Abdul Bari Masoud studies the All India Muslim Personal Law Board’s appeal to Muslim leaders to keep from participating in TV debates, and to Muslim masses to shun watching such debates on channels. He also suggests where the rot lies.
The incident of disrespecting the Last Prophet of Islam ﷺ would not have occurred if Muslim TV warriors had not collaborated in the debate on the contrived Gyanvapi Masjid issue. The episode has outraged Muslims not just in India but all across the world, and snowballed into a major international issue. It has also turned into the worst diplomatic disaster for the current regime, which aspires to be a Vishwaguru. However, this is not an isolated instance; most of the networks and debates have been reduced to a Hindu-Muslim dichotomy on daily basis, with toxic venom being transmitted to millions across the country.
Much of blame also lies at the door of the Muslim TV warriors, who egregiously participate in such debates designed to serve the interest of the ruling party and its ideology by spreading hatred and polarisation in the society. Sensing this mounting media menace and fury against these so-called Muslim debaters in the community, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) took the lead by issuing an appeal to “Ulema” and “Islamic scholars and intellectuals” to eschew these agenda-driven debates. The AIMPLB, an influential and representative body of the Indian Muslims, also urged Muslims to stop viewing these TV channels, which are largely owned and monopolised by a few born-privileged classes.
BOYCOTT TV DEBATES
On June 6, the AIMPLB issued a statement claiming that the media boycott will assist in stemming the rise of religious animosity in society. It emphasised that for the last several years, television debates have continuously demonised Islam and the Muslim community. It questioned the purpose of such debates, claiming that the intent of such debates was to create a climate of hostility in the country.
“TV stations design their debates to degrade Islam and its revered personalities, not to expand the public’s knowledge. The TV stations only invite those (Muslims) in order to get some legitimacy. Muslims who take part in the TV debates cannot provide any service to Islam or Muslims,” the Board’s statement said.
The AIMPLB officials also issued a unified call to the community to boycott the channels that broadcast divisive content. It felt that if the community stopped watching those “ridiculous debates,” it would not only make their Television Rating Point (TRP) drop massively but also expose the “well-orchestrated conspiracy” against Islam.
TV debater, Dr. Tasleem Ahmad Rehmani told Radiance that he does not agree with the Muslim Board’s call for boycott of television stations, describing it as “moving away from reality or escapism.” It’s worth recalling that when Dr. Rehmani confronted now sacked BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma in a debate on Times Now, she made derogatory remarks about the last Prophet ﷺ. Questioning the Board’s jurisdiction, the defiant Dr. Rehmani said it is not the business of the Board to issue such appeals. However, he said he voluntarily stopped visiting the TV studios for a month.
Maulana Abdul Hameed Nomani, who used to be a frequent visitor to TV channels, said he supports the Muslim Board’s appeal but there is a need of building an alternative panel of good debaters. Speaking with Radiance, Nomani dismissed the temptation of money as a motivation for attending such toxic debates. However, it is common knowledge that most TV channels pay each panellist between `2,000 and `5,000.
Most Muslim debaters, it is observed, have become the perfect material for primetime TV debates aimed at inciting frenzy. They are a perfect folio for their counterparts in the debates as they precisely serve their objectives. A majority of them are little-known and have little knowledge of the subject – best suited to these channels’ purposes. When Radiance attempted to contact Ilyas Sharafuddin, Ansar Raza, Sajid Rashidi and Ather Delhive, none of them returned our calls or responded to our written queries given to their WhatsApp numbers.
BJP’S ‘MUSLIM’ FACES
Another set of Muslim debaters is from the ruling BJP. Like their party colleagues, they also do not lag behind in demonising the community. Pointing out this, Hyderabad-based senior journalist Shaukat H Mohammed told Radiance: “The debates on the English and Hindi channels seem to have a wider reach featuring “Muslim” spokespersons of the Bharatiya Janta Party. Men like Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, and men like Syed Zafar Islam, Shahnawaz Hussain, Shehzad Poonawalla, a new convert to BJP worldview, and Rizwan Ahmed, a lawyer from Meerut.”
And adding that, “Both Shehzad and Rizwan use the bigot’s platform to run down an entire faith day in and day out. Clearly these fellows are given a free run because they call themselves Muslim and have Muslim names. The anchor does not challenge their hatred but plays the role of an agent provocateur by running down mullahs or other party loyalists posturing as “spokesmen” of the Muslim community. Their statements are twisted out of context by the bigot and his accomplices on other channels.”
MUSLIM BOARD’S APPEAL GETS WIDER ACCEPTANCE
Although an appeal of this sort does not fall under the purview of the Muslim Law Board, it has gained widespread support from the community and its organisations. The AIMPLB’s appeal has also received backing from the All India Shia Personal Law Board (AISPLB), which has opted not to engage in debates.
Another prominent Muslim group, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind also held the same view. Prof Salim Engineer, Vice President of JIH said that Muslims should exercise “restraint for the time being” from participating in any TV debates. “While it is not an edict (fatwa) or anything like that, it is sound advice. We surely support it because JIH is a member of the AIMPLB. Many Muslims who watch television have failed to adequately represent Muslims’ viewpoints. They were caught in the web of anchors. So, until the situation changes, Muslims should avoid participating in any TV debates,” Salim Engineer advised.
Speaking with Radiance, President All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM), Navaid Hamid, said it was the “correct and much-needed decision.”
THE COMMUNITY REACTION
The Hindu-Muslim debate has engulfed the entire Muslim community. On social media platforms, community members vent their ire against these ‘spokesmen’ calling them “rental Maulanas”. They said the so-called “Islamic scholars” are being utilised as pawns in the divisive agenda of the ruling party.
Saud Akhtar alleged that these ‘Rental Mullah’ don’t represent them as a community. “Their appearance is horrifying and they have little grasp of the subject and the majority of them barks like dogs.”
THE PROBLEM LIES HERE
The Indian media landscape, like India herself, is vast and densely populated, with over 100,000 newspapers (including 36,00 weeklies) and 380 television news channels. However, the abundance of media outlets masks tendencies toward ownership concentration, with only a few sprawling media companies at the national level, including the Times group, HT Media Ltd, The Hindu Group, and Network 18. Four Hindi dailies account for three-quarters of the Hindi readership.
The concentration of local language periodicals is considerably more pronounced at the regional level. The media in India is heavily influenced by federal and state governments. The Government of India is the largest advertiser, spending more than 130 billion rupees annually. As a result, it has the power to use the media’s susceptibility to compel them to follow its line. The enormous diversity of Indian society is seldom reflected in mainstream news outlets. Only caste Hindus have occupied the crucial positions in major media outlets for the most part. As a result, media content reflects obvious bias. Media outlets such as Republic TV and Times Now group that brazenly blend populism with pro-BJP propaganda and whose owners’ ties to the RSS and BJP are no secret. There are around 10 major English channels and about 20 Hindi channels. Barring a few, all of them parrot the government line on any issue and policy matter.