Today, the impact of media continues spreading across the world and establishing standards, behaviors, and attitudes toward people and situations. Social media sources, as well as other media types like television, radio, newspapers, and the web, deliver information in a short period. However, in many cases, people are not interested in checking the facts’ quality or credibility and accept all the offered material, relying on their principles and background knowledge. As a result, media shapes human relationships in a variety of ways by causing certain effects on people, their acceptance of reality, and their understanding of modern trends. In this paper, attention will be paid to Muslims and the media framing of Islam at the local and international levels. Since the attacks of September 11 in 2001, the image of Islam has been significantly distorted in global media (Harikesa and Panorama 151). Despite the power of Quranic and Hadith readings, Muslims are poorly understood by other people. Regarding the role of media in human lives and the factors that determine media images, the representation of Islam remains subjective, provoking Islamophobia, prejudice, and distortion and neglecting the worth of religious studies.
Role of Media in the Modern World
The media play a crucial role in constructing images locally, nationally, and internationally. People turn on their TVs, surf the web, and read magazines to learn the latest news and obtain the required amount of information. On the one hand, media is considered a powerful and necessary means of communication with the help of which people stay in touch and share their knowledge and experience. On the other hand, some nations can suffer from inconsistent and biased stories. Media representation of specific groups turns out to be a common topic for current studies, touching upon ethnic differences, racism, multiculturalism, and self-identity (Ahmed and Matthes 219). Media may provoke moral panic and public disgust and cause understanding and acceptance of a new idea. For example, social media turns out to be a useful source of information from the Islamic perspective. Reading and preserving the Qur’an, Hadith, and other religious references have become easier, with the possibility to be moved and found (Islam 100). It means that people from different parts of the world can learn more about the spiritual power of Muslims and, at least, try to understand this group’s intentions.
Factors that Determine Media Images
In terms of the chosen topic, Islamic opinion also matters in understanding the factors that could determine media images and social communication. During the last several years, media content undergoes changes and challenges due to various crisis situations like wars, military conflicts, public scandals, and insufficient political decisions. At the same time, available media sources allow eliminating geographical distances and promoting discussions worldwide (Islam 99). Although some Islamic leaders recommend not using social media, many scholars share the same opinion about the effectiveness of social media in enhancing fidelity, encouraging socialization, and interacting with friends and family distantly (Islam 99). Misperceptions between Muslims and other religions are explained by the existing clash of civilizations and the impossibility to share common ideas about justice, equality, and freedom (The World Association for Christian Communication). Therefore, the media can be used to articulate Muslim beliefs throughout the world. For example, the World Association for Christian Communication describes Sufism as a madhhab to pursue a harmonious lifestyle and purification for people. Without special media attention, this practice was accepted just as another mystical form of Islam where believers could talk to their God directly.
Distortion of Islam Images
Unfortunately, as well as media promotes a better understanding of Islam as an ancient religion, this means of communication provokes ambiguous and usually negative opinions about Muslims. The beginning of the 21st century was characterized by the distortion of the image of Islamic communities (Harikesa and Panorama 151). Almost all nations agreed that the events that happened on September 11, 2001, changed the way how Muslims should be treated by other ethnicities. Multiple global media campaigns were initiated to support Americans and accuse Muslim terrorists of the attacks that took many innocent lives. In their analysis, Harikesa and Panorama underline that global societies knew about Al Qaeda before those events, but their attitudes toward Moslem communities were not as negative and prejudiced as they are now (159). Many attempts were made to study Islam from different parts of the world. When several attacks were made against Americans and the American government, in particular, the global population turned away from Islam and accepted it as a dangerous and negative religion that distorted humane values. In fact, this example proves how strong the media’s effect on people and Islam could be.
The September 11 attacks became a remarkable event for all Americans and other people who used media to learn the news. In addition, the situation in Afghanistan, bombings in Bali and London, and the Boston Marathon bombing strengthened the negativity toward Islam and its synonymity with terrorism (Ahmed and Matthes 225; The World Association for Christian Communication). Civila et al. define that moment as “the new beginning of the institutionalization of Islamophobia” (6). The main idea of Islamophobia is to spread dislike toward all people who are related to Islam or come from countries where Islam is professed (Civila et al. 3). Media manipulations were enough to modify usual stories into provocative slogans against Muslims. The image of bad Muslims was common in many American movies, and people accept this truth because it was constantly underlined that the offered stories were based on real-life events (Harikesa and Panorama 163). For several months, media sources that aimed at expanding the knowledge about Islam without biases turned into a weapon against the whole nation. Attacks’ videos, regular discussions, and memorials for victims make ordinary people remember the harms and dangers provoked by Muslims.
One of the most dangerous outcomes of Islamophobia and its promotion via the media was the necessity to divide people according to their attitudes toward Islam. According to Harikesa and Panorama, “nothing can be more devastating to the image of a religion distinguished by its tolerant and liberating spirit than being reduced to the categories of “terrorism” and “fanatism” (163). Muslims had to face this challenge and tried to prove that their religious beliefs had nothing in common with terrorism and innocent deaths. The technological progress and the spread of the Internet in some Muslim countries was a significant achievement for religious teachings and references. The Qur’an never forbids social media because it presents unlimited possibilities to “learn the Qur’an and teach it” by “inviting to good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong” (qtd. in Islam 100-101). Referencing the Holy Qur’an and Hadith, Muslims never accept rumors, propaganda, and lies as the Prophet said if a person speaks a lie or breaks promises, he is miserable (qtd. in Islam 108). Regarding the biased impact of media on Islam, Muslims have to reconsider their attitudes toward media.
Media Outcomes on People
The media has already said its final word about Islam and depicted it as an extremist and radical religion. Still, the Qur’an equates Islam with blessing, perfection, and ethics (qtd. in Samaie and Malmir 1351). This religion prohibits violations and immoral acts and promotes peace and equality (Samaie and Malmir 1351). Therefore, it is not correct to blame Islam for all terroristic attacks caused by Al-Qaeda and similar groups. People are free to report on negative but fair stories related to Muslims, but they should also consider “the tone of their coverage” and expand their information with positive experiences (Waterson). Millions of people around the globe have already chosen Islam as their religion. Now, they are afraid of judgments and misunderstandings based on a biased representation by Western media (Hassan). Most people view this religion as violent and aggressive and use Islamophobia as the main opposition to the whole culture (Civila et al. 5). However, Islam is not only about the terrorists who put many lives under threat. The teachings of Muhammad are integral for many individuals who believe in Allah and follow his rules their entire lives.
In general, the representation of Muslims in today’s media is associated with the promotion of negative attitudes toward Islam. The September attacks influenced the lives of millions of people around the globe and contributed to the creation of a new media effect on this religion. Instead of being studied and examined as one of the strongest monotheistic beliefs, Islam is usually compared with terror, innocent deaths, and panic. Regarding one tragic event, it was possible for the media to initiate multiple anti-Muslim campaigns, which proves the tremendous role of this means of communication in society. Still, there are many Muslims who consider terrorism a sin and want nothing but share equal treatment and respect from other people. Although it is hard to forget the moment when the twin towers were burning with thousands of people inside, Islam and Muslims should have a chance to restore their spiritual reputation today.
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