By KC Saleem
Of all the Indian states, Kerala, despite its achievements in the socio-economic sector, dubbed the Kerala Model of growth, can claim to have created the sleaziest media environment. Alternative journalism of the kind we have heard a lot about in the northern part of India, especially the one followed by Tehelka, has not cropped up in the history of the Kerala State as part of Independent India. There has not been a proud, viable media culture in the state. This is as true of the religious, social and cultural roles of media – purveyors of valuable information and catalysts for the cementing of various groups and identities – as to their political roles.
Quantitatively, Muslim media are prolific in Kerala. Almost all religious groups bring out daily newspapers. According to one estimate, there are 93 magazines run by Muslim institutions in the state. If we attempt to analyze their content, the adjective ‘prolific’ might deceive us. It is as if the very same contents have been rehashed without any purpose. They are manuals on how to pray and how not to pray; on how to become good Muslims and how not to become bad; on the supplications enunciated before entering bathroom and after waking up from bed etc. I am not saying that a Muslim magazine must kill contents like this. But I have been hearing it for how long, I don’t know. There are questions and answers which don’t have any relevance to the time we live in.
On two counts, Muslim media are sluggish, in my opinion. First, there is this vacuum of mutual understanding between two or more faiths, groups, and identities. Media should not turn a blind eye to the multi-polar, multi-cultural world, which is spoken much of, despite the clash of civilization theses and assorted hate speeches. There are, of course, inter-religious debates of the Zakir Naik kind, making others admit that Islam that the speaker represents and presents, is better than every way of life on the earth. I don’t believe that any Muslim media in the state can counter me, if I say that inter-religious debates they carry are public relations programmes for a particular brand of Islam. There has never been an earnest, critical approach to study Islamic traditions and history in the light of the Quran and Prophetic Traditions and to leave space for other traditions and cultures for mutual enrichment and sharing. The entire humanity was one – an Islamic principle underlines. Multi-cultural debates, I believe, should aim to search the essential oneness amidst a plethora of identities.
Secondly, no Muslim media in the state, or in the whole world for that matter, has really posed the question as to what culture is. If culture means manners and tastes of a particular social group (Oxford Dictionary), media can’t escape to the easy world of meaningless dialogues without showcasing how people behave, perceive life and ethics (which is expressed largely in art, music, cinema, cuisine and, dressing). And with this in my mind, I can’t help calling a newspaper ridiculous, which does not carry an ad on cinema but carry cinema reviews – mostly negative (purportedly to prove that it is not isolated from the popular culture). All over the world, Muslim media have ostracized forms of culture which, if showcased well, can be converted to their creative and ethical best. We can explain that culture can not only be made subservient to the crass commercialism of the unipolar world order, but a framework to enact new ethics for shared living. For this to happen, we need new interpretations for what we conceive as our faith.
My search has been for a new media platform where I can share these concerns. I had to challenge the existing organizations, while not scandalizing them. A huge investment, though, is needed, for which the organizational pattern of institutions is suitable to amass. Web, I found, is the media which is not as much tapped in the Muslim world as it should be. I came to see web magazines appear here and there, but I found them as newer forms to carry the old contents. If something is not done fast, the same complacency and sluggishness we have seen in the print or visual media might spread to the easily accessible, interactive media platform that was slowly emerging.
Most of the existing 600-plus Muslim sites function in a very limited area with a majority of them providing religious fundamentals and guidance on juridical (fiqh) issues as I have already mentioned. Some others advocate Islamic activism of regional Islamic groups or individual countries. There are also sites that spit venom on other sects and communities like dirtykuffar.com as well as deceptive sites run by Christians like Jihadwatch.com (run by Robert Spencer) and anti-Muslim sites like the Moor Next Door. None of these target inter-communal amity or rapport with followers of other faiths.
I believe that www.islaminteractive.info filled this vacuum successfully with its rich contents. It aims to focus on sharing and mutual interactions for peaceful co-existence and dialogue of peaceful, waking, and vibrant minds with the sense that divine blessings are exclusive to none. It poses questions and puts forth diverse answers based on the time-tested texts on issues of keeping our faith and rituals in a radically altered post-modern world where all identities are in a state of flux. It showcases varied aspects of culture and its potential to revive ties and unite people sans borders. Interactive is not a monologue of closed minds; it is a dialogue. A dimension of actualizing wise, peaceful lives in the virtual space.
[KC Saleem is the editor of IslamInteractive.info, an online magazine based in Calicut. He also has translated many books from English to Malayalam.]
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