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We all know that religion is a particular or absolute devotion and worship to God (the higher power). Every religion is meant to be peaceful and encourages its followers to be good. However, throughout human history, factors which bring about conflict and war are those related to politics, economy, society, arms race, colonialism and so on. Even today, thousands, even millions, have to live and suffer in misery because of religious misunderstandings, disputes and conflicts.
This problem is not new in the West. These can be traced back 1400 years ago. At that time, Islam and Christianity were involved in the Crusades in the 1100’s and in the Ottoman and Moorish control in Europe. Islam spread quickly to the West, and started to threaten the position of the Christian Church and the ruling class. The Western elites, mainly the governments and the churches, then became highly involved in seeing that negative images were presented about Islam. As a result, not only were battles fought against Islam, but also a war of words was initiated to make sure that Islam would not have any converts or sympathizers in the West. This wrong interpretation of Islam was not only from yesterday but is still an ongoing issue today.
Nowadays, the answer to every westerner’s question of jihad is an order to kill every non-Muslim, for which it is essentially not true. This is because the media exposes what terrorists do and categorizes it as Islam’s true meaning. How can one define a religion by what media exposes? The media should be a source of exposing, but in this case, it is being used to mislead and influence. Meaning, people find one answer, and stop the research. I believe the resource of the media should study the Qur’an’s view rather than what terrorists do in videos or magazines.
Another major factor which contributes to Islamic stereotyping in the West is due to the media’s ignorance of selecting their words that describe Muslims. Common words heard or used in the news to describe Muslims like “extremist” or “terrorist”. These words are misleading and are mainly anti-Islamic. The media rarely uses more neutral terms.
The Western media also creates the idea that Muslims are “returning” to Islam. This is not true in most cases, because most Muslims have never left Islam in the first place. Islam has always been a big part of their lives. A more accurate and just way to describe this idea is to say that there is a revival of Islam and it is becoming more and more influential to everyone.
Adding to the fact that the media creates inaccurate ideas about Islam, the Western media is also very influential to its audiences in making negative Islamic stereotypes, such as the assertion that all Muslims are fundamentalists. The term “fundamentalist” is actually a term that is interpreted by the media. A fundamentalist, in fact, only represents a normal Muslim who follows his or her religion. Fundamentalism, according to an Oxford Dictionary, means an attitude, an effort, or a movement that an ideology, group, or religion tries to promote in its fundamental beliefs. The fundamental beliefs of a Muslim is to believe in only one God (Allah) and the Prophet Mohammed is His messenger, pray five times a day, fast the month of Ramadan, give alms to the poor, and make a pilgrimage to Mecca. This means that all Muslims are fundamentalists if they believe in their own religion’s fundamentals.
Although the media is uncomfortable with religious groups, it focuses heavily on “Islamic fundamentalism”. A majority of the media’s reports that talk about Islamic fundamentalism usually describes most Muslims as extremists. This shows how the media is ignorant, because Islam specifically prohibits any forms of extremism. The Prophet Mohammed said, “Those persons who go to extremes (in practicing their religion) were cursed (by God)”. The media most often portrays Muslim “fundamentalists” prostrating themselves before God in prayer. For example, pictures shown in Western magazines like Times, whereby Muslims soldiers were shown performing prayers with guns. The caption on the bottom of the picture said, “Guns and prayer go together in the fundamentalist battle”. The part that the reporters omitted or failed to state was that the Muslim soldiers were praying on a battlefield in Afghanistan. Common sense of the situation meant that the soldiers had to remain armed at all times in case of an ambush at any time. This is a clear example of the western media’s biased and inaccurate reporting.
With regard to the soldiers, another great misconception that exists is the truth about Jihad or “holy war” in Islam. The ideas of war and violence have become related to the Islamic religion from the media. Jihad is so often apparent in the news because the media thinks it is Islam’s justification for war and violence. The Quran (Muslim Holy Book) says “Fight for the sake of Allah those that fight against you, but do not attack them first. Allah (God) does not love aggression”.
For example in (2:191-194) we have:
And fight in the cause of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not transgress. Surely, Allah loves not transgressors. And kill them wherever you meet them and drive them out from where they have driven you out; for persecution is worse than killing. And fight them not in, and near, the Sacred Mosque until they fight you, then fight them: such is the requital for the disbelievers. But if they desist, then surely Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful. And fight them until there is no persecution, and religion is professed for Allah. But if they desist, then remember that no hostility is allowed except against the aggressors.
Fighting is to be for the sake of God, not for our own sake or out of anger or aggrandizement, and even fighting is to be free from excesses, for excesses are displeasing to God. Fighting is between parties of combatants. Assaults on individuals are forbidden. Aggression against a religion is to be met by active resistance, for such aggression is worse than bloodshed. Muslims are not to fight near the Sacred Mosque, unless an attack is first made by the enemy. Fighting near the Sacred Mosque interferes with the public right of pilgrimage. But if the enemy attacks, Muslims are free to reply, this being the just reward of aggression. But if the enemy desists, Muslims must desist also, and forgive and forget the past. Fighting is to continue so long as religious persecution lasts and religious freedom is not established. Religion is for God. The use of force or pressure in religion is wrong. If the Kafirs desist from it and make religion free, Muslims are to desist from fighting the Kafirs. Arms are to be taken up against those who commit excesses. When excesses cease, fighting must cease also. Categorically, we may say, the verses teach the following rules:
War is to be resorted to only for the sake of God and not for the sake of any selfish motives, not for aggrandizement or for the advancement of any other interests.
We can go to war only against one who attacks us first.
We can fight only those who fight against us. We cannot fight against those who take no part in warfare.
Even after the enemy has initiated the attack, it is our duty to keep warfare within limits. To extend the war, either territorially or in respect of weapons used, is wrong.
We are to fight only a regular army charged by the enemy to fight on his side. We are not to fight others on the enemy side.
In warfare immunity is to be afforded to all religious rites and observances. If the enemy spares the places where religious ceremonies are held, then Muslims also must desist from fighting in such places.
If the enemy uses a place of worship as a base for attack, then Muslims may return the attack. No blame will attach to them if they do so. No fighting is allowed even in the neighbourhood of religious places. To attack religious places and to destroy them or to do any kind of harm to them is absolutely forbidden. A religious place used as a base of operations may invite a counter-attack. The responsibility for any harm done to the place will then rest with the enemy, not with Muslims.
If the enemy realizes the danger and the mistake of using a religious place as a base, and changes the battle-front, then Muslims must conform to the change. The fact that the enemy started the attack from a religious place is not to be used as an excuse for attacking that place. Out of reverence Muslims must change their battle-front as soon as the enemy does so.
Fighting is to continue only so long as interference with religion and religious freedom lasts. When religion becomes free and interference with it is no longer permitted and the enemy declares and begins to act accordingly, then there is to be no war, even if it is the enemy who starts it.
Jihad literally means “The struggle in the path of God”, or “holy war”. However, the Western media often abuses the meaning of jihad by referring to it as a holy war where Muslims unreasonably kill non-believers. But the fact is, is that jihad can mean a numbers of things that a Muslim does for the sake of God. Rarely has the Western media used this kind of a definition in their reports. The way the media represents jihad is wrong. The media often takes the word “jihad” out of context to propagate negative views on Islam. A student striving for top grades, individuals pursuing for equality and justice for all people, honouring your parents, a mother giving birth to a child, eating, and even simply sleeping can all be considered as jihad.
Today, the media uses sources of terrorism from so-called jihadist groups to expose and enlighten the world about their “struggle” for religion against the world. Examples of extremist groups are as followed:
Al-Qaeda or The International Islamic Front for the Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders: Osama bin Laden’s organization.
Laskar Jihad: responsible for the murder of more than 10,000 Christians in Indonesia.
Harakat ul-Jihad-i-Islami: a leading cause of violence in Kashmir.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad: the most vicious anti-Israel terrorist group of them all.
Egyptian Islamic Jihad: killed Anwar El-Sadat in 1981, many others since then.
Yemeni Islamic Jihad: killed three American missionaries on Monday.
From the examples above, the Western media influenced the people of the world through exaggerated stories and reviews. By doing so, it instils a great sense of fear, panic and worry in everyone.
The West has given a negative image on Islam. The media often misrepresents and inaccurately explains Islam and its manifestations. Sometimes the media seems to be biased against Islam. When the media distorts the image of Islam, the general public tend to believe it, because the media is a major source of information that the public gets about Islam. This ignorance that the West accumulates from the media leads them into making stereotypes about Islam and associating all Muslims and Arabs together.
The Western public often is misinformed about Muslims through the images on television, motion picture screens, magazines, radios, and comic strips in newspapers, which promote strong messages among their audiences. Western reporters often say that Muslims are terrorists. This becomes a common image to the general public that all Muslims are terrorists. As written by Edward Said in his book, Covering Islam, talks about how the media and experts determine how we see the rest of the world. He says that:
The term Islam as it is used today seems to mean one simple thing, but in fact is part fiction, part ideological label, part minimal designation of a religion called Islam . Today Islam is peculiarly traumatic news in the West. During the past few years, especially since events in Iran caught European and American attention so strongly, the media have therefore covered Islam: they have portrayed it, characterized it, analyzed it, given instant courses on it, and consequently they have made it known . But this coverage is misleadingly full, and a great deal in this energetic coverage is based on far from objective material. In many instances Islam has licensed not only patent inaccuracy, but also expressions of unrestrained ethnocentrism, cultural, and even racial hatred, deep yet paradoxically free-floating hostility.
My personal opinion is that Islam is actually a very peaceful and fair religion with its very own ways and practices that most does not correspond to the media’s reports. I believe every religion teaches us to be morally good and never do evil deeds. As Islam grows more and more in the West, Westerners will eventually learn the truth about Islam and find out that these negative stereotypes are incorrect. It is possible that Islam will become one of the biggest religions in the United States. As more people follow Islam, the media will start to learn about it, understand it, and report about it in positive ways. As long as the Westerners are educated about Islam, they will probably learn to accept it as well. The general public tend to have unwarranted assumptions regarding this matter. Assumptions are things that we take for granted literally or believe that is true without any conclusive evidence. The general public should not be biased and make decisions based on things that the media puts on display.
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