Chapter 2


Islam in the American Media

Today, the media is one of the most influential factors in forming public opinion, for it instills in people either a sympathy for or an aversion to a particular issue and gets them to accept or oppose it. How the media has influenced the American people's view of Islam is a case in point.


Islam and the American Army
(Above) Norfolk Naval Base is the first base to open a prayer center for Muslim soldiers. A Virginian Pilot report tells about this center.(Middle) The first Muslim chaplain in the American Navy, Mangi Noel, receives the requisite certification before assuming his duties. Above, The call to prayer in the camp, (Middle) US soldiers at prayer, (Below) Lieutenant Abdullah Al-Mubarak is seen giving an address at the second iftar meal held at the Pentagon.

Until recently, Islam generally had a bad press in certain sectors of the American media, which tried to convince people that Islam was an Arab religion and that negative stereotypes of Arabs were generally true. But this false information and prejudiced view had exactly the opposite effect: Contrary to the expected alienation of public opinion from Islam, it became the fastest growing religion in America. These reports brought Muslims and Islam into the lives of the American people. In this way, many who knew nothing about Islam were informed and began to take an interest in it. This is also a realization of the Qur'anic verse: "It may be that you hate something when it is good for you, and it may be that you love something when it is bad for you. God knows and you do not know" (Qur'an, 2: 216)

The media reports that seemed negative at the first look became a means whereby more accurate reports were made that would prevent the dissemination of false information about Islam and present Islam in a better way. The media focused upon Muslims because of the rapid growth of the Muslim population. So, during the 1990s Islam and Muslims became one of the most important topics in the American media.

(Above) The US issued a postage stamp commemorating Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, The U.S. postage stamp highlighting Muslim holidays has been in use since September 2001. The Eid stamp features the Arabic phrase "Eid Mubarak" written in the tuluth calligraphic style .(Below) A view of American Muslim leaders with a special stamp being printed by the U.S. postal service.

Nearly all of these reports highlighted accurately the way Muslims think and what they believe, and informed non-Muslims about Islam. They explained the daily lives and worldviews of Muslims, and gave prominence to the views of recent converts. At the same time, these reports often contained special sections on Islamic history, the fundamentals of Islam, and the Qur'an. Internet pages belonging to radio and television stations also presented the addresses of Islamic sites so that people could obtain information more easily.

This process of information accelerated as a result of the public interest after 9/11. Nearly all major newspapers began to ask whether or not terrorism was inherent to Islam and to offer comprehensive reports containing the views of academics, clergy, historians, and social scientists. As a result, the American people once again saw that Islam is a peaceful religion, and learned that their religious beliefs had many things in common with those of the Muslims.

This situation certainly played an important role in the growing interest in Islam. During this time, many people who were largely ignorant of Islam and did not have easy access to accurate information could now educate themselves with relative ease.


The Qur'an Has Become the Best Selling Book in America

The 9/11 tragedy caused the growth of Islam in America to accelerate greatly. One of the clearest indications of this is that after the attacks, the Qur'an became the best-selling book in many states for a long time. American interest in the Qur'an increased to such an extent that Penguin Books, one of the best-known publishers of the Qur'an in English, reported that it had printed 20,000 extra copies after 9/11.54

USA Today reported on this intense interest in "People Want to Know, so Koran is Bestseller," saying that sales of the Qur'an had increased by five times.55 When asked for his view on this matter, a leading expert in Islam, John Esposito, emphasized an important point:

The strength of the Qur'an is that a Muslim, or anyone, can open it to any page and get a message dealing with life's meaning.56

Newsweek devoted eight pages in its February 2001 issue to an examination of the Qur'an. In the report entitled "In the Beginning There Were the Holy Books," it emphasized that God revealed each holy book and that there was no room for religious conflict. Among the issues treated were Qur'anic morality, how Muslims regard Christians and Jews, and Islam teaches people to live. The report states that when they first read the Qur'an, many Christians are surprised to see how much is written in the Qur'an about such Prophets as Jesus, David, Abraham, and Jonah, peace be upon them all, who appear in the Bible. The report also stresses that justice, mercy, and compassion are basic to the Qur'an. The Oprah Show, one of the top three American talk-shows, also discussed Islam. On October 5, 2001, there was an episode called "Islam 101." Participants included Queen Raina of Jordan; Prof. Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies and professor of International Relations at American University in Washington; and Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States. The program's purpose was to introduce Islam to the viewers. Along with presenting their views, the program sought to show a cross-section of the daily lives of American Muslims and to help people understand Islam better. Also, the program's Internet site explained Islam's basic tenets.

In addition to becoming a best seller, some public schools asked their students to memorize some Qur'anic verses. For example, seventh grade students in Byron, California, public school system were to take a three-week course to give them detailed information about the tenets of Islam. In this course, they were to memorize Qur'anic verses, learn about Islamic history and the life of Prophet Muhammad, and even make speeches to the class using Muslim names that they had chosen for themselves. And this program was put into effect immediately. Along with this, it was proposed that students learn how Muslims pray and what Islam's religious duties are.57

People in the state of Maine had a very keen interest in Islam. A few days after 9/11, there was a large increase in sales of the Qur'an and books on Islamic history. On September 22, the Bangor Daily News reported on the people's interest in Islam in "Mainers Studying Tenets of Islam." This article said, in part:

As Americans struggle to come to terms with last week's events, Mainers apparently are turning to encyclopedias, history books, biographies, textbooks and the Qur'an itself to understand what the majority of Muslims believe. Gig Weeks of Book Marc's in downtown Bangor said Wednesday the store had sold all but one copy of the Qur'an…. She said several of the titles are on back order until publishers can reprint them. Staffers at Borders Books, Music and Café in Bangor reported they had sold five copies of the Qur'an since Sept. 11, compared with the two copies that had been sold between Jan. 1 and Sept. 10.58

(Above) Reports and documentaries dealing with Islam on American television and in the newspapers play an important role in informing people about Islam (below). The PBS series on "Observing Islam" has attracted much interest. (Middle) In the US Islamic websites are popular; since it was broadcast, Robert Gardner's documentary Islam: Empire of Faith has received a great deal of interest in America.(Below) An Islamic documentary on American TV; internet sites about Islam have received as much interest among Americans as documentaries and television programs. (Above left) After 9/11 there was a much higher sale of Qur'ans (Above right) The Qur'an is a bestseller in the US (Below) For weeks after 9/11, the Qur'an was at the top of the best-seller list. In an Atlanta Journal report entitled "Qu'ran a best seller everywhere," well-known bookstores reported that their stocks of Islamic books were depleted and that the Qur'an was the top-selling book in almost every state.


The article gave further information about this interest. For example, students at Bangor Theological School, who normally study about Islam toward the end of the school year, wanted to start the course right away, and so Dana Sawyer, one of the school's teachers, started a course about the Qur'an and the Prophet's life. In this course, Sawyer said that declaring all Muslims to be terrorists was the same as saying that all Christians are responsible for a crime committed by one Christian.59 The Guardian featured an article by Jeremy Rifkin, the well-known American economist, in which he said that he was ashamed that he had not read anything about Islam prior to 9/11, and that now he was not the only one engaged in learning about Islam:

I'm ashamed to admit it, but before September 11, I didn't pay much attention to Islam. I had a cursory knowledge of the historical struggle between Israel and its Arab neighbors. I knew a bit about the struggle with the west over oil.... It took the deaths of 5,000 Americans in a horrific act of terrorism to get my attention. Like so many others, I have been reading up on Islam-its tenets, internal struggles, . . . visions. . . , its similarities and deep differences with Christianity and the West... I'm not alone. Seven of the 15 lead books on the New York Times paperback bestseller list are devoted to Islam. The Koran has become a bestseller. The whole world, it seems, has been converted into a classroom as we try to make sense out of the tragic events of September 11 and its aftermath.60

(Left) In the "Islam and the West" section of the Economist magazine, a dialogue between Christians and Muslims appeared, entitled "The Bishop and the Imam ask, Do we really have to fight?" (Right) In a Guardian article entitled "Dialogue Is a Necessity," Jeremy Rifkin, a well-known American economist, drew attention to the importance of knowing about Islam and understanding it properly.

A Muslim Leader Adresses A National Service of Remembrance
Friday Prayers in the American Congress
A Muslim Leader Adresses A National Service of Remembrance
At a national service of commemoration held on September 14 to commemorate those who died on 9/11, President Bush invited the Muslim leader Muzammil Siddiqi to give the address. The service at the National Cathedral was attended by George Bush and Colin Powell, members of the military, bureaucrats, and relatives of those who lost their lives. In his address, Siddiqi prayed for those who died and recited Qur'anic verses.(Above) The Qur'an was read in a cathedral, (Below) Christians and Muslims pray together in the cathedral.
A small mosque has been set aside for Muslims working in the Congress to perform Friday prayers. In 1998, for the first time and under the initiative of Suhail Khan, Senator Tom Campbell's press secretary, Muslims started meeting once a month for conversation. A little while later, Muslims in other government departments joined and began to hold the Friday prayers in a room convenient for this purpose. When the numbers grew too large, talking with the management of the Congress building resulted in a small room being set aside as a mosque in which Muslims could meet for conversation and Friday prayers. Now, an average of 50 to 60 Muslims meet there every Friday.1 1. "Muslims Holding Regular Friday Prayers in U.S. Capitol," U.S. Department of State, International Information Programs, http:usinfo.state.gov./usa/islam/ a091099.htm

American Congress opens for the first time with
a reading from the Qur'an

American official institutions teach the Qur'an
(Above) American Congress opens for the first time with a reading from the Qur'an (Middle) The US Congress will open with a reading from the Qur'an; In 2001, another historical event occurred. Every year when Congress begins its new session, there are readings from the Bible. This year, there was a reading from the Qur'an. This was an important event for all Muslims, and no one could have guessed only a few years ago that the Qur'an would be recited in the political heart of the world's only superpower. This is an example of how much Islam has grown in America.(Below) Maryland State Senate opens with a reading from the Qur'an. American official institutions teach the Qur'an; Because of the increasing numbers of Muslims in America and Islam's increasing influence in American social life, various institutions, among them the FBI, have begun to educate their employees about Islam, (Below) FBI learns about Islam

The Number Of Muslims Is Increasing In Hawaii
Islam Is Spreading Among Latin American Immigrants

As in other parts of America, the number of Muslims is increasing in Hawaii. The majority of converts in Hawaii are military personnel. One of them is Heather Ramaha, who works for the navy at Pearl Harbor. Her husband is a Muslim, and she decided to convert after 9/11. Hakim Ouansafi, president of the Muslim Association of Hawaii, reported that after 9/11, there was a visible increase in the number of Muslims in Hawaii. According to him, before 9/11 only about 3 Muslims converted a month; in the two months after the attacks, 23 people converted.(Above) Reports about Muslims in Hawaii newspapers. In the report on the left, the president of the Muslim Association of Hawaii condemns the 9/11 attacks. The report on the right is about the rising conversion trend in Hawaii since 9/11.
(Above) Latin-America streams to Islam, Latino-Islamic currents, The densest wave of immigration to America is from Latin America. In many states today, Spanish and English are the majority languages. It is estimated that more than 40,000 Latin American Muslims live in Los Angeles, New York, Newark, and Chicago.1 The public assistance programs organized by Latin American Muslims have attracted interest. For example, the Alianza Islamica, whose members are mostly from Harlem, has achieved much success in the last few years in their struggle against drugs, AIDS, and crime. 1. Hisham Aidi, "Olé to Allah: New York's Latino Muslims," http:www.africana.com/DailyArticles/index_19991101.htm

The Rise Of Islam Will Continue

All of these developments indicate something striking: Islam is spreading quickly in America and gradually gaining power. The coming chapters will show how this growth is not limited to America, but how Islam is spreading everywhere in the world. These are very significant developments and, God willing, are signs of many more important developments. Therefore, these events are good news for believers and a cause for joy and excitement. In the Qur'an, God announces that true religion will indeed triumph, as in:

It is He Who sent His Messenger with guidance and the True Religion to exalt it over every other religion, though the idolaters hate it. (Qur'an, 61: 9)

Thus, while evaluating these developments we must not forget that all of them are promises of God. Such an attitude is important, if they are to be appreciated as they should be. Otherwise, these events will be regarded as ordinary happenings in the general flow of life and simply as the results of a few political developments. But the truth is quite different. In fact, God has determined every moment that we experience according to His Destiny for us. Where and how people approach Islam, how many Qur'ans a bookstore sells, how a state official begins to take in interest in Islam and when, where, and how this interest will be expressed are all developments that God has already determined.

Although we know that God creates a reason for every event, we must always remember that He has already determined our destiny. Given this awareness, we realize that we should thank God for the blessing of creating us to live in this time, when such important developments are taking place. We say this because every event that we experience is a step leading to greater and more important developments, and every such event announces the good news that the blessed time for which Muslims have been waiting for centuries is approaching. Our thanksgiving for this blessing must take the form of both words and deeds. In other words, we must work to quicken the spread of the Qur'an's moral teachings, struggle against any irreligious ideologies and ideas that impede this development, and take every opportunity to convey these teachings.

One other point also should be kept in mind: Along with this rise, Muslims could continue to face various pressures from certain quarters. However, such concerns are beyond the scope of this book. Nevertheless, they cannot make us ignore the fact of Islam's rapid growth throughout the world, the increasing interest in Islam, and the continued growth of the Muslim population. Thus we must not confuse interest in Islam, especially in the West, with the prejudiced, anti-Islam, and anti-Muslim attitudes and hostile stances observed in some circles. These two topics must be discussed separately.

imilarly, when the Western world examines Islam, it must consider the moral values of the Qur'an and those who have sincerely adopted them. If they do not, instead of making decisions and policies that would contribute to world peace and ensure security and well-being, differences could be magnified and dialogue impaired. The basis for a dialogue between two civilizations will be established by the goodwill of believers, who conscientiously live according to the high morality that God commanded. Strengthening such a dialogue means that every viewpoint and ideology that violently agitates against peace and well-being by fomenting conflict, argument, and war will be eradicated. The fundamental support for the struggle against terror, violence, and every movement that damages world peace must be negotiation, dialogue, and a discussion at the level of ideas. This approach is the best way to prevent steps taken to bring world societies into peace and security from inadvertently harming innocent people and being used for other purposes.


54. "People Want to Know, so Qur'an is Bestseller," USA Today, November 27, 2001.
55. Ibid.
56. Ibid.
57. "Public Schools Embrace Islam," The American Center for Law and Justice Press Release, January 15, 2002.
58. Bangor Daily News, September 22, 2001
59. Ibid.
60. The Guardian, November 13, 2001.