Dr. Rodziana Mohamed Razali
Dr. Rodziana Mohamed RazaliPensyarah Fakulti Syariah dan Undang-undang

Online or offline, negative images of Muslims and stories that fuel anti-Muslim rhetoric and prejudices in media reporting continue to reinforce a deeper polarisation and clash of civilisations in the societies. From the era of the Iranian revolution, the depiction of Islam and Muslims has been altered, shifting the news writing and reporting paradigm from one that was simpler and non-political to another that became rather more ideological. The changed pattern was to a considerable degree generated by the growing realisation of the possible attainment of the ideal of an Islamic state and its political structures. Indeed, since the 1970’s, Muslims have expressed disapprovals over how the media under-represent and misrepresent them through their biased narratives.

Coverage of Islam-related news and stories post 9/11 represent another phase of overwhelming demonisation and stereotyping of Muslims and their religion, emboldening the already negative perception against “the others”. A research by Cardiff University backs this assertion when it revealed that two-thirds of newspaper articles post 9/11 concentrated on stories of terrorism. News and stories have been inundated on a daily basis with terrorism and Islamophobia-related lexicon, notably ‘radicalism’, ‘jihadists’ and ‘Islamists’ to name a few. (Imran Awan, Special for CNN, 31 July 2017). The long-standing bias against Muslims has been more entrenched in the era of Trump and European populism, with displaced and diasporic Muslims fueling the semantics of threat of Islam to the West.

The keynote address by Professor Datuk Dr. Ahmad Murad Merican from the Centre of Policy Research and International Studies of Universiti Sains Malaysia at the recent International Conference on Islamic Media and Communications organised by Faculty of Leadership and Management of USIM from 8-9 August 2017 was highly reflective and thought provoking. The speaker invites a deeper rethinking and reconstruction of how communication and media are studied and practiced, drawing its relevance to the engagement of Muslims with the subject of misrepresentation of their identity in the media.

The central argument put forward was that, the underlying source of ideas and philosophy in the field of communications premised on secularism and its compatibility with the worldview of religion has been somewhat abandoned, let alone challenged by Muslim scholars. The Westernised and Euro-centric historical origin that has shaped and drawn the broader paradigm of modern social science including the nature and science of reportage has not been rigorously investigated and understood at the academic level in a positive way. This conceptual and philosophical issue must not be underplayed and ought to be dealt with since the transcendent nature of religion and sacred space underlying much of the debates on Islam and Muslim does not fit into such time-space bound traditional structures of outlook and public sphere.

There is a profound need especially for Muslim scholars and academic institutions to critically revisit how communications as a field, and its overarching discipline of social science, derive their perspectives and intellectual legitimacy in their syllabi. Dialogues to produce fresh and renewed thoughts and actions in countering the negative and often toxic portrayal of Islam and Muslims in today’s media will benefit from strong consciousness and understanding of our intellectuals, students and practitioners of the need to liberate themselves from this ‘default’ environment and tenets that have long been defined by another society and system, one that positions religion and religious dimension beyond the remit of politics and democratic values.