader of Russia, Mahmoud Ahmadinejan, the current leader of Iran, Hugo Chavez, the current leader of Venezuela, and Mao Zedong, the former leader of China. What do all of these rulers have in common with each other? They are all enemies of the United States and its allies. Thus, when attacking the policies of these leaders did not seem satisfying anymore, the American media turned their attention to the way these leaders dressed. Pathetic, right? Actually, it is pretty ingenious. With the rising focus on superficiality and the way a person looks, a segment like this greatly attracts people of such a culture and leads them to conclude that these world leaders are lame because they do not dress as slick as President Obama.
But how does this relate to Muslims? The segment by Time Magazine serves to show how powerful propaganda still is, but furthermore, how surreptitious and simple it has become. In the media of today, Muslims are greatly affected by this type of propaganda. For example, if a young male was to commit a crime like theft or murder, and he happened to be a Muslim, the media simply includes the fact that he is Muslim when informing their viewers. However, if a non-Muslim was to commit the same crime, they will not include his religion, whatever it may be. Why is this? To answer such a question, we must examine the type of viewers of the media.
Among the audience, there are viewers who have absolutely no knowledge of Islam. How would they interpret such a news report? If we compare it to other similar news stories like a young Caucasian, Black, or Asian male committed robbery or murder, then we see that such viewers would most likely conclude that Muslim is a race and Islam is a country. For the person who has no knowledge of Islam, this is a very fair assumption, because it is extremely common for people who commit crimes to be identified by their race and not by their religion. In fact, a Muslim who gives dawah will bear witness to this phenomenon, as da’ees have come across countless people who believed Islam to be a country and not a religion.
There are also the viewers who are familiar with Islam as a religion, but are not Muslims. How would they interpret such a news report? For them, if they are not too well educated in Islam, such a news report might suggest that Islam was the reason why these people committed such crimes or Islam teaches hate. It is here where the propaganda impacts the Muslim most, as this propaganda directs the viewer to the wrong sources for learning about Islam—the sources which have been put together by organized anti-Islamic movements.
These movements are a burden to the Ummah as they provide completely false and made up stories about Islam. The origin of these movements date back to the time of the Prophet (PBUH), but over the course of history, they have grown larger and more influential. The Orientalist movement since the Middle Ages has been the main source of false information and misinterpretations of many teachings of Islam, and unfortunately, it is extensively studied by Western cultures. They alone, are the reason for the disgusting allegations made against our beloved Prophet (PBUH), as well as the reason why many verses in the Holy Qur’an have been taken out of context to suggest that Muslims want to kill everybody. These anti-Islamic organizations, feeding off of Orientalist teachings, have gained more power, especially after 9/11. The American media is a reflection of these organizations and their motives. When George W. Bush launched his so-called “War on Terrorism,” it was actually the “War on Islam,” but the media headlined it, repeatedly, as what Bush called it. Thus, if we put the Orientalist teachings together with the anti-Islamic organizations and American media’s “War on Terrorism” and viewers who are not too well-informed about Islam, then we have ourselves a very elaborate and dangerous threat to all Muslims.
Take, for example, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict which has been raging for over 60 years. Why has it not ended yet, when there is a surplus of evidence to reveal that there is genocide, oppression, and injustice taking place against the Palestinian people? Taking a look at the way American media reports this conflict to its viewers, we understand the answer. News stations like ABC, CNN, NBC, and Fox News have all headlined this conflict as “Israel’s War against Terror,” and they have been able to succeed with this because they claim that the Palestinian freedom fighters, who fight for their land and their people are actually taught in the Qur’an to hate Jews and to try to kill all of them. The same pattern exists for countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. Part of the reason why conflicts still rage on in these countries, is because the American media has delineated a picture that Muslims have a deep hatred for non-Muslims and want to wage jihad on all of them if they do not become Muslim, this includes America.
Allah (SWT) says in Surat As-Saf of the Qur’an, “Their intention is to extinguish the light of Allah with their mouths. But Allah will complete His light, even though the disbelievers hate it” (61:8). From this verse, we know that the true light of Islam will soon prevail, but how will it do so, when our Ummah sits back and watches Allah (SWT), Muhammad (PBUH), Islam, and its followers all get attacked? Allah also says in Surat Ra’d, “Verily never will Allah change a condition of a people, until they change what is within their souls (13:11). We must take action and defend our deen and help spread the true message, but this does not mean to get furious and wildly attack people who attack Islam. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) taught us to respond to evil with something that is good. Hence, it is our job, first and foremost, to educate ourselves about our deen, to study the Qur’an, to study the ahadith, and to listen to lectures by Shuykh and Imams. After that, we should educate others about Allah (SWT), about Muhammad (PBUH), and about Islam. It is our job to correct any distortions made about Islam. If every Muslim was to take the time to do this, then no one would think Islam was a country, and no one would claim that Islam teaches hatred and violence. Even more, the wars plaguing our brothers and sisters in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other areas would become better understood and would potentially come to an end. Brothers and Sisters, this is a tough time for Muslims, but at the same time, it is a great blessing, for whoever helps in extinguishing such ignorance about Islam, is in store for unimaginable rewards by the Supreme, the Almighty, Allah.