By Navida Sayed, London, UK
News about virus outbreaks resulting in major global pandemics always raises alarm and concern, Zika being the latest to hit the headlines. The current global IT and digital networks connecting the cyber world are also witnessing the rise of malicious software and Internet security threats. Other than biological and technical viruses, which most people are aware of, something else is lurking around. The latest newly emerging uncontained virus, without immunity or a cure in sight, is highly contagious and rapidly spiralling out of control contaminating vast parts of the population around the world – the media virus against Islam.
In the recent months, the world has witnessed a wave of atrocious, barbaric, terrorist attacks carried out wrongly in the name of Islam. Leading media outlets are cognizant of the fact that terrorists have nothing to do with Islam, yet their skewed negative media coverage against Islam acts as a powerful catalyst in promoting fear and feuds. The degree of antagonism and hatred against Muslims, as a result of bad press, has arguably reached new heights and peak negativity.
During any catastrophic incident, facts are often obscured by perceptions, but the assumptions and connections with Islam are distorted and blown out of proportion. The words Islamism, ‘Islamists, and Islamic terrorism, instantly diffuse via media outlets sparking anger, grief, fear, anxiety and hatred. These terms are innovations of the mass media and not mentioned anywhere in the Quran. The religion is Islam, and the followers are Muslims.
The impact of the media virus against Islam is affecting people from all walks of life to the extent where individuals instantly react without a pause for thought. Social media such as Twitter and Facebook is laden with hundreds of concoctions of racist, abusive, derogatory comments against Islam. The negative and offensive comments are shared across the board by enraged individuals who believe they have mastered the teachings of Islam; clearly and evidently they don’t know the first thing about Islam, and they are driven purely by negative media content about Islam.
The media virus feeds off the extremists by giving them the platform they are pining for; at the same time in the rat race to sell their story, the media create chaos and panic in society often resulting in knee jerk reactions by many individuals. The most detrimental impact of the media virus has affected the most vulnerable people in society, and the world is witness to the fact that nearly all of the terrorist attacks committed in recent times were by individuals who hardly practiced Islam. The perpetrators of the attacks were persons going through some life crisis and angered by their situation, by individuals under the influence of drugs and alcohol or by people with a history of mental illness.
Sensationalism in journalism has always existed, but the irony is that now almost every media outlet reporter thinks he or she is an expert on Islam, featuring sensationalistic headlines and articles randomly citing cherry-picked verses or writing about topics without any knowledge or insight. Such reporters are not an authority on Islam but claim undisputedly accurate opinions about the faith. They recklessly report inaccurate facts and are responsible for inciting and instigating hate crimes, only to attract readers and increase sales.
The way to defeat the so-called Jihadists is not to fall prey to their motives for creating disorder and chaos in the world which is what we are witnessing as a story in the media is picked up by multiple sources, and the hatred amplifies across the board. The media virus propaganda and sensationalized negative accounts about Islam presented as truth and breaking news will damage society by creating great divisions and barriers.
Journalists need to take responsibility in combating extremism, not add fuel to the fire and cause unrest in society. They should be unbiased in an attempt to bring about incremental positive change to make the world a better place. Journalists and reporters have a duty towards the information they present to the public bearing their well being in mind.
Both biological viruses and cyber attacks on a global or minute scale are dealt with extreme efficiency and speed. Likewise, the media virus against Islam is also in need of a cure and immunity to contain it quickly so that the media world can focus on dealing with the real deadly threat of extremism in the world. The best way to defeat extremism is to stand united against it.
The worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Fifth Khalifa, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, said:
“The early Muslims were only ever permitted to raise their swords in a defensive war when the opponents themselves physically raised their swords in an effort to eliminate Islam. However, in this era religious wars are not being physically fought against Islam but rather the media is being used to attack Islam and to misrepresent it. Thus, we must ourselves use the media to counter these attacks and inform the world of the true teachings of Islam.”
Regardless of the surge of hatred against Islam, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community continues with its efforts to promote peace and counter extremism. Recently it held its 50th Annual Convention (the Jalsa Salana) – an annual international conference of a community, which encourages interfaith dialogue, advocates peace, tolerance, love and understanding among followers of different faiths. Our community firmly believes in and acts upon the Qur’anic teaching: “There is no compulsion in religion.” (2:257) We firmly reject violence and terrorism. More than 38,000 from 107 countries attended the three-day International event in the suburbs of Hampshire. It was is not only a platform against extremism based on a jihad of love and not a jihad of the sword, but also a deeply spiritual and inspirational experience in an atmosphere, which radiated the tranquillity of love and message of peace. Therein lies a cure for many ills of today.