Canadian Muslims decry media tirade
Special to Arab News — Media interest in Islam and Muslim has proliferated since the growth of Islamic movements, the Gulf war and, more recently, in the wake of the World Trade Center bombing. Members of the 400,000-strong Canadian Muslim community, most of whom live in the larger metropolitan areas such as Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Calgary, contend that rather than educating the public positively, the reporting has tarnished their religion and its adherents.
Sensationalist coverage has cultivated fear of Muslims, Islam and Arabs, says Ausma Khan, a third-year law student at the University of Ottawa, and one of the estimated 150,000 Canadian Muslims with roots in the Indian Subcontinent.
Canadian Muslims who take pride in transcending ethnic, linguistic and social differences in organizing their community in the new world claim that the media focuses on peripheral matters when it comes to describing their communities.
“As soon as an Islamic movement takes root in a particular country, the media starts beaming pictures of adulterers being punished, or women in veils,” says Iqbal Rahman, a student at York University. “It is as if this is all there to Islam.”
Many feel that the alleged actions of a few individuals, such as those charged with the World Trade Center bombing and those more recently charged with conspiracy to blow up tunnels linking New York and New Jersey, are used to discredit a vast majority who are law-abiding contributors to society.
Rashad Liao, one of a growing numbers of Canadians embracing Islam, says: “Islam teaches that we are not allowed to harm women, children, the aged, or those involved in worship, and that we must not destroy places of worship, or cut down trees, even in warfare.”
Liao, a Scarborough student, sums up the feelings of most Muslims when he points out that with such stringent conditions imposed during warfare, Islam certainly cannot be used to justify killing and maiming the innocent in times of peace. These feelings are shared by most Muslims and by Christian Arabs living in Canada.
Muslims feel that the inaccurate reporting about them derives from misinformation and stereotypes. If a Muslim, or an Arab, be he Christian or Muslim, does anything negative, then the fact that he is a Muslim or an Arab is highlighted, says Maher Abdullah, a Christian and a member of the 300,000-strong Arab-Canadian community. “This kind of wholesale indictment of a people or a religious group is not tolerated if they are other than Arab or Muslim,” he adds.
Muslims also share a belief that the Western media is preoccupied less with Islam than with its own false stereotypes. Sheikh Ahmed Kutty, imam of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto, the largest Muslim center in Canada, says: “They only seek evidence that confirms their preconceived notions of Islam and Muslims.”
Kutty, hailing from Kerala, India and a graduate of the Islamic University of Medinah in Saudi Arabia, also blames Muslims who use un-Islamic means to advance their goals, providing the media with ammunition. To halt this spiral, he says the West must stop meddling in the internal affairs of Muslim-majority states, and stop applying double standards with respect to Israel, Serbia, etc., which fuel much of the Muslim anger against the West.
Negative media coverage is attracting growing concern by the community. The March edition of The Message, a monthly magazine with great influence among Canadian Muslims, was almost completely devoted to addressing “How Media Eyes the Muslims” and what should be done to change the present predicament.
The two largest Muslim organizations in North America, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) make a point of including sessions on media-related matters in their annual conventions and gatherings. The 19th annual ISNA Canada conference this summer at the University of Toronto, attended by a cross-section of Muslims, included two sessions on the topic: “Overcoming Negative Media in Television and Newsprint” and “Islam and Media/Responsibility and Accountability.” The latter was presented by a journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
A specialized workshop in Toronto this summer on how to write letters to the editor attracted over 50 participants who listened attentively and took notes.
Prior to Eid al Fitr and Eid al Adha, the two most important celebrations in the Muslim calendar, the Islamic Foundation, one of more than 15 mosques serving the 150,000 Muslims in the metropolitan Toronto area, sent out press releases and invited the media to attend observances.
Half a dozen newspapers and stations covered the events, each attended by well over 12,000 worshippers.
Note: First Published November 10, 1993 in Arab News.
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