Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Television, Islamic Dawah and Muslims

When television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials -- many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you'll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.

Is there one person in this room who claims that broadcasting can't do better? Well a glance at next season's proposed programming can give us little heart. Of 73 and 1/2 hours of prime evening time, the networks have tentatively scheduled 59 hours of categories of action-adventure, situation comedy, variety, quiz, and movies. Is there one network president in this room who claims he can't do better? Why is so much of television so bad? 

From Newton N Minow's speech on Television and the Public Interest delivered on 9 May 1961, National Association of Broadcasters, Washington, DC. More Here.

In the Lizard's Hole: Television, Televangelism and Muslims
By Khalid Baig

We must not underestimate the destructive power of television. Television did not cause all the upheavals in society by being ineffective. Rather the above only highlights its ineffectiveness in carrying a serious discourse. But it is a very effective tool for carrying propaganda. Since television appeals to emotions not intellect, it can be easily used to stir up emotions of, say, hate and anger --- something that has been used effectively by the Islamophobes in the Christian world and beyond. Some televangelists have played a major role in the rise in Islamophobia in the US through their media crusade against Islam.These also cannot be ignored in our discussion of television policies.

Obviously simple yes or no answers cannot work. Just ignoring television will not reduce the destruction it is causing in the society. Jumping on to the bandwagon and starting Islamic television programs to reach the large audiences without careful analysis and planning will only perpetuate the problems that have been outlined above. Due to the nature of the medium, if it is given legitimacy as the venue for Islamic teachings, then in time alim and mufti actors will replace the real alims and muftis as is already happening. They will also set the expectations for what the real alims should look like and behave.

There is no ready made solution. The real solution will be the outcome of a rigorous and ongoing discussion involving the scholars, thinkers and the media experts and will require first that we do fully understand the nature of communication in the video world and its peculiar problems.  

TV Free Home
The solution they come up with will be a multi-faceted one and will vary with the circumstances of the person. For an individual the prime goal is just to protect him and his family. For this the message should be that the less you watch, the better it is. An atmosphere is to be created in which not watching television and maintaining a TV free home is a perfectly respectable and even desirable option. Grass roots organizations and all means of persuasion should be used to promote this idea. Such an organization exists in the US (10). It is a pity that it does not exist in the Muslim world.

The success of this campaign will not be measured just by how many stop watching but also by what they think about watching it. The objective should be that those who do not have a TV free home should look up to those who do and not the other way around. Declaring Ramadan as a TV free month, where participants pledge to keep television off during Ramadan and use the time so saved to benefit from Ramadan may go a long way towards this objective.

Alternative Channels of Communications
At the same time we need to develop the non-television channels of communication to the best of their potential. In the communication landscape, television is one option. It is not the only one. It is expensive and it is fraught with serious problems in its ability to transmit our message. Even if we cannot avoid it, we do need to put it in its proper place. This means we do need to rethink the older avenues. 

Friday khutbahs are a case in point. They offer an immense resource for educating the masses. Everywhere Muslims turn in large numbers to them and there are no production or distribution costs like those associated with TV. Unfortunately this priceless opportunity is wasted because the great majority of those speaking have not been prepared for the task. They either do not have an understanding of how to relate Islamic teachings to the problems of today or do not know how to communicate that effectively. As a result most attendees go without any expectation of enlightenment through the khutbah. Squandering of this tremendous opportunity has no excuse. It is a pity that Islamic religious schools have, by and large, failed to step up to the responsibility to have special training programs for speakers and guiding the khateebs.

The Okaz Market Model
What about using television itself?
We may learn from the Prophetic Example in the souq of Okaz, the largest and the most famous of the annual markets and fairs of the Jahliya period. There pilgrims from all of Arabia gathered for business, poetry competitions, networking and entertainment. When the opposition of the Quraish to the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, increased to a point where continued call to Islam within Makah was not possible, he sought all avenues outside to continue his mission. This included his visits to Okaz. The purpose of the visits was to meet the people and pull them out. The place of training and education was Dar Arqam.

Using that model as our guide, we may make a case for reaching out to the people who are today in the Okaz market created by television. That is we must not confuse it with the masjid, or school, or Dar Arqam. The purpose should be to pull the people out from there to these places where real worship, education, and training can take place. Recognizing the peculiar problems of this new venue, we must make sure the programs avoid all the pitfalls outlined above. No run for ratings. No entertainment. No music. No celebrity culture. No expectation of a return on investment. No competition with the commercial world. No ads that can dilute or counter the message. In other words no distortion in the message in exchange for a large audience. 

The numbers who respond will be small, just as they were in Okaz. But just as the Prophetic example in Okaz showed, delivering the pure unadulterated message to a small number is infinitely superior to delivering a distorted message to the millions.

From Khalid Baig's enlightening analysis "In the Lizard's Hole: Television, Televangelism and Muslims". More Here.

1 comment:

Abdul Sattar said...

TV is a vast wasteland. How true..!


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