Recent geopolitical events and the rise of Islamophobia are driving United States-based Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid to correct the negative perception of the religion. As founder of Sound Vision Foundation, he tells during a visit to Malaysia that he hopes to spread messages of peace through the media and other channels in his home city of Chicago
IMAM Abdul Malik Mujahid, better known as Imam Mujahid, is a prominent Islamic leader in his home city of Chicago, the United States.
A well-known author, producer and activist, he believes that the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims, whom he passionately referred to as “neighbours of Muslims”, must be fostered in hope of a more peaceful world.
In today’s uncertain geopolitical climate, he said, it was important to come together in the spirit of peace and justice.
Question: As a prominent imam based in Chicago with influences all over the globe, can you elaborate on some of the initiatives that you have taken to improve the image of Islam and Muslims?
Answer: As founder of Sound Vision Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation based in Chicago, we have been serving the Muslim community and neighbours of other faiths for the last 29 years.
Sound Vision is involved in three main endeavours, which are public relations for Muslims, media relations and media production for Muslims, and resource development for the Muslim community and people of other faiths.
In public relations, we have the One America Coalition, which gathers 60 non-Muslim organisations to push back on policies (Donald) Trump has towards Muslims.
For the Muslim community, we show that we ourselves condemn terrorism to the point that it has become like the sixth pillar of Islam. We also held the Muslim Fest in Toronto, a Canadian city which has the largest Muslim population of any North American city.
We monitor 2,000 television stations in the United States and whenever false news about Islam comes out, we talk to them to correct false information.
In the past year, we talked to 550 individual journalists and told them our perspective on issues relating to Islam and Muslims.
We also run a daily radio programme called Radio Islam which has 60,000 listeners.
Half of them are Muslims while the other half are of other faiths. Sound Vision has 21 staff members and 300 volunteers. In total, close to six million people learn and benefit from us.
Q: What are your objectives as a Muslim leader and those of Sound Vision Foundation?
A: Our tagline is “Keeping young Muslims Muslim, and keeping our neighbours friends”. Islam is always on television but portrayed wrongly, so that gives us our assignment.
We want to present Islam in the right way and change people’s perception that we are bad people. This is why we focus on public and media relations for Muslims and non-Muslims.
There are 3,000 mosques in the United States, six million Muslims, more than 400 schools donated by the Muslim community and even several universities and colleges run by Muslim communities.
After the changes in the last six months, 40 mosques have been attacked, close to 10 Muslims murdered and five mosques have been completely destroyed.
There is the “Muslim ban” in six countries, but in practice, it impacts the whole world.
We see that there are a lot of challenges for Muslims but at the same time, approval ratings for Muslims in the United States are going up. Our non-Muslim friends are standing up for us, too.
In a way, apart from all our efforts, there is a silver lining that brings Muslims and non-Muslims together to fight against the nonsense, which some people in the government put out.
Q: Can you talk about how Islamophobia came about?
A: Islamophobia is not a product of people who are ignorant about Islam. It is a product of Muslims being weak and isolated in society.
If we engage in society, we will empower ourselves and present the Muslim brand, so that people are unable to brand us as bad people or terrorists.
Unfortunately, in terms of bringing Muslims together, Islamophobia has not done so.
Yes, we are more worried, we have a higher level of stress, but we are not united in thinking about what can be done. We do not tell our own stories but we are letting others do it for us. Muslims do not have a media brand or films dedicated to Islam.
I think Muslims need to learn the art of telling their story. When others narrate what Islam and Muslims are, they tend to depict them in a wrong way. We need to take control of our people and tell our own narratives.
This is why Sound Vision focuses on public relations and the media, as it is a powerful tool of presenting Islam to the world.
Q: How can Muslims use the media as a tool to change the perception of Islam?
A: We need to present the Islamic brand and our concerns for
society. We should tell the world how Muslims are the number one victims of terrorism and why we hate terrorism and war.
When people who hate Muslims are surveyed, they say that is what the media tells us. The media inadvertently tells us what to believe in, so it is important we tell them the truth.
Q: How can an average Muslim play a role here?
A: Muslims have to “live their Islam” by being good citizens and a good neighbour to non-Muslims. If we do that, the peaceful nature of Islam will speak for itself.
We should follow the universal teachings of Prophet Muhammad, who said Islam considered justice not just for ourselves as Muslims, but for everybody.
The rights of neighbours refer to all neighbours, not just those who are Muslims.
If we live by positive universal values, we will do good as individual Muslims.
Having said that, we also need to empower ourselves with good public relations and media.
Instead of just condemning terrorism, we have to think about the strategies to deal with it.
Q: There are claims that the global Muslim community lacks a true leader who can be at the forefront of the challenges confronting the religion. What is your take on this?
A: I think the responsibility in taking care of the religion is mutual. Governments, civil society and even individual Muslims need to do a better job.
At the same time, they need to interact with the broader world. We are not an island, but a part of humanity. We need to connect with humanity in service, and connect with God in worship. Cooperation, in the name of humanity, should be increased.
For Muslims in general, having a unity of purpose and common agenda, and sharing resources will only make us stronger.
There are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world. We may not agree on everything, but we can find common ground on issues, such as caring for the poor and being kind to our neighbours.
Q: You mentioned that Muslims should follow the traditions of Prophet Muhammad in dealing with conflicts. What are some strategies that the prophet employed during his time that could have a big impact if implemented today?
A: Prophet Muhammad had three strategies which he implemented to empower people.
The first is communicating a simple message of peace in the best possible manner, which is the most effective.
The second strategy is coalition-building. The prophet had treaties after treaties with the non-believers, the Jews and Christians.
His relationship with them was a major thing that won over people.
The third strategy was by making Muslims better human beings through their service to people. Serving people makes us better human beings.
Q: Can you talk about your work in upholding the rights of the Muslims in Rohingya? Some observers believe fighting to end the genocide in Myanmar is a lost cause because it is not going anywhere.
A: If we look at it closely, we can see that this fight is not a lost cause. In terms of awareness and education, we have succeeded.
In the last few years, the Rohingya have come to the limelight because Muslims and non-Muslims are conveying their situation on social media. In terms of education, this is an achievement.
Things are moving in the right direction. Countries are doing their part, but they need to be firmer in their approach.
Countries in this region should take a stronger stand because it has become a regional issue and many countries are affected.
Q: In conclusion, what do you want to tell the Muslim community in Malaysia about their roles to ensure that Islam continues to be accepted as a religion of peace and understanding?
A: We need to be confident in ourselves and believe firmly in the goodness that we do. When terrorist attacks happen, other people say we are bad people, but that is not what we should believe.
It is unfortunate to see Muslims responding to hate with hate. God tells us to respond to our brothers in a better manner. If someone greets you, greet them better. When we do this, God says, it will turn your enemies into friends.
Parents, imams, civil society and the education system have a shared responsibility to improve the community. To do this, you must first oppose war and terrorism and become better citizens and neighbours.
We can only achieve success when we strive towards the betterment of society.