SHAFAQNA -Â In an attempt to reduce growing levels of prejudice and stigma towards Islam and Muslims in Malawi, the Muslim community in the country has rolled off an initiative to enable the media access information easily about the religion.
â€œThe growing levels of prejudice have created a room for discrimination. Muslims are being discriminated against. We are being sidelined in so many ways. We are underrepresented in so many institutions,â€ Sheikh Jafalie Kwawings, Executive Director for Muslim Forum for Democracy and Development (MUSFORD), an organization implementing the initiative, told OnIslam.net.
“We are the last group of people to be considered for anything in this country. This is a clear indication of the amount of hatred people have towards Muslims in this country.
â€œThrough this approach, we will be able to work closely with the media. We will be able to some extent train journalist on various issues which are often misunderstood by the general public. Journalists provide information to the public; therefore, they should always be in the know. If they lack knowledge, the possibility of them misinforming the public is very high.
â€œThis initiative will help to change peopleâ€™s attitude towards Muslims and Islam. It is will change peopleâ€™s mindset about Islam,â€ Kawinga added.
Kawinga, whose organization has provided civic education on issues about democracy and development to all Malawians of diverse religious leanings, blamed the media for creating a â€œbad pictureâ€ of Islam and Muslims.
This approach, he added, was blamed for the increase of anti-Muslim sentiments in the country.
â€œIslam is being associated with all sorts of bad things, because of the way it is being portrayed in the media. Some people believe all the bad things being written about us. It is time to change this picture,â€ said Kawinga.
Through this initiative, Kawinga said MUSFORD will provide adequate information to the media on anything the public should know about Islam.
Kawinga then appealed for financial support from well-wishers across the world for the project to be sustained.
â€œFor the project to succeed, there is need for adequate financial resources. We would like therefore to appeal to well meaning Muslims globally to support this initiative,â€ he added.
Supporting the initiative, Ahamad Chienda, Programs Officer for Islamic Information Bureau (IIB) said information was very vital in creating a good image of Islam and Muslims in the country.
â€œAll along, we have believed in providing information to the general public on critical issues which are often misunderstood by the larger Christian community,â€ Cheinda, told OnIslam.net.
“Through our offices which are scattered across the country, we have various forms of literature on a number of topics. These offices are frequented by both Christians Muslims. This initiative is therefore in line with what we are already doing.
â€œAt IIB, we have invested massively information, because we know that without information, there will be much distortion about Islam, which at the end of the day, will work tom our disadvantage. All Muslims have a noble duty to safeguard the image of Islam as did the prophet (Muhammad). We shouldnâ€™t get tired to share with people of other faith groups the beauty of our religion.â€
â€œIt is indeed true that Islam has suffered its own share of media onslaughts over the decades. Media ha subjected Islam to much damage. This has increased the level of prejudice towards Islam. It is now time for us to open up to the media,â€ said Chienda.
Meanwhile, the media fraternity in the country has commended the initiative describing it as a â€œwindow of opportunityâ€ to foster mutual understanding between the Muslim community and the media.
Edson Mwamvani, a senior Journalist working for the state-owned Malawi News Agency (MANA), commended the Muslim community for the initiative which he hoped would enable right information to filter down to the general public, which would help change peopleâ€™s wrong perceptions about Islam and Muslims.
â€œSomehow, Muslims have themselves to blame for the level of prejudice, they have been subjected to. Islam has been a closed religion in Malawi. Unlike other faith groups, Muslims have been very mean with information. They have been hiding a lot, as a result, this has heightened the perceptions people mainly Christians have towards them,â€ Mwamvani told OnIslam.net.
â€œThe media has been writing whatever they could lay their hands on. But with this initiative in place, the true picture of Islam will be brought to light. This initiative is a window of opportunity for both journalists and the Muslim community towards cultivating levels of mutual understanding.
â€œAs media, we are in support of this initiative. We have the potential to turn things around. We are quite determined to work with the Muslim community in changing the bad picture some people have towards them. We will help to remove the misconceptions about Islam and Muslims.â€
Concurring with Mwamvani, Voice of America (VOA) Malawi correspondent, Lameck Masina, said the initiative would enable the media to easily access information from the Muslim community which will help clear misconceptions about Islam.
â€œIt has been extremely difficult to access information from the Muslim community over the years. As a result, we have been forced to report half truths about Islam, which eventually has impaired the image of the religion. There are some sensitive issues about Islam which as media, we are interested to know, but there hasnâ€™t been efforts to communicate to us about those,â€ Masina told OnIslam.net.
â€œWe are living in an information age. Time has come that Islam shouldnâ€™t operate as a secret society. This creates a fertile ground for misconceptions. We are in a time that we canâ€™t hide anything. Let us work together for the people know whatâ€™s going around them.
â€Muslims have done much to this country; they should therefore be transparent in whatever happens around them.â€
â€œMedia is there to serve people. But we can serve people better only if we have enough and correct information, and if that information is accessed without hustles,â€ said Masina.
Over the years, there has not been much effort to invest much in media, as has been the case with their Christian counterparts.
The country has got only one radio station exclusively for Muslims, Radio Islam, which is limited in capacity to contain the growing levels of prejudice and stigma towards Muslims.
Islam is the second largest religion after Christianity. Muslims account for 36% of the countryâ€™s 15 million population.