Title: Muslims and the Threats of the Media
Author: Rasheed Abubakar
Publisher: Salsabil Publishers
Year of Publication: 2015
No of pages: 110
Reviewer: Mahfouz A. Adedimeji, Ph.D.
That Islam has faced several existential challenges since the advent of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) less than 1,500 years ago is a historical truism. Right from its inception, which can be extended farther till time of the father of faith, Prophet Ibrahim (AS), the various powers that be have always sought to extinguish “the light of Allah” through various forms of warfare physical, psychological, ideological and cultural. It is a stark reality of the 20th and 21s centuries that the more Islam survives the landmines placed in its way, the more its avowed enemies and global kufr hegemony become more creative and desperate to malign, threaten and attack it.
Of all the forms of warfare against the fastest growing religion in the world today, Islam, none has been as ruthlessly devastating and far-reaching as the psychological warfare. This type of warfare is otherwise known as the war of the mind and the weapons are sights (visual) and sound (audio) designed to mislead, distort, intimidate, demoralise, demonise and then dehumanise “the other”.
As victims of this and other forms of warfare, Islam is portrayed by the sight and sound of the media to distil narratives that are diametrically opposed to its spirit and letter till many are tempted to believe it as true. As the late Palestinian scholar, Prof. Edward Said, puts it in his well-acclaimed book from which I adapted the title of this review, Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine how we See the Rest of the World (1997), what the media do essentially by covering or reporting Islam is to cover it up from being seen. In other words, Islam is projected mainly as news and as all media practitioners know, bad news is good news. Thus, as far as truth of Islam and the situation of Muslims are concerned, the media are nothing more than “the barriers that block the truth” as the concept is defined by Stephen Littlejohn and Karen Foss in their Theories of Human Communication (2005).
Spurred by the passion to deconstruct contemporary media and challenge the dominant anti-Islamic narrative in the media, Rasheed Abubakar in his important book, “Muslims and the Threats of the Media” draws our attention to the importance of the media in shaping and distorting reality.
As a media practitioner and budding scholar, the strength of Rasheed Abubakar’s work lies in advancing the growing awareness about the significance of the media and advocating the need for Muslims to take their destiny in their own hands rather than wince and recoil, lament and react when they are maliciously maligned or viciously provoked.
Apart from contributing a big ring to the chain of works like those of such scholars as Edward Said, John Esposito and Noam Chomsky, who despite being non-Muslims have brilliantly sought to expose the media bias and hostility to Islam, the book serves as a wake-up call to heed the golden advice of the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello: “If you do not blow your trumpet, no one will blow it for you because others are busy blowing theirs”. What Abubakar says through the book is that Islamophobia will not abate if Muslims continue to disregard the media as a double-edged sword.
Generally, Muslims and the Threat of the Media is a compelling book that draws from far-reaching experiences of a researcher and practitioner who wishes to draw attention to the media infractions against Islam and Muslims. The beauty of the book lies in the fact that unlike other works of similar hues, the writer does not only identify the problems or lament the situation, he also provides a road map through which Muslims can liberate themselves from the oppressive claws of the media hawks whose stock-in-trade is to slam Islam and maul Muslims. In discussing the subject-matter, it is evident that the author feels concerned and troubled that the most of hogwash that goes for journalism are not challenged by Muslims who are victims of media caricatures, negative stereotyping and relentless bashing.
The book is compact and beautifully packaged. In its nine chapters that are written in a racy and readable style, Abubakar begins by defining what mass media is, drawing insights from scholars and experts. He traces the hostility of the media in Nigeria and its anti-Islamic fervor to its historical roots when a Christian missionary, Rev. Henry Townsend, started the first newspaper, Iwe Iroyin fun awon Egba ati Ijebu. As everything is shaped by its history, Abubakar suggests that the proverbial bent load of the cripple is traceable to the crooked legs. He thereby provides a context for the slant news coverage and unfair treatment meted out to Muslims in the media in Nigeria as a microcosm of the global society.
The first two chapters, “Mass Media and the Muslims” and “Media Threat and the Muslims”, highlight aspects of the challenges that media practitioners face and how Governments in Nigeria and beyond use, misuse and abuse the media to circumvent the will of the people with interesting insights. Apart from showing how Muslims are lagging behind in the important profession, the author also with copious examples shows how the media are used to promote indecency and attack Islam. The latter theme is advanced further in “Chapter Three” or “Intellectual Attack on Islam” where instances are given of publications (Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, G. J. O. Moshay’s Who is this Allah?, Isioma Daniel’s infamous This Day article as well as another anti-Islamic vitriol in The Guardian) that sought feels concerned and troubled that the most of hogwash that goes for journalism are not challenged by Muslims who are victims of media caricatures, negative stereotyping and relentless bashing.
In Chapters Four or “Portrayal of Muslims in Movies” Abubakar’s versatility as a journalist comes to the fore as he brilliantly surveys how the opponents of Islam use the screen to screen out Islam through their negative portrayals of Muslim characters. Copious examples are drawn from Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood to buttress the salient points he makes just as he canvasses a pro-active engagement with the screen, citing scholars’ opinions. It is a food for thought that while non-Muslims are responsible in other parts of the world in portraying Islam negatively, some Muslim actors and actresses in the Nigerian movie industry, even in the Yoruba genre, wittingly or unwittingly allow themselves to be dragged into such provocative titles the author provides as Basiratu Baseje, Aminatu Pa-pa-pa, Osanle Modinat, Sikiratu Sindodo, Jelili Oniso, Awalu and Awawu, among others which amount to Muslim character assassination.
The author, in Chapters Five and Six (“Free Speech and Islam Bashing: A Case of Prophet Muhammad Cartoons” and “For the Love of the Prophet”), also examines the “cartoon controversy” starting from 2005 and how the agents provocateur in some Western media houses succeeded in working up our emotions while suggesting the peaceful means through which Muslims can effectively counter such attacks. As every cloud has a silver lining, the gives instances of how Muslims demonstrate their love for their Prophet and the unexpected reversion of some observers into Islam.
The focus of Chapter Seven is “Extremism in Religion” in which the author argues that contrary to the impression given by the ubiquitous media, all religions have extremists while in Chapter Eight, “Media Control”, he advocates a regime where the media would not be free to stoke violence through their adherence to professional ethics and constitutional safeguards. One agrees with him that “if freedom is uncontrollable, it leads to destruction” and the freedom of the press should not be construed as freedom to disparage and demonise others. The last Chapter Nine provides “The Way Forward” as the author charts a road map for the Muslims. Readers will also find the icing on the cake in extracts from a presentation of the Secretary-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Prof. Is-haq Oloyede, provided by the author profound and thought-provoking.
Rasheed Abubakar has evidently done Muslims a world of good in his timely book. At a time that there is an unprecedented upsurge in the number of media houses springing up in Nigeria and the rest of the world, his message that Muslims cannot afford to be complacent or indifferent is right on target. The enormous power wielded by the media should be also be used by Muslims to advance their interests and promote their misunderstood religion. It is a book that Muslim media owners and professionals as well as students will find useful to guide and direct their practice. The author deserves our commendation for blending his knowledge of Islam with his media experience thereby providing us with religious, professional and academic vitamin.
This review will be incomplete without pointing out that this latest addition to our Islamic and media literature is not perfect. It is understandable that all perfection belongs to Allah. Apart from grammatical/ typographical slips that dot the book, which I will avail the author, some of the facts provided are not very accurate, a development that some peer-review exercise would have addressed. For instance, that Muslims started journalism (as stated on page 7) would be deemed inaccurate since journalism dates back to the Roman Republic especially around 131 BC when “Acta Diurna” (meaning Daily Acts or Daily Public Records) were released to keep the citizens abreast of daily events. The next edition of this important book will also have to set the records straight that Iwe Iroyin fun Awon Yoruba ati Egba (not Iwe Iroyin Yoruba) was first published in 1859 (not 1895) (p.iii) and that Islamic Caliphacy of the Ottoman Empire came to an end in 1922 (not 1924).
Ultimately, Muslims and the Threats of the Media is a brilliant addition to the growing literature on Islam in Nigeria. Its place is unique because it straddles Islam and journalism. Not only will it be beneficial to media practitioners, it is recommended for all Muslim organisations and groups so that they will explore the potential of being inspired by the book to establish media sections. Students and general readers who also wish to have a refreshing appraisal of some contemporary developments in the media industry will also find reading the book worthwhile. Its release on the World Freedom Day is symbolic and it is my hope that the book will serve to free minds from the prison of prejudice harboured against Muslims and Islam through the several tissues of “true lies” that are vociferously told in the propaganda against Islam in the media.
▪︎Dr. Mahfouz A. Adedimeji is a language specialist with research interests in pragmatics, stylistics, sociolinguistics and applied linguistics. He holds a B.A. (Honours), M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in English Language from the University of Ilorin, Nigeria, where is a faculty member.
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