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COMMUNICATIONS MEDIA. Communication has been an instrumental and integral part of Islam since its inception as a religio-political movement. Over the centuries Islamic culture and civilization have been influential in the development of three major pillars of human communication: first, a high level of oral communication and culture in which information was produced and transmitted from person to person; second, an unprecedented degree of reproduced books and manuscripts marking an intellectual era of rich scientific, literary, artistic, and linguistic interaction in all branches of knowledge; and third, the first attempt in history to bring oral and written cultures into a unified framework, laying the ground for the scientific revolution that followed in Europe.

The art of oral culture and communication in Islamic societies found its best expression in the Qur’an (the holy book), the sunnah (tradition), and the hadith (a record of the acts and sayings of the Prophet and his companions, the ahl al-bayt). The Qur’an is the main source from which Islamic communication practices and precepts are drawn and explained. The sunnah of the Prophet, taken from his deeds and judgments and written down, is the standard of conduct alongside the Qur’an; the hadiths are the authoritative record of the Prophet’s sayings. A hadith is credible only when its isndd or documentation offers an unbroken series of reliable authorities in oral and written communication. The hadith became fundamental to the organization of information and intellectual discourse in Islamic society. Investigation and study of this whole body of communication is called `ilm al-hadith.

Inherent in the Islamic teachings are basic rights of communication, including the rights to know, to read, to write, and to speak. The notion of `ilm, or knowledge, prevails throughout the Qur’an as the basic tenet of all communication in Islam; an awareness of the concept of `ilm in Islamic society is necessary for understanding the history of communication in Islam. The word iqra’ (reading) is also important in the Qur’an. Iqra’ implicitly conveys the idea of communicating consciously within the Muslim community. At the request of the Prophet, his companions wrote down the Qur’an in various media of the time to ensure the longevity of its teachings.

The memorization of the Qur’an is a common act of information and communication that has a long history in Islamic societies; it is still practiced widely in all Muslim countries, serving as an inextricable link between the oral and written modes. The fact that Arabic became the primary language of Islam aided the efficient transmission of ideas throughout the vast Islamic world. With a single religion and a single language, communication became an instrument for the integration of the larger Islamic community, the ummah.

Prior to the modern era, the primary centers of communication in the Islamic world were the mosques, especially during the daily and Friday congregations, and the marketplaces and public squares, as well as the religious schools. The mosque served not only for daily prayers but also for spreading news and opinion and as a forum for political decision-making. This form of communication, called khutbah, was largely based on the Islamic tradition of combining political and religious discourse. For example, during Ramadan, theological students and members of the `ulama’ customarily held meetings to present current topics and issues. [See Khutbah]

Another important concept in the realm of Islamic communication is tabligh, the notion of the propagation, dissemination, and diffusion of Islamic principles, beliefs, and practices. Tabligh, rooted in the oral and social traditions of the greater Islamic community, established a framework of ethics related to communications and social interactions. [See Tabligh.]

During the later centuries of Islamic history, when the arts of bookmaking and reproduction of manuscripts were widely developed, the oral mode did not lose its significance but remained an inseparable part of culture and communication. The expansion of Islamic states in Asia, Africa, and theIberian Peninsula, coupled with the introduction of new means of communication, accelerated the process of scientific, commercial, and artistic communication.

Medieval Islamic culture with its scholarly interest in the entire universe provided an intellectual environment that advanced studies in such fields as astronomy, chemistry, geography, history, mathematics, medicine, and philosophy. These studies in turn stimulated a respect for information and knowledge that directed both the domestic and international relations of the Islamic community. Moreover, the unified Islamic civilization took advantage of its pivotal geopolitical position by developing navigation science and communication not only for commerce and trade but also for distributing scholarly and practical knowledge. Written manuscripts and books permeated Islamic society and inspired profound cultural developments.

A group of efficient and intellectual scribes, the warraqin, served the Islamic community by commenting on and copying manuscripts, often completing more than a hundred pages a day. Under the supervision of the warraqin, writers and their publishers established an effective system of cooperation within the publication industry. The high demand for books led to the building of numerous private and public libraries.

Between the thirteenth century and the modern era, however, the Islamic world fell short in adopting new communication technologies because of political, economic, and social factors both internal and external. The European invention of the printing press in the midfifteenth century heralded the birth of the print culture and a tremendous quantitative jump in the output of information. In the Islamic societies, however, one mode of communication did not supersede another; rather, oral and written communication both continued to develop and came to complement technological forms of communication in the modern era. Hence the growth of communication in the Islamic world was characterized by qualitative progress rather than quantitative jumps.

From the sixteenth to the early nineteenth century, when more or less formalized councils of ministers came into being in Islamic countries such asIranandTurkey, the official government newswriter occupied an important place. Occasionally the government news–or akhbar, as it came to be called-was also read to the public from the stairs of mosques. The official governmental report functioned as a successful medium for disseminating news until the introduction of modern journalism.

Printing presses were introduced into Islamic countries such asEgypt,India,Iran, andTurkeyas early as the seventeenth century. During the late eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth, the printing press facilitated the establishment of newspapers throughout the Islamic world. This early period of the press was responsible for the importation of modern nationalism and secularism fromEurope; it also played an important role in the spread of the nineteenth-century Islamic reform movement as well as the campaign against European colonialism.

The early growth of the modern mass media in the Islamic world was associated first with state intervention in the production and distribution of the press, and second with the influence of both secular and religious leaders who sought to use the press for sociopolitical reforms. Thus, during the last two decades of the nineteenth century, two types of publications emerged in the Islamic world: one journalistic establishment led mainly by the western-trained and educated elites who were promoting European ideas of secularism, liberalism, and modern nationalism, and another pioneered by religious leaders and Islamic reformists such as Sayyid Jamal alDin al-Afghani, who was campaigning for a unified Is lamic community throughout the Middle East, Asia, and North Africa. Al-Afghani’s influence was strong in most Islamic countries, especiallyIranandEgypt; he and his followers published a number of newspapers, including the famous Al-`urwah al-wuthqa, which was circulated in many countries. By the turn of the century, the new tool of journalism was in widespread use in the Islamic world fromIndonesiatoNorth Africa. [See the biography of Afghani.]

The early years of the twentieth century witnessed the great struggle among nationalism, Islamic movements, and imperialism, which was reflected almost continuously in the Islamic media. The press inEgypt,Iran, andLebanonachieved wide circulation. This was also the period when journalism and modern communications media began to develop and expand inSyria,Iraq,Palestine,Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent.

With the revolt of the Young Turks against the sultan in 1908, there came a sudden upsurge in the number of newspapers being published in the Arabic-speaking provinces of theOttoman Empire. Of the three great media of propaganda in the Iranian Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1906-the omnipresent political pamphlets, the secret and revolutionary societies, and the press-it was the last that made the greatest gains. Anticolonial movements and the struggle for independence inIndia,Indonesia,Morocco, andAlgerialed to the growth of the press, political parties, and a number of ideological movements ranging from Islamic radicalism to communist socialism.

The twentieth century thus marked the rise of modern mass communication in the Islamic world. The process of decolonization in a number of Islamic countries in Asia andAfrica, coupled with the delineation of economic classes and the recognition of the nation-state system, elevated the communications media to new prominence in which the state played a major role. In the Central Asian republics where Soviet models of media became dominant, Islamic institutions of communication such as mosques and madrasahs remained under the control and supervision of the state. In North andWest Africa, the communications media of the newly established independent states were developed along the lines of French and English models.

A characteristic of the mass media in the contemporary Islamic world has been the multiplicity of press agencies as well as broadcasting, telecommunications, and cultural industries, which has largely reflected the diversity of ethnic, linguistic, and geographical groups. As a whole, the media in the Islamic world, particularly television, have been strongly influenced by their counterparts in the West. In contrast to the press, which has had a fairly independent, private status, radio and television typically have been operated by centralized, government-supervised institutions.

Among the mass communication media in the Islamic world, the film industry has had the shortest history. The limited development of film and cinema has both technical and cultural roots. In many Islamic societies, films in general and foreign films in particular have been opposed as corrupt and immoral because they promote alien values and their contents conflict with local cultural and religious norms. There is no objection in principle, however, to the technology of film and the legitimate use of it. The barriers have been broken down to a large extent as national and cultural policies have become more selective in the importation of foreign films and as local authorities have encouraged the production of historical, cultural, and educational films.

Because of the lack of production facilities in some Islamic countries and the generally low level of the economy, the media must import much of their equipment. At the same time, the lack of sufficient telecommunications and transportation infrastructure has made distribution both costly and haphazard. For these reasons the media have often relied heavily on outside sources for news and programming. Frequent charges that the media are influenced and even controlled by international agencies, postcolonial ties, and government organizations have stemmed largely from this imbalance in the financing of indigenous news agencies and newsgathering sources, as well as from a lack of comprehensive national communications policies.

The contemporary Islamic media contain ingredients endemic to their regional settings and characteristics that mark them as special products of their social milieu. Certain traits are peculiar to each Islamic region’s social and psychological structure. The Middle East and South Asia have the most developed mass communication systems, while the regions of Africa and Central andEast Asiarequire more investment in their systems. However, most Islamic countries fall short in the average number of modern media outlets when compared to the industrialized countries of Europe andNorth America.

Although population and literacy rates have been increasing in the Islamic world, a comparative study in a number of countries shows that readership numbers have not kept pace. The shortage of paper and machinery has been one reason, and internal political changes in a number of regions has been another. However, the growth of electronic media has been relatively dramatic owing to the spread of modern communication technologies and the use of communication satellites.

Print and electronic media in the Islamic world have helped to concentrate power in the hands of political and economic elites and have contributed to the centralization of modern state apparatus; by contrast, oral modes of communication have remained largely in the hands of traditional and religious groups that have often attempted to decentralize and diffuse the power of the state and establish a counterbalance to authority. Led by traditional authorities such as the `ulama’, the resurgence of Islam and revolutionary movements in the twentieth century points to the potential power of oral media such as the mosque.

One of the most interesting contemporary phenomena in the Islamic world has been the integration of modern communication technologies with the traditional media, a process that has contributed to the legitimation of the centers of power and the acceleration of political and social change. In the 1978-1979 Islamic Revolution inIran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his followers used such modern means of communication as telephones and cassette tapes along with traditional channels to disseminate their messages throughout the country. In such countries asIndonesia,Malaysia,Pakistan, andEgypt, the use of personal computers and facsimile machines for the diffusion of Islamic ideas has become widespread. Information about Islam has become more accessible to the lay person through databases on the Qur’an and hadith.

In the closing decades of the twentieth century, three important developments have had the most profound impact on the nature and content of information in the Islamic world. The Islamic Revolution inIranand subsequent political movements in other Islamic countries set the tone for the islamization of the media and created a new ecology of communication in a number of regions. The disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of newly independent states in Islamic regions such asCentral Asiacontributed to the potential expansion of a greater Islamic communications network. Finally, the growth of national and international telecommunications through satellites has potential to affect the integration of the Islamic regions and political and economic development there. The Islamic world is developing its communications media with a new awareness of global change and, at the same time, a profound sense of history and Islamic identity.

[See also Book Publishing; Newspapers and Magazines; Pamphlets and Tracts; Radio and Television.]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Abu Bakr, Yahya, et al. Development of Communication in the Arab States: Needs and Priorities.Paris, 1985.

Kamalipour, Yahya, and Hamid Mowlana, eds. Mass Media in theMiddle East: A Comprehensive Handbook.Westport,Conn., 1994 Mowlana, Hamid. “Technology versus Tradition: Communication in the Iranian Revolution.” journal of Communication 29 (1979): 107112.

Mowlana, Hamid. “Mass Media Systems and Communication.” In The Middle East, edited by Michael Adams, pp. 825-839.New York, 1988.

Mowlana, Hamid. “Communication, Ethics, and the Islamic Tradition.” In Communication Ethics and Global Change, edited by Thomas W. Cooper et al., pp. 137-146.White   Plains,N.Y., 1990. Nasser, Munir K. Press, Politics, and Power:Egypt’s Heikal and AlAhram.Ames,Iowa, 1979.

Rugh, William. The Arab Press.Syracuse,N.Y., 1979.

Sardar, Ziauddin. Information and the Muslim World.London, 1988. Schlesinger, Philip, and Hamid Mowlana, eds. “Islam and Communication.” Special issue of Media, Culture, and Society 15.1 (January 1993) Collection of essays covering the role of communication media in the Islamic world during classic and modern times.

HAMID MOWLANA

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/communications-media/
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  • writerPosted On: November 6, 2012
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