Islam and popular culture: an Inside Islam recap

All-American Muslim, a reality TV show we covered in 2011. Photo: TLC

It’s fitting to end Inside Islam where we started. When we first began the project, we focused heavily on Islam in popular culture and media. Our first shows and posts focused on Muslim youth and new media, videobloggers, and even fashion.

Our focus on cultural topics was deliberate. In our efforts to break down stereotypes about Islam, our strategy was to humanize Muslims by showing them engaged in activities non-Muslims could relate to. Popular culture has always cut across cultural and geographic borders, so we focused heavily on the medium. Continue reading

Women in Islam: An Inside Islam recap


Farah Pandith, a former radio guest on Inside Islam. Photo: www.state.gov

One of the most popular topics here on Inside Islam has been gender, primarily focusing on women. That’s no coincidence, given that Islam’s attitude towards women is generally portrayed in Western media as retrograde and repressive.

And there’s certainly plenty to criticize. Over our four years, we have highlighted cases like that of Amina Filali, a Moroccan girl who committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist, and Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman sentenced to be stoned for adultery. We have also addressed issues such as domestic abuse and how key texts have been interpreted to discriminate against women, to ban women drivers, and to justify practices like child marriage.

But while our goal has never been to whitewash problematic issues, at the same time the standard mainstream rhetoric regarding Muslim women oversimplifies things and only further disempowers them. There has been a general inability to look beyond the veil when discussing Muslim women. Non-Muslim women or men who preach to Muslim women because they choose to cover their heads or accept certain circumstances tend to fall into the trap of portraying all Muslim women as a single entity without agency. They miss the movement within Islam itself to empower women.

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UK Course on Islam and the Media

In the last few years, there are have been several laws passed in different European countries that relate to Muslim communities. For example, in France and Belgium, laws were passed banning the niqab and in Switzerland a law was passed to ban the building of minarets. Many Muslims considered these moves to be a sign of an anti-Muslim sentiment. Occasionally, however, there are stories that indicate positive change.

This past January, the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom introduced a new class on Muslim women and the media. The first of its kind, the course will examine the role of women in Islam and how they are portrayed  in the media. The class will look at various issues that include wearing the hijab, marriage, and “honor” crimes and how they are addressed in film, television, and the media in general. Continue reading

Conference on Muslims and the Media

On March 23rd and 24th, Muslim Voices, an organization that “aims to increase intercultural dialogue and understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims,” held a conference at Indiana University titled “Re-scripting Islam: Muslims and the Media.” The conference explored the multiple narratives of Islam and Muslims in the media.Various panelists spoke about different avenues that Muslims and non-Muslims are using to engage in discussions about Islam.

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On Islamophobia and Homophobia Show: What about all the images?

On November 30th, Jean spoke with Robert Wright about the parallels between homophobia and Islamophobia.  Underlying Wright’s argument is the concept of bridges, which means that people harbor prejudice towards groups because they have not met someone who belongs to them. Presumably, if they meet  a real person their prejudice would dissipate.

According to Wright, Americans were able to overcome their prejudice towards homosexuals because they knew them before they knew they were gay. So by the time someone would find out they were gay, their opinion of them was formed and assumedly positive.  Muslims do not have that luxury because, as Wright states, they are few and concentrated in certain areas, so it is hard to meet a Muslim to alter a prejudice.

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The Power of an Image

Big  beards, burning flags, women donning niqabs on a dusty road. I think we’re all a bit underwhelmed by the pathetic variety of images that we’re bombarded with on television related to Muslims and Islam. The saturation of media in all of its forms, from youtube to twitter to 24-hour cable news, has doused us with an unimaginable amount of imagery and information. And yet, only a very slim percentage of that content related to Muslims and Islam is positive.

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Local High School Tries to Understand Islam

On November 8th, Middleton High School held a day long event for their Human Rights’ Day called “Understanding Islam.” The event focused on the topics of Islam in the news and women and Islam. Jean Feraca, the host of the Inside Islam Radio Series, moderated the panel on Islam in the news and I was part of the panel on women and Islam.

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Muslim MTV?

Can you imagine what an Islamic MTV would look like? Well, Ahmed Abu Haiba did when he launched a new music channel called 4Shbab TV. (“Shbab” means “young people” in Arabic.) The idea behind 4Shbab TV is to offer an Islamic alternative to the other 800+ satellite channels. 4Shbab TV began broadcasting in February 2009 from Bahrain, and according to Abu Haiba now has viewers from all over the Middle East.

For Abu Haiba, mainstream music videos do not reflect Arab and Islamic cultural values nor do they represent the realities of the youth in the Middle East so he decided to launch a channel that would do just that. Abu Haiba also wanted to make  religion more appealing to youth. 4Shbab broadcasts music videos that do not have backup singers, revealing clothing, or anything else that one would associate with mainstream music videos, but that does not mean that musical instruments are not used or that all the songs are about religion. It also features talk shows, variety shows, news, and an American Idol-like program called  “Sotak Wasel,” which translates as “Your Voice is Heard.”

4Shbab TV is part of a growing trend around the Muslim world of Islamically themed projects, like Amr Khaled’s show “Mujaddidun”–The Reformers in Arabic– based on “The Apprentice.” These projects not only offer alternative means of entertainment but also demonstrate the diverse experiences of Islam not only across regions but across the generations. Many of these projects specifically target a younger audience and promote a picture of Islam that is compatible with modern sensibilities.

What do you think about 4Shbab and other religiously themed entertainment? Do you think they have an impact? What do projects like 4Shbab indicate about the diversity of the Muslim experience? Would you watch this channel? Please share your thoughts below.

Islam and Media: Qantara.de

This is part 5 of our series, Media and Islam. Previous parts explained why we started the series and examined Al Jazeera, Global Voices and CNN.

Having lived through the atrocities of the Nazi era, Germany is very sensitive to issues of tolerance. Perhaps that is why it has put more effort into integrating its four million Muslims, or 5% of the population, into society than many European countries. For instance, German public schools now teach Islam along with other religions. A recent study found that many German Muslims are more German than expected, doing quintessentially German things such as joining soccer clubs or senior citizens’ groups. For many non-Muslim Germans, as talk show host Michel Friedmann remarked, “most of those five percent are honest, bourgeois, boring and sweet — just like their German Christian neighbors.”

A great example of Germany’s effort to promote dialogue with the Muslims is Qantara.de, an Internet portal designed “to discuss controversial issues openly and to highlight common ground between cultures.Qantara means “bridge” in Arabic. Published in Arabic, English, German, Turkish, and Indonesian, the portal is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office and is jointly run by Deutsche Welle, Germany’s public broadcasting service, the Goethe Institute, the Federal Agency for Civic Education, and the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations. Continue reading

Media and Islam: CNN

This is the fourth part of our series, Media and Islam. Previous parts explained why we started the series and examined Al Jazeera and Global Voices.

cnn“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own fact,” said US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. News media’s job is to give the public both facts and opinions, but labeling each clearly so as not to confuse or mislead. Facts should carry more weight in media coverage and be the basis of opinions voiced in media.

Using this criterion to assess the coverage of Islam and the Muslim world by the three major US cable news networks, I find that CNN outperforms Fox News and MSNBC even though it lost 30% of its viewers in 2009 while Fox News gained 7% and MSNBC fell 12%.

First, CNN is more committed to news gathering. Unlike generating opinions, gathering facts requires having reporters on the ground knocking on doors, talking to locals, and sifting through documents. Statistics show that CNN has more correspondents in more Muslim countries than what Fox News and MSNBC have combined. The financial commitment by CNN is also the biggest among the three, with Fox News spending the least on newsgathering. Continue reading