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Overview of the Theory:
The theory basically points out the defects that are present in the existing theories of media and communications, they being predominantly western and secular in their approach have certain inconsistencies when applied in the Islamic world. It talks about the establishment of a professional association of Muslim journalists to give the Islamic world a voice that they consider to be appropriate in the media. Fundamentally the Islamic view of the world is based on five principles of (1) tawhid, (2) amrbi al-ma’ruf wa nahy’an al munkar, (3) ummah, (4) taqwa, and (5) amanat which are also explained in the theory. These five principles are not only the basic governing and guiding factor based on faith for the common Muslims but also for an Islamic state and hence will also be the elements that if an establishment of Muslims journalists is formed will use. The theory also then explains how the Muslim state or the Ummah is different from the present understanding of a nation state or political entity in the western world. From an Islamic perspective, therefore, this theory concludes that linguistic and political vocabularies and concepts, now at the centre of global politics, both celebrate the arrival of a new communication age and hold the key to ultimate information control (Mowlana, 2007).
The Principles of an Islamic State and Media Theory
Tawhid or faith as understood in the literal sense of the word implies the same thing in Islam. Even though the term has a deeper meaning than the regular interpretation. Tawhid in Islam means the acceptance of the Oneness of God. This implies in the religious context that there is no other power capable of doing anything without the will of God and hence it mandates the total submission of will to God. Since Islam is not just a religion, but an entire way of life. What this basically means is that, the spiritual aspects of the religion are not separate from the social, political, economic as well as personal aspects of a person’s life. Hence, while in some other religions, which are classified as spiritual and a separation between the religious aspect of life and all the others can be established, in Islam it cannot be so. A Muslim is not considered a Muslim if he just following the spiritual aspect and not the social, economic and political aspects of the religion.
It stands for the necessity of exclusive servitude to God, and it negates any communication and messages, intellectual, cultural, economic, or political, that subjugates humankind to creatures. The principle of Tawhid also negates any right of sovereignty and guardianship of anyone over human society except God. Society can be expected to be free from all deviations and excesses only when the affairs of society are delegated by a Power Transcendental to an individual or a council of rulers, with a power commensurate with responsibilities within the Islamic legal framework.
Thus, all man-made laws and ethical codes that arrogate judgment to them, or to any authority or institution other than in obedience or enforcement of “Allah’s Own Judgment,” are void. Therefore, all man-made laws, communication contents, mass media, and public forums that attempt to put restraints upon Allah’s sovereignty must be void.
Under the principle of Tawhid, another fundamental ethical consideration in tabligh becomes clear: the destruction of thought structures based on dualism, racialism, tribalism, and familial superiority. The function of communication order in Islamic society, according to the principle, is to break idols, to break the dependence on the outsiders, and to set the ummah or community in motion toward the future. Thus, one of the important functions of tabligh is to destroy myths. In our contemporary world, these myths may include “power,” “progress,” and “modernization.” Personalities as they represent these must not be super-humanized and super-defined. One of this dualism, according to this principle, is the secular notion of the separation of religion and politics. (Mowlana, 2007).
Amr bi al-ma’ruf wa nahy’an al munkar
A second principle guiding the ethical boundaries of tabligh in Islam is the doctrine of amr bi al-ma’ruf wa nahy’an al munkar or “commanding to the right and prohibiting from the wrong.” Implicit and explicit in this principle is the notion of individual and group responsibility for preparing the succeeding generation to accept the Islamic precepts and make use of them. Muslims have the responsibility of guiding one another, and each generation has the responsibility of guiding the next. The Quranic verse explains this: “Call people to the path of your Lord with wisdom and mild exhortation. Reason with them in the most courteous manner. Your Lord best knows those who stray from His path and best knows those who are rightly guided” (16:125). These points out the responsibilities of Muslims in guiding each other, especially those individuals and institutions that are charged with the responsibilities of leadership and propagation of Islamic ideals. This includes all the institutions of social communication such as the press, radio, television, and cinema, as well as the individual citizens of each community.
Thus, a special concept of social responsibility theory is designed around the ethical doctrine of “commanding to the right and prohibiting from the wrong.” This concept has taken on an extra dimension of its own in the Islamic communities and societies through history since Islam as an all-inclusive systematic religion is an interrelated set of ideas and realities covering the entire area of human notion and action, beliefs and practices, thought, word, and deed. This is particularly important in light of the fact that Islam is not only a set of theological propositions, as are many other religions, but is also a set of comprehensive legal frameworks that govern every action of the individual in society and in the world at large (Mowlana, 2007).
A third fundamental concept in determining the nature and boundaries of tabligh and that of social ethics, particularly as it might relate to the political life of the individual and Islamic society, is ummah or community. The concept of ummah transcends national borders and political boundaries. Islamic community transcends the notion of the modern nation-state system: an Islamic community is a religio-economic concept and is only present when it is nourished and governed by Islam. The notion of community in Islam makes no sharp distinction between public and private; therefore, what is required of the community at large is likewise required of every individual member. Accordingly, the ummah must be exemplary, setting the highest standards of performance and the reference point for others.
In the Islamic ummah, the sovereignty of the “state” belongs to God, and not to the ruler nor even to the people themselves. The ruler or leaders are only acting executives chosen by the people to serve them according to the Law of Islam and the concept of Tawhid.
Under the ummah, Islam has a new concept of community. One of the most important aspects of ummah is that Islam does not differentiate between the individuals as members of its community. Race, ethnicity, tribalism, nationalism, have no place to distinguish one member of the community from the rest. Nationalities, cultural differences, and geographical factors are recognized, but domination based on nationality is rejected. It is the individual and its relations to the community that is valued; however, this relationship alone is not the sole purpose in itself, both the individual and society must make their relationship clear to God: Are the individuals in society against God or under God?
A fourth principle outlined here to explain the ethical framework of journalism in Islamic societies is the concept of Taqwa or, roughly translated, piety. In Islamic societies, Taqwa is commonly used in reference to individual “fear of God” and the ability to guard oneself against the unethical forces which might surrender the environment; however, the concept of Taqwa goes beyond this common notion of piety. It is the individual, spiritual, moral, ethical, and psychological capacity to raise oneself to that higher level, which makes a person almost immune from the excessive material desires of the world, elevating the individual to a higher level of prophetic self-consciousness.
The assumption is that human beings possess in their nature a set of divine elements which are other than the material constituents that exist in animals, plants, and inanimate objects. Human beings are endowed with innate greatness and dignity. Recognizing that freedom of choice is a condition for the fulfilment of obligation, the person is held responsible to perform his or her obligations within the Islamic framework of ethics. In short, it is recognized that human beings perform some of their actions only under the influence of a series of ethical emotions rather than with an intention of gaining a benefit or of repelling harm. Thus, as a virtue and as an important element in the ethical framework of Islamic communication both on the individual and community levels, Taqwa should be the underpinning ingredient in almost every action of a Muslim.
The fifth and final principle outlined in this article is the concept of Amanat. The term Amanat signifies great responsibility which the Almighty God has imposed on the human being for his or her deeds in this world. The most relevant view of this concept as it may apply to the conduct of the press and the media is that Amanat refers to Divine Vicegerency for which human beings alone are fit and none else can share this honour with him. The Holy Quran says: “Surely, we offered the Amanat into the heavens and the earth and the hills, but they refused to hear it and were afraid of it, and man took it up. Verily, he (human beings) as unjust and ignorant” (xxxiii: 72).
Thus, human beings fitness for Divine Vicegerange is lower, conditioned by the fact that he or she must practice the lofty code morality which brings him or her to the Supreme Being. Off all the created beings, human beings are certainly the best and noblest (Ashraf-ul-makhlughat). Here, it may be noted that rights and obligations are interdependent. Serving the public interest, therefore, becomes one of the principal ethical duties of the media.
Amanat means obligatory duties (faraiz). One aspect of Amanat is that is can only be given to one who has the capability and power to shoulder the burden of its responsibilities and fulfil the commandments of Allah. Thus, in Islam, real progress of moral and not just material, for the latter refers to the transitory things of life. The liberty in Islam has quite a different meaning from that understood in the West. It is neither a prerogative nor an absolute right of the individual.
Hamid Mowlana’s Take on Communication
A number of studies on international communication over the last several decades reveal two essential characteristics. One is the ethnocentric orientation of mass communication systems of the highly developed and industrialized nations, and the second is the “asymmetric” circulation of information in the world. These two characteristics dominate the world mass media system and indeed are responsible for uneven treatment of events, imbalances in news and information, and also the unequal distribution of power in the world system. It is precisely here that a need for professional code of ethics among Muslim journalists around the world seems imperative, and their creation of a network of professional world associations both timely and inevitable.
From the Islamic Revolution in Iran to the occupation of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union, from the Persian Gulf War to the American invasion of Iraq, the last two decades have witnessed profound and worldwide revolutionary movements of an Islamic nature as well as systematic and continuous conflicts which have embraced Muslim lands. The developments in the Islamic world not only have been reported during this period with a good deal of bias, distortion, and ethnocentrism by non-Muslim media but also the great portion of what has been reported has been provided mainly by the Western media and journalists.
Research shows that 99 per cent of world events do not come to the attention of readers simply because they are eliminated and considered as unimportant or irrelevant by the media. The Islamic world, in particular, has been on the receiving end of a good share of this modus operandi.
A cursory look at the list of existing media and journalist associations around the world quickly shows how the media are organized and mobilized on the basis of nationality, regionalism, ethnicity, and even religious premises and are among the most active nongovernmental organizations around the world. Yet, remarkably, today, there are no professional associations of Islamic journalists which can set professional and ethical criteria for news reporting, protect the rights of individual Muslim journalists, and promote education and training of young men and women who represent a major source of human resources for Islamic culture and civilization.
Why should there be an organization of Muslim journalists?
Islam is not only a religion but also a total way of life for millions of people around the world. Unlike other major cultural systems, Islam transcends geographical as well as racial and ethnic boundaries and strives for universality of human kind. In short, the socio-cultural elements inherent in and among the Islamic community, ummah, provide a common ground and outline a necessity for the type of news reporting that is vital to understanding events in the world community. Such a network of Muslim journalist and media associations and professional organizations also can play an important role as vanguards and promoters of professional aims within the existing systems of international organizations. A network of professional associations, thus, not only can enhance the exchange of information among and between various geographical areas known as the Islamic world but also can stimulate the ongoing mobilization of journalists and their common interests.
Principles of the Association
It must be recalled that news values in the Islamic world differ considerably from the general news values in the non-Islamic world and, more specifically, the West. For example, take the concept of so-called “hard news” common in the Western media with its “five Ws” syndrome of “what, when, where, why, and who” which is promoted as universal. The real problem is that the recipient of such five Ws news never is allowed to conceive of news as a whole but only in fragments because the structure of the whole is at odds with what is considered “hard facts.” The priorities given to news values in the West, such as human interests, proximity, novelty, consequence, and prominence, are totally different from those valued in Islamic contexts.
For example, the notion of proximity in the Western media primarily is a geographical as well as spatial concept. To apply this concept, in its orthodox sense, to the Islamic world would eliminate news coming from distant places such as Indonesia, China, Africa, or Latin America when the media and its audiences are located somewhere in the United States or the Middle East. Proximity in an Islamic context is neither geographical nor spatial but rather cultural-that is to say, events of the Islamic community of ummah are and must be relevant to the entire Muslim world regardless of nationalities and countries. The factors of human interest or prominence are by themselves not adequate justification for reporting of news in the Islamic context. News and information for the ummah are social commodities and not cultural industries.
Analysis of the Propositions
Even though the idea of having a unified singular association of Muslim journalists as proposed by Hamid Mowlana does seem appealing, there are certain points which if not taken into context can result in more chaos and instability than the pre-existing conditions.
Mowlana emphasis the establishment of the association on the basis of Islam however, he fails to mention which form of Islam that is being followed currently will be the guiding factor for this association. Since it is pretty clear that there are more than 70 different sects of Islam currently being followed in the world and mostly the political scenarios are shaped by them, it will be difficult to come to a consensus. Since this is a matter of religion, it will be going against One’s faith if any of the principles are compromised upon. The predominant clash can be seen between the Shia and the Sunni. And we can see the problems that are happening on the political scenario in Iraq due to this very difference. Also, then there are variation of within the Sunnis and the Shias. This problem as he proposes can be taken care of by establishing it on the basis of the Quran and the Sunnah. That however, will also leave us with at least five different interpretations of Islam. Which can be seen in his own works
Although the official religion of Iran is Islam and the Twelver J’fari school of Shi’a thought, other Islamic schools of thought, including the Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki, and Yazdi schools, are to be accorded full respect, and their followers are free to act in accordance with their own jurisprudence in performing their religious devotions. (Mowlana, 1996: 175)
Another important issue that Mowlana has not tackled properly in his theory is the various cultural differences that are there due to the geo-political scattering of the Muslims. Since by its very nature the association will be established to cater the need of the Muslim population throughout the globe, it is necessary to take into account the differences that are there in the Muslim world. Perhaps the closest we have to anything called a Muslim news network is Al Jazira, and I say close as it is also primarily not a Muslim news organization, we can see that it also again focuses on the issues that are there at the core of the Arab population and hence is not directly catering to the needs of the Muslims in the world. How he proposes to solve such a problem is not clear in any of his works.
With the other parts of the theory of Mowlana that there should be an Islamic view of communication is what I agree with. Since, as explained above the Islamic community is an Ummah and unlike other religions Islam is a complete way of life.
With a few reservations that I have to the theory of Mowlana and those are also with the establishement of the association of the journalists that he proposes. I also feel that perhaps taking the Islamic point of view on communication and especially the differentiation between Tabligh and Propoganda is necessary for the world that we are living in. We are currently facing a crisis as to where Islam is being targeted as a religion that is one of the primary reasons for the absence of peace in the world and hence it is necessary that we show the Muslim perspective on the various events occurring in the world.
- Khiabany, Gholam (2003) ‘De-westernizing Media Theory, or Reverse Orientalism: `Islamic Communication’ as Theorized by Hamid Mowlana’, Media Culture Society 2003; 25; 415
- Mowlana, Hamid (1979) ‘Technology versus Tradition: Communication in the Iranian Revolution’, Journal of Communication 29(3): 107-12.
- Mowlana, Hamid (1989) ‘The Islamization of Iranian Television’, Intermedia 7(5): 35-9.
- Mowlana, Hamid (1993) ‘The New Global Order and Cultural Ecology’, Media, Culture & Society 15(1): 9-27.
- Mowlana, Hamid (1996) Global Communication in Transition: The end of Diversity? Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Mowlana, Hamid (2007) ‘Theoretical Perspectives on Islam and Communication’, China Media Research, 3(4), 2007
- Mowlana, Hamid (1997) ‘Islamicising the Media in a Global Era: The State- Community Perspective in Iranian Broadcasting’, in Kevin Robins (ed.) Programming for People: From Cultural Rights to Cultural Responsibilities. United Nations Television Forum, New York, 19-21 November. Report presented by RAI-Radiotelevisione Italiana.
- Mowlana, Hamid and Laurie Wilson (1990) The Passing of Modernity. London: Longman.
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