Hatred of Islam by people who have never held actual conversations with Muslims is not a modern phenomenon. Animosity towards Muslims, fuelled by ignorance, prejudice, and false narratives was part of what caused anti-Muslim resentments since the early period in Mecca and Medina where some Islamophobes referred to the Prophet as either seeking to dominate them or to become rich, while others accused him of witchcraft.
In converse, those who met the Prophet understood that he only called them to the divine message of Islamic Monotheism which has at its centre, the same message brought by the previous prophets like Abraham, Moses and Eesa (Jesus) -Peace Be Upon Them. Some of those who hated the Prophet did so based on despicable rumours against him without having met him, for it would be difficult to meet the Prophet and not love him or increase in respect for him.
It is not uncommon that when anti-Muslims meet Muslims or try to study the religion properly outside the influence of mediated distortions, they mostly can’t help but fall in love with the religion – if Allah opens their hearts. One of such classical examples is the revert story of U’mar bn Khataab, who went from being an avowed political and social enemy of Islam to becoming one of the most devout Muslims of all times.
Prior to becoming a Muslim, Umar opposed Islam so much that he threatened to kill the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) – in contrast, the Prophet was praying that Allah should strengthen Islam with either U’mar bn Khattab or Abu Jahl. On the eve of his conversion to Islam, U’mar was going to attack his sister and his brother-in-law who had just recently accepted the religion. To shorten a rather well-known story, U’mar accepted Islam after reading the aayah that says: “Verily, I am Allah: there is no God but Me; so, serve Me (only), and establish regular prayer for My remembrance” (Quran 20:14). He wept and declared his strong belief in tawheed (that there is only one God) and that Muhammad is His messenger. Eventually, U’mar rose to the esteemed position of Khaleefat.
The same can be said of Abu Sufyaan (Sakhr bn Harb) who had openly engaged in military campaigns against Muslims either directly or indirectly. After accepting Islam, he rose to one of the highest social positions in Islam where he earned the respect of Muslims and devoted his life to protecting other Muslims. The list of those who hated Islam and later accepted the religion wholeheartedly due to increased knowledge or friendly contacts with Muslims after being guided by Allah is a long one that could not be exhausted here.
In contemporary times, we are also witnessing hidaayah, or guidance from Allah, towards staunch critics with anti-Islamic views who embrace Islam after learning about it. Some came to learn about Islam by first seeking to criticize it. Examples of recent staunch anti-Muslims who embraced Islam after disengaging from media distortions include Richard McKinney and Ibrahim Killington, among several others. What is particularly interesting is that, like U’mar bn Khattaab, the duo wanted to even kill Muslims. Their attempts to criticise Islam spurred them to read deeply into the religion. They were surprised to see that most of the misconceptions about Islam were erroneous and have in fact, been fanned by the media – the ignorance is partly due to media misrepresentation.
Contemporary media narratives from the Islamophobic quarters are similar to the old narratives against Islam in Makkah and Medina during the early days of Islam – they are both misleading, deluding, and derived from ignorance.
According to a report in HuffPost, Islam has been negatively painted in the media on several occasions since the 9/11 attack. Reports by Washington Post, Ethical Journalism Network and Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) all indicate the targeted misrepresentation of Islam by the mainstream media houses. Researches by media and policy experts such as the Centre for American Progress and the European Network Against Racism have also found that there is an organised funding for the spread of negative rhetoric against Islam and Muslims in the public space.
Muslims Need Better Media Representation
As indicated in a political research paper, higher levels of education among people with biases against Muslims and increased levels of interaction correlate significantly with positive attitudes towards the Ummah. The significance of this is that Muslims need to be active to shape the media narratives about themselves. Muslims, like many other minority groups in some countries, need to write their own story as it really is due to the large damage that has been done by prejudiced writers who know very little about Islam.
One of the earliest records of engagements with a super-power recorded in the history of Islam was with the empire of Ethiopia. It was symbolic and historical in different ways. For once, it highlighted the importance of presenting Islam as it is by Muslims themselves. The need for a robust political and media representation for Muslims will be better appreciated when we look at the diplomatic representation in Ethiopia early on by the Sahaaba-delegation that stood for Muslims and the Islamic cause in the court of King Armah of Aksum.
Muslims had suffered persecution and expulsion from Makkah. They were chased all the way down to Africa where they sought refuge in the present-day Ethiopia. In the end, Allah used the eloquence of Ja’far bn Abi Taalib in the court of King NejashI (also called Negus). Muslims eloquently defended their positions, and the rational king from Africa accepted them as refugees after an intellectual rebuff to the rumours and Islamophobic lies of the Quraishi delegates. One of the analogies we may draw from the debate in the court of the Ethiopian king is how political opinions can be shaped by adequate information and intelligent representation.
Today, one of the areas of misrepresentation against Islam is the media. Anti-Muslim wings who are prominent for being adept at spreading fake and negative news about Islam are quick to spread hatred against Muslims through all the means available to them. What is even more disappointing is how Islam is represented in professional media groups, which has done more to damage the relationship in our diverse communities than mend fences.
As it stands today, the ummah needs a robust representation of Islam by Muslims both in the ‘mediasphere’ and through a display of the genuine Islamic character at the individual level and various spaces.