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Islam and Muslims as Portrayed in Media Research Paper

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Updated: May 3rd, 2021

The media has been very influential in shaping perceptions of religion. Islam has over the years been a critical element in global media. Critics might argue that the reason for the stated is the rise of terrorism, which has been linked to Muslim radicals (Wetherly, 2017). In such a discussion, it is important to remain objective. Indeed, whereas in the recent past there has been much speculation on the relationship between Islam and terrorism, in the 17th century, Christianity was also associated with terrorism (Appelbaum, 2015). One can argue that the media had not evolved in the 17th century as much as it has today.

Due to this, the media is seen as suppressing one religion, Islam. Kenney and Moosa (2013) think that the poor depiction of Islam by the media has led to discrimination against Muslims. Furthermore, Muslims feel uncomfortable going about their day-to-day activities due to the said discrimination. There have been cases of religious prejudice in the workplace and even in schools. This research study focuses on whether the media influences and shapes the perception of Islam and Muslims in the UAE.

Statement of the Problem

Media influence on the perception of Islam affects views on both the Islamic religion and those who practice it.

Hypothesis

If the media influences personal opinions on Islam then it also affects views on people who practice this religion (Muslims).

Research Questions

  1. How are Muslims affected by the negative perception of Islam depicted through the media?
  2. Does the media portrayal of Islam influence perceptions of this religion?
  3. How do the media portray Islam as a religion?
  4. Is the media portrayal of Islam true or false to a significant degree?

Literature Review

In different parts of the world, mass media outlets have remained the main sources of ideas and information about Islam. Modern technologies are transforming the way people share concepts or communicate with them. Emerging platforms such as social media are making interaction among people easier than ever before. Since many people rely on the media, it has been impossible for the global society to get a clear or true picture of the Islamic religion. This has been the case because the media tends to focus on the issues or extremes of Islam and its followers. This research paper digs deeper to understand how this representation continues to impact many Muslims across the world.

The ultimate goal of the media should be to provide information that is moderate, fair, and nonpartisan. This approach will ensure that different stakeholders and consumers of ideas are served efficiently. Unfortunately, many media houses and groups have not been keen to deliver such aims or objectives. Ahmed and Matthes (2016) acknowledge that different media platforms tend to focus on extreme, sensational, and unusual reports that can attract a wide public following.

Hassan, Azmi, and Abubakar (2017) use the term “mass media of Islam” to describe how religion is treated in different societies. This kind of media has made it impossible for the global society to have a clear knowledge of the true nature and purpose of the Islamic faith.

According to a study on the impact of media on the image of Islam conducted in Australia by Dr. Halim Rane, a lecturer in the National Centre of Excellence in Islam Studies at Griffith University, and Dr. Mohammad Abdalla, the Founding Director of the Griffith Islamic Research Unit and Co-Director of the National Centre of Excellence in Islamic Studies, mass media has the general tendency to concentrate on the extreme, eccentric, and sensational side of Islam. From that tendency, “mass media Islam” came into existence. “Mass media of Islam” is a phenomenon that describes the image media constructs of Islam and Muslims that many people believe to be true and act upon such beliefs resulting in discrimination.

Of course, the people who easily take up the image portrayed in the media, are individuals that rely on the media as the main source of information regarding Islam and its adherents. A telephone survey showed that the media did not help people have a better understanding of Islam and Muslims. Regardless of that though, most respondents are generally accepting of this religion and its believers as a segment of the Australian society and believe that they do not pose a threat to the country. Moreover, the majority of the respondents are alert and aware of the misrepresentation of Islam and Muslims. Overall, this research has shown the impact of media on public opinion of Islam is limited to a minority of the population (Rane & Abdalla, 2008).

Hassan et al. (2017) argue that Islam is an ideology that continues to be portrayed and popularized as a violence-prone religious group. Different newspapers and television channels have encouraged many people to acknowledge that the religion’s doctrines are against the ones embraced in the West. It is agreeable that Muslim identity is something that has been defined by mass media as a powerful force that is opposed to the ideals of the world. Considine (2017) uses the term “Islamophobia” to describe the main discourse pursued by the media in different regions. This means that many people have been forced to have a negative understanding or interpretation of Islam as a religion.

In many films and documentaries, Muslims are portrayed as fanatics and murderous individuals who promote global unrest. This has also been the same thing associated with computer games (Hassan et al., 2017). The crude images popularized by the media go further to identify followers of Islam as unsympathetic and unforgiving individuals. They are believed to promote malpractices such as domestic violence and sexual abuse. Gender inequality is also seen as an issue that continues to affect many women in Islamic societies or regions.

With the increasing levels of terrorism in different parts of the world, the media has been on the frontline to depict Islam as the sole region behind this global predicament. Considine (2017) asserts that the current situation developed or intensified following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. The global society was forced to believe that the Islamic world was at war with the West. Most of the movies and publications presented by different media outlets across the globe indicated that followers of this faith were bigoted and violent. They were also labeled as extremists whose intentions and goals were to be monitored carefully by the global society.

Due to this negative role played by the media, the problem of Islamophobia has become a reality in every society. The situation is that many people are afraid of Muslims because they believe that they are dangerous. Some of the events experienced in different parts of the world have resulted in a situation whereby more individuals are unable to interact positively with Muslims (Ahmed & Matthes, 2016). For instance, the Charlie Hebdo attack recorded in France and the actions undertaken by the Islamic State group (ISIL) have made it easier for different media houses to show videos and images that link Islam to terrorism.

Effects on Muslims

The media has continued to deceive people about the true nature of Islam as one of the oldest religions in the world today. The current propaganda is that followers of this faith are savages, terrorists, and extremists whose agenda is to deny people their rights and freedoms. Different media outlets portray Muslims as primitive, irrational, and dangerous individuals who should be avoided by all means (Considine, 2017). This kind of depiction has not been based on the truth or facts about Islam. Consequently, numerous impacts or effects have been felt by many followers of this faith.

Treatment

The stereotypes and notions embraced by many people in the Western world have created the best environment for the media to dent the religion’s image much further (Bleich, Nisar, & Abdelhamid, 2015). This has resulted in a scenario whereby followers of the Islamic religion are treated negatively. Malpractice has become common because many people believe that terrorists are dangerous and can claim lives.

This scenario has encouraged many individuals to be against Muslims. Hassan et al. (2017) acknowledge that police officer find it easier to single out members of this religion and accuse them of different acts of violence. This misconduct has become common in many countries across Europe and North America (Ahmed & Matthes, 2016). This has been the case because followers of this faith are viewed as radicals whose ideals revolve around war, instability, and inequality. The media has encouraged and guided many communities to treat members of this religion negatively because it promotes a wide range of malpractices. For instance, some experts have noted that the media has been keen to indicate that many Islamic societies encourage malpractices such as violence against women, child abuse, and male chauvinism (Considine, 2017).

Since these misbehaviors are uncommon in the West, it has become easier for many individuals to be against Islamic culture. With these challenges in place, the wave of Islamophobia has been taken to the next level. This means that many people would not be willing to relate positively to the members of the Islamic religion. They would also choose learning institutions and neighborhoods that do not have Muslims.

This problem has made it impossible for many Christians and Muslims to interact positively (Hassan et al., 2017). Consequently, numerous challenges such as discrimination based on racial and religious backgrounds have emerged in different nations across Europe and America. The current situation has made it impossible for the affected individuals to achieve their potential and lead better lives.

Image

As described earlier, the mainstream media has succeeded in distorting the image of Islam across the globe. Many people view Muslims as extremists who are unable to relate positively to different members of society (Ahmed & Matthes, 2016). The media has continued to create and promote inappropriate ideas about religion. This issue has resulted in stereotypes that appear to be embraced by many people in different parts of the world.

A good example is that Muslims tend to be viewed as “fundamentalists” (Hassan et al., 2017). Although this term refers to people who are keen to focus on the teachings of their religions, the media has distorted its definition in such a way that it only presents the negativities associated with Islam. The positive attributes of Islam are unreported or go unnoticed. For instance, issues such as human and women’s rights have been viewed negatively in different regions.

This is the case because many people are forced to believe that Islam promotes malpractices such as Jihad (also known as holy war). A major misconception has emerged whereby Islam has been linked to violence. Many people in the West acknowledge that the Islamic religion must have been spread using “using the sword” (Bleich et al., 2015).

This means that most of the individuals involved in terrorist activities might be focusing on the best methods to force people to convert and become members of the religion. This negative image has emerged because of the role of the media. Experts in global issues and political relations have asserted that the situation might get out of hand as more cases of terrorism continue to be reported (Considine, 2017). The image can also affect the experiences and outcomes of many Muslims in every corner of the world. This is the reason why an attitude change is needed in an attempt to transform this negative image.

Economic empowerment

In countries such as America, the issue of diversity is taken seriously to promote economic development and empower individuals from every cultural background. Unfortunately, the portrayal of Muslims in the mainstream media is a practice that has affected the well-being and welfare of many individuals in society. With Islamophobia becoming a major problem, many Muslims are encountered with a challenge when trying to integrate into a community.

This gap makes it hard for them to pursue their academic and career goals (Ahmed & Matthes, 2016). The increasing level of discrimination discourages many Muslims in countries such as the United States to pursue their economic goals. In different corporations, employment opportunities tend to be unavailable to members of this religion. The fact that many leaders and managers view Muslims as potential security threats explains why they find it hard to get new job opportunities.

Those who are engaged in personal economic activities are unable to attract enough customers. This is the case because many individuals would not want to be associated with the members of this religion (Considine, 2017). This challenge makes it impossible for many Muslims in different Western nations to achieve their goals. The situation has worsened since most of the initiatives put in place to deal with the problem of Islamophobia have not delivered positive results (Hassan et al., 2017). As more media channels and outlets continue to portray Muslims negatively, chances are high that they will be unable to achieve their potential.

Social integration

Considine (2017) observes that many Muslims are not accepted or integrated into societies in the West. This challenge has emerged because many people have been informed about the capabilities and goals of many extremist groups led by Muslims. Every act of terrorism is analyzed deeply by the media in an attempt to present Islam as a religion that pursues the idea of Jihad. This malpractice has encouraged many people to be against this religion and its followers.

The outcome has been that many people no longer want to associate or relate positively to the members of this faith. New predicaments such as increased cases of discrimination and abuse against members of this religion continue to be reported. Police departments also find it hard to communicate positively with Muslims. This issue explains why prejudice and discrimination based on religious lines are some of the major problems affecting many societies today (Bleich et al., 2015).

Those who are affected by this predicament find it challenging to achieve their goals and lead positive lives. The problem has worsened since many underage children are exposed to computer games and television programs that continue to misguide them regarding the position of Muslims in contemporary society (Considine, 2017). Similarly, individuals who decide to live in communities with members of this religion will also face discrimination and will be unable to achieve their potential.

Methodology

The research study employed a qualitative approach. According to Bryman (2016), the qualitative approach in research aims at determining opinions and motivations. The qualitative research approach was selected as the research questions support an exploratory research design.

Sampling

The researcher used purposeful sampling. Patton (2014) explains that purposeful sampling refers to a selection technique that is based on pre-determined target population characteristics. The sampling technique is the most appropriate in this case since the research is conducted in the UAE, and is trying to determine whether the perceptions of Muslims change due to the depiction of Islam in the media. Thus, all the involved were Muslims living in the UAE. A total of 100 participants were recruited for the study using this approach. 50 of the participants were female, and 50 were male. The participants were selected randomly with the researcher choosing every third Muslim male and female within a radius of 20 kilometers.

Instrument

The instrument for data collection was a questionnaire. The questionnaire was developed by the researcher and tested at various levels. First, the questionnaire was tested among peers to strengthen wording and ensure flow. Secondly, the questionnaire was tested by a few select potential sample members. The process allowed the researcher to edit the questions accordingly to avoid bias and also capture the information needed for the study. It can be stated that the research study was not biased due to the thorough testing of the questionnaire. As stated previously, 100 participants were selected for the research. However, four individuals, three females and one male dropped out of the study and did not finish answering the questionnaire. The four questionnaires were therefore removed from the study.

Findings/Results

Several findings were recorded after the data collection. One of the more significant findings was that females were affected more by the depiction of Islam in the media compared to men. The finding is attributed to the way both genders answered the questions given to them. The section will present the findings realized per question as highlighted in the questionnaire.

The first question (gender) showed that 47 females and 49 males participated in the study. The second question showed that a total of 82 individuals had experienced unfair/biased treatment because of their beliefs. Out of the 82, 45 were male, and 37 were female, which also translates to 54% and 46% respectively. 89 participants agreed that the media perception of Islam was false (question three).

This translates to a 92% (rounded-up) agreement among the target population. Out of the 89 who agreed with the statement, 49 were male, and 40 were female. 57 out of the 96 participants believed that the negative view of Islam and Muslims was a result of stereotyping that is advanced by the media (question four). 30 participants stated that terrorism by Muslim extremists has led to a negative perception of the religion. Six participants argued that there were other unmentioned reasons why people had negative views of Islam while four participants blamed ignorance and lack of knowledge of the religion.

Question five sought to determine whether the participants felt there was a difference between the media portrayal and the actual image of Islam and Muslims. 90 of the 96 participants agreed that there was a difference. Important to note, all-male participants agreed with the statement. 89 participants argued that there was no difference in the presentation of Islam on different media outlets (question six). 72 participants agreed that the media outlets had succeeded in changing and shaping the image of Islam and Muslims (question seven).

Out of the 72, 43 were female, and 29 were male. 85 participants agreed that they had been forced to hide they were Muslim to avoid being treated unfairly/aggressively (question eight). Out of the 85, 45 were female, and 40 were male. 90 of the participants agreed that the media depicted Islam negatively to get more views (question nine).

Four participants stated that the media was misinformed and two argued that the presentation of Islam in the media was correct. The last question sought to determine how the participants would help discredit false representations of Islam and Muslims. 51 participants said they would talk to people about what Islam is while 40 people argued that they would stay away from controversy. The remaining five people agreed to share pictures showing the positive side of Islam.

Analysis

Several things come up from the findings presented. The first is that the female participants were affected more by the negative view of Islam in the media compared to the male participants. This is based on the fact that 45 females out of 47 had to hide the fact that they were Muslim to avoid being treated unfairly or aggressively. Also, one can argue that despite being the most affected, female Muslims are scared of taking action to change the negative perception people have of Islam.

The hypothesis is proven as a majority of the population agreed that the media depicts Islam differently and that media outlets have succeeded in changing and shaping the view of the religion. This goes further to show that even Muslims are affected by the media’s influence on the region. Further, the hypothesis is proven by the fact that a majority of the population agreed that different media outlets describe Islam in the same negative light. Indeed, the answers provided prove that Muslims also think about the negative image of their religion that is depicted in the media.

Recommendations

It is recommended that more research be done on the impact of the media portrayal of Islam on Muslim’s view of the religion. It is also important to note whether Muslims have developed a negative or more positive stand towards their religion based on the negative depiction of it in the media. Towards this end, one would be determining how faith and not only religion can be affected and shaped by the media. Indeed, religion is competitive.

However, there is little research trying to prove how the negative depiction of Islam has affected the buy-in into the religion in regards to converts. Some of the questions that would be presented in such research include whether fewer people are converting to Islam compared to before? Has the number of converts increased?

It is also recommended that the UAE introduce a country-wide Muslim cultural day. On such a day, foreigners working in or visiting the UAE are free to interact with Islam both as a culture and as a religion. The main reason behind the suggestion is to give non-Muslims a closer engagement with Islam and Muslims. Sharia Law must be explained to non-Muslims on such an occasion as well. For such a recommendation to help bridge differences between other religions and Islam, non-Muslims must be open-minded. Accepting that other people practice different faiths is a critical step in ensuring the real image of any religion is upheld.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the media has played a significant role in the portrayal of Islam and Muslims negatively. Currently, other religions associate Islam with violence and terrorism. This is because many terrorists are identified as Muslim. The media has invested heavily in bringing out stories on terrorism and linking the culprits with Islam. The additional fact that the Islamic religion is viewed as conservative and encourages ancient practices through Sharia Law does not help. The research sought to test the hypothesis that if media relations influence views of Islam, then they also affect perceptions of people who practice this religion (Muslims).

The study proved the hypothesis right. A total of 100 participants were recruited in the study, but only 96 fully participated. The study used a qualitative approach and exploratory research design. Data was collected through a pre-designed close-ended questionnaire. To remove any form of bias, the researcher pre-tested the questionnaire several times. One of the prominent findings realized through the research was that females were more affected by the negative description of Islam in the media than men. A majority of the female participants agreed that they have had to hide the fact that they are Muslim to protect themselves from unfair treatment.

References

Ahmed, S., & Matthes, J. (2016). Media representation of Muslims and Islam from 2000 to 2015: A meta-analysis. International Communication Gazette, 79(3), 219-244.

Appelbaum, R. (2015). Terrorism before the letter: Mythography and political violence in England, Scotland and France 1559-1642. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Bleich, E., Nisar, H., & Abdelhamid, R. (2015). The effect of terrorist events on media portrayals of Islam and Muslims: Evidence from New York Times headlines, 1985-2013. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 39(7), 1109-1127.

Bryman, A. (2016). Social research methods. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Considine, C. (2017). The racialization of Islam in the United States: Islamophobia, hate crimes, and “flying while brown.” Religions, 8, 165-183.

Hassan, I., Azmi, M. N., & Abubakar, U. I. (2017). Funding Islam in news reporting: A comparative content analysis. Asian Social Science, 13(10), 112-119.

Kenney, T. J., & Moosa, E. (Eds.). (2013). Islam in the modern world. New York, NY: Routledge.

Patton, Q. M. (2014). Qualitative research & evaluation methods: Integrating theory and practice. New York, NY: SAGE.

Rane, H., & Abdalla, M. (2008). Mass media Islam: The impact of media imagery on public opinion. Australian Journalism Review, 30(1), 39-49.

Wetherly, P. (2017). Political ideologies. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

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