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Dawah and Interfaith

Muslims on TV

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News, documentaries, drama and even comedy; it seems that TV producers cannot get enough of us these days. Programmes like “The Muslim Jesus“, and – dare i say it – “Little Mosque on the Prairie” have been a breath of fresh air in comparison to the mostly negative attention our community has been receiving, usually centered around the subject of war and terrorism. But don’t the veterans of Hollywood swear by the catchphrase: “all publicity is good publicity”?

In contrast, it is clear from our reactions that the Muslim community much prefers the catchphrase: “no news is good news”. Like most ordinary folk, we don’t wish to be subjected to the intrusive, and often distortive, camera lens of broadcast media. We just want to be left alone, to live our lives in peaceful obscurity…

Well, my fellow brothers and sisters… it’s time to face facts. We’ve been put on a mission by Allah – whether we accept it or not – to let the world know about Islam, in whatever way we can. And for this reason alone, we need to start getting media savvy, in order to turn all this free press to our advantage.

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On this note, I have recently been made aware of a programme that is scheduled for release on Channel 4 at some point next year, about the role of the Qur’an in the lives of British Muslims. At present, no-one really knows the exact nature of the documentary. Though we hope it will deliver a positive message about the relevance of Qur’anic guidance in the present day, we should know better by now that the warm and fuzzies rarely cause viewer ratings to soar, thus we must prepare ourselves for the “worst”. I say “worst” because a negative message needn’t be the end of the world, as if we prepare ourselves for it adequately, it could actually be a great opportunity to reach out to the wider community.

Below is an action plan that may help your local community, wherever you are based in the world, to prepare for future Muslim/Islam-related programmes, insha’Allah. Whether the reaction to the show is positive or negative, preparation is key:

1) Find out the subject matter of the programme, and prepare suitable da’wah materials, e.g., for the Qur’an show, copies of translated Qur’ans, and booklets targeted at a non-Muslim audience. Ensure your local library has a few copies too; donate spares if they accept them.

2) The programme may spark a lot of debate, especially if it is controversial; arranging an open forum while it is a “hot topic”, will help to answer any questions, or tackle any misrepresentation, while you have the attention of the public. Scholars or other speakers will require some notice for this, so find out in advance the exact date the show is due to be aired; do not hurriedly arrange something the day after.

3) Ask the broadcaster for an advance preview of the show, to ensure you are fully prepared for any potential backlash. However, i have to say that i get a little annoyed with reading negative comments from community leaders when they are asked for opinions prior to the airing of a controversial show; it makes us sound whiny! I’d rather they say something like: “this show raises important topics, which require further discussion. For this reason, we are holding an open forum on [insert date and location here], and have set up a special hotline for people to ask any questions that they may have” – or something to that effect. It is definitely a stronger message, and i believe will achieve a lot more than playing the “victim” role, insha’Allah.

4) An even more daring plan would be to hold an event where members of the public can watch the programme “live” as it is broadcast, and then arrange for some talks, and a Q&A session afterwards. I believe such a proactive step would show that we are not afraid of a little live debate. However, ensure that the people who are invited to speak have the skills to deliver good talks with little preparation. Of course, this is where the advanced preview would really help!

5) The programme may be picked up by other media outlets, such as the daily newspapers and radio stations. Contact your local media and help them to reach the people that can give the most knowledgable answers. Don’t let ignorant people do the talking for us.

6) The youth are the most open to the vibrant message of Islam, and often have the best questions; involve local schools and youth groups, such as the Scouts, in any activities that you plan.

If you have any more suggestions, please plunk them in the comments section below.

Such preparation should be carried out at both the local and national level – so work with your local imam, student association, da’wah org, etc, as well as national Muslim bodies, such as the Muslim Council of Britain, who may have better resources and more sway with the press.

Ideally, in the long-term, we need to start thinking about how we can actually get into the media itself; that is, rather than being talked about and then having to respond, why not do the talking to begin with? YouTube and other such public-access media outlets are a great way to get the message out with little expense, and the establishment of the Islam Channel in the UK has been a real blessing for British Muslims. However, i imagine that 99.9% of the viewers of the Islam Channel are already Muslim! So we still need to get our feet in the doors of mainstream media, in order to better communicate with our non-Muslim neighbours. I believe that this is where the next generation of Muslims in the West will really come into their own, insha’Allah. At least, they will if we – their parents – truly realise the need for more diversity when it comes to careers options: Medicine, Law, Engineering and Accounting are not the only courses available at university!

We can really take lesson from The Reminder series, by Ummah Films – from a few dozen hits on YouTube, to being broadcast on TV channels around the world, all in a few months, masha’Allah, and with a good following from both Muslims and non-Muslims alike – initiatives such as these are what will help us to start setting our own agenda in the media, and help the World to get to know Islam a little better, with the help of Allah.

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Dr Mehzabeen b. Ibrahim joined MuslimMatters as a blogger in late 2007 under the handle 'iMuslim', whilst still a struggling grad student. Since then, she has attained a PhD in Molecular Biology and a subsequent Masters in Bioinformatics, and now works as a specialist in this field for a well-known British, medical charity, masha'Allah. Somewhere in between she found the time to get married, alhamdulillah. She likes to dabble in photo and videography, a sample of which can be found on her personal blog: iMuslim.tv.

26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. iMuslim

    November 16, 2007 at 11:32 AM

    Other than Ummah Films, does anyone know of any other Muslim media production companies that operate in the West?

  2. Ruth Nasrullah

    November 16, 2007 at 12:27 PM

    Unity Productions Foundation (http://www.upf.tv/upf06/Home/tabid/223/Default.aspx) comes to mind.

  3. Pingback: Muslims on TV « iMuslim

  4. Dawud Israel

    November 16, 2007 at 12:51 PM

    Well in the age where Youtube was TIMES Man of the Year I would encourage EVERYONE to get into Viral Islamic video. Ummah Films is something small and realistically anyone can do it. And since we Muslims love piracy, why not produce your own material rather than sit around and wait for some kaffir to do it for you ?

    Ummah Films WANTS MORE Muslim Film-makers.

    JOIN:
    http://ummahfilms.com/forums/

    *sorry for the plug *

  5. MR

    November 16, 2007 at 1:06 PM

  6. iMuslim

    November 16, 2007 at 3:27 PM

    Jazakallah, sis Ruth. :)

    Dawud: YT is definitely an important Da’wah tool, but it is not going to stop non-Muslims making programmes about us… so we need to think about mainstream media too. At the end of the day, i believe mainstream TV is always going to be taken more seriously than public access media, because it has more credibility with the viewing audience. It is the same with newspapers vs blogs… print media will win out, because they are perceived as being more “professional”.
    This may change in the coming generations, but for our generation, we cannot completely rely on the internet to get the message out.

    MR: i didn’t forget – i didn’t know! ;)

  7. iMuslim

    November 16, 2007 at 3:34 PM

    Just to clarify, the aim of this post was to encourage Muslims to take action wrt the attention we receive in the mainstream media.

    Rather than sit around and wait for these programmes to air, and then – as we Brits like to say – “get our knickers in a twist”, we should plan ahead so as to make the most of the publicity.

    So if anyone has any more suggestions as to how this can be done, please share them here… :)

  8. Sis Shaykha

    November 16, 2007 at 7:54 PM

    Asalaamu Alaaikum,

    Yes I agree we should get into the media world. Education is the key. Americans are so ignorant of Islam. Do you know even my College Professors, who are “educated” make such erroneous statements/claims about Islam & Muslims (to the class!). That is because even these folks get their education about islam via the media.

    And with all due respect, shows like Little House on the Praire just aren’t going to cut it. To me, these shows are centered around trying to get the west to accept us, through any means, even haraam. The director/producer of the show should really work at relaying correct information to the non muslim and muslim viewers.

    But yes insha’Allah we need more Islamic channels, sites, shows and papers (that give the correct information and in adherence with Sharia) so that we can make dawah to the non muslims and muslims, here and abroad.

    This is one of the projects that we need to channel, contribute our time, effort and money to.

    Wa’alaykum Asalaam

  9. Moiez

    November 16, 2007 at 11:18 PM

    A sister in Maryland started this tv production thing I tried to volunteer for it but the distance between us put me at a disadvantage but anyways its called
    Z Productions the sisters name is Zarinah Shakir she gave me her card and her email address if anyone lives in Maryland close to the UMBC area can hook up with this sister and maybe get involved, If you want more info I have her address and phone number

  10. Moiez

    November 16, 2007 at 11:19 PM

    Actually she is in Washington D.C too

  11. Amir

    November 17, 2007 at 12:52 AM

    Don’t forget NEW documentary about “Muslims in Australia” – trailer and clips available here http://www.muslimsinaustralia.com

  12. Manas Shaikh

    November 17, 2007 at 1:32 AM

    Hopefully more programs, then whole TV, from Muslims.

  13. iMuslim

    November 17, 2007 at 10:04 AM

    Assalamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah

    Sis Shaykha: i’ve only watched two of the LMotP episodes, both which left a funny taste in my mouth! Insha’allah, at the least i hope it will inspire other Muslims to see if they can do better, in a manner more pleasing to Allah az-Wajal.

    Moiez: Jazakallah for the info! I hope readers living in the area volunteer. I personally love TV & film work – a really fun way to earn some good deeds, insha’Allah! :)

    Amir: Wow, that documentary looks FAB, masha’Allah… we need to publicise that one asap!

    Manas: Insha’Allah! The key is to make programmes suitable for everyone, not just Muslims. Provide some real family entertainment! :)

  14. Moiez

    November 17, 2007 at 2:05 PM

    I dont think anybody doesnt love TV and Film Work

  15. A Student

    November 17, 2007 at 9:28 PM

  16. Shirien

    November 17, 2007 at 11:59 PM

  17. aisha shisha

    November 18, 2007 at 12:57 PM

    Salaams –
    Do check out our web based tv programme – muslimcafe.tv – sign up and leave comments , better still get in touch and you can be on the programme .
    Gazelle Media is an Independant production company and we produce programmes for the BBC and C4 – all staff have mainstream broadcasting experience – but we are NOT a ‘Muslim’ company – just BRITISH …

  18. sincethestorm

    November 18, 2007 at 10:18 PM

    The show Aliens in America is not as bad as Little Mosque on the Prairie. Let’s face it nothing is going to be perfect but I was happy to see a footage of the prayer in the show Aliens in America. At least, the next time Muslims pray in public, people will not be afraid and alert authorities.

  19. iMuslim

    November 19, 2007 at 12:05 PM

    Jazakallah khair everyone for the links! :)

    Sincethestorm: a great point you have made. Every little helps!

  20. AnonyMouse

    November 19, 2007 at 2:58 PM

    A great post, especially the suggestions on what to do whenever programmes like the one you mentioned are coming up.

    However, I have to say that while they ARE great ideas, I’m somewhat doubtful about how well it’ll turn out… or if they’ll actually work. Sadly, I speak from experience (well, second-hand experience): the media once approached my father for interviews on “controversial subjects” and he agreed on the conditions that they do NOT cut and paste (for purposes of length and clarity, he agreed with, but he was concerned about being taken out of context), that he be allowed to discuss Tawheed as the basis of Islam before tackling the other subjects, and some other things I don’t recall at the moment.
    They never called back.

    The sad thing is that while some of them may ACT as though they care about ‘showing the other side of the story,’ very few (if any) of them will actually give us the freedom to express ourselves properly. They want to have the upper hand at all times, and rarely will they fully cooperate to help us out.

    I know, I sound like a cynic (which I hate, because I love clinging to my idealism) but everyday it becomes more obvious that the majority of them have an unfriendly (to us) agenda of their own and those who ARE willing to help us out in an unbiased way are very few indeed.
    :(

  21. iMuslim

    November 20, 2007 at 7:30 AM

    Hey Mousey :)

    Your comments are true, but most of the ideas listed in the entry – in fact, 5 out of 6 – don’t actually involve the media… they are responses to programme that should be carried out within the community, and so should work, insha’Allah, with enough effort.

    Getting into the media itself is a long-term aim… no overnight fixes, i’m afraid. :/

  22. ruth nasrullah

    November 20, 2007 at 9:50 AM

    AnonyMouse, you make good points, but I would argue that in order to be truly objective, reporters can’t allow interview subjects to dictate the content of a news report. After all, I wouldn’t want an Islam-hater to be able to set guidelines for his interview or how it’s reported.

    Objectivity in reporting helps level the playing field, and establishing that standard requires that everyone support it even if it means taking a risk.

    I think there’s a great value in maintaining a proactive relationship with your local reporters. Developing yourself as a source is one of the best ways to help promote more positive reporting on Muslims, and to do it without trying to manipulate the press.

    That’s true at least with print media; I admit I know next to nothing about broadcast journalism.

  23. AnonyMouse

    November 20, 2007 at 1:05 PM

    Oops, my mistake, iMuslim!

    @ Ruth
    Theoretically, I agree with you. But after seeing what’s happened on numerous occasions – with both print media and broadcast journalism – I’m afraid I have little trust in them.
    It’s just that I’ve seen, far too many times, how a totally innocent interview can turn into something used to vilify the interviewee and his/her opinions/ beliefs.

    When “objectivity” is used as just another word to mean “we’ll say whatever we want against you and you can’t do a single thing about it because we’re being OBJECTIVE,” then I truly feel as though the main reason for journalism has been lost :(

  24. Moiez

    November 21, 2007 at 2:31 PM

    I was just talking to my mother about the media issue. The conclusion I came to was we either find those few media outlets that are fair and join them or create our own. More realistically we should make an effort to find the ‘just’ media outlet and begin to integrate with them kind of like when the muslims when to Anajashi who treated them fairly.

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