|The Media and its Representation of Islam and Muslim Women|
In June of 1995 an event seen as an international tragedy took place in that an American government building in
The form of media which reaches most people in
Rana Kabbani, in the introduction to Imperial Fictions: Europe's Myths of the Orient, discusses how a journalist from the magazine Vanity Fair came to her for material on an article about Islam. When this article was published Kabbani was disappointed to say the least:
"It was one more unrelieved catalogue of horrors about Islam ... it ignored any of the important debate within Islam about the rights of women. It distorted every sentence I had uttered ..."
She concludes that the article was "intellectually dishonest", but that "the whole Western debate about Muslim women is a dishonest one". Being a Muslim women, it is this misrepresentation that hurts me the most. With no insight into Islam, journalists and writers condemn the religions attitude to women. Only recently, in July of this year, an article in the newspaper The Telegraph claimed that an Islamic school of great influence in
"And for women are rights over men / similar to those of men over women." (Qur’an 2:226)
And as the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) stated, "Women are the twin halves of men". Over fourteen hundred years ago Islam gave women rights which women in the West have only been given during this century, such as the right to own property, the right to inherit and the right to make a contract in ones own name. Annie Besant, who was writing in the 1930's, observed that, "It is only in the last twenty years that Christian England has recognised the right of woman to property, while Islam has allowed this right from all times. It is a slander to say that Islam preaches that women have no souls". Women are seen as the spiritual and intellectual equals of men, though again this is not the image presented. The hijab (the garment worn by Muslim women to cover the hair), is another issue of contention. The media presents it as being an enforced condition, though for most Muslim women it is a voluntary act which signifies their allegiance to Islam, as well acting as a symbol of their faith. The negative images built up around the Muslim way of life has influenced the ideas of many of my non-Muslim colleagues at University who have implied in conversation that I wear the hijab because I am forced to by my community. Many have been surprised and enlightened when I have spoken about my true reasons, and furthermore that I chose to convert to Islam from another faith. Where the public believes that they are being presented with educational material about Islam from a reputable and reliable source, all that they are being provided with are the confused opinions of individual producers and journalists - many of whom begin their research with preconceived ideas and aims.
Islam is the fastest growing religion in the World. To this fact the media has again managed to attach a negative stigma. It claims that this spread has taken place in the
In the past some influential figures of the West have attempted to provide an account of Islam without prejudice. In his writings in the 1770s the great German writer and philosopher Goethe concluded that "If this be Islam, do we not all live in Islam?". Another authority in the literary field, Thomas Carlyle, gave a lecture in 1840 to the "intellectual elite" of
Salman Rushdie's novel, The Satanic Verses, and the Rushdie Affair that followed its publication demonstrates this marginalisation. Rushdie's novel makes a crude play with the sacred beliefs of Muslims; in effect he laughs at what he considers an irrational and ignorant people. Muslims world-wide were unsurprisingly deeply shocked, insulted and angered by the novel. In
Why does the media choose to misrepresent Islam and Muslims in such a manner? The question is one with no defined answer. Many, myself included, may first consider that ignorance is at its roots - that those in control of the media simply are not well informed on Islam, and that this comes through in the articles and programmes they produce. However, on further reflection this argument can easily be dismissed. There are too many good sources from which the true Islam can be researched, and found. There are books written within the West by Muslims, by converts to Islam, even some by non-Muslims that reflect fairly on the religion. There are monthly magazines published by Muslim organisations in
An article written and researched by Sairra Patel
Rana Kabbani, Imperial Fictions: