Stop Embarrassing Me! by
Why our leaders need to learn the art of public relations
am no longer surprised when I see an inarticulate member of the Muslim community on television trying to speak on behalf of the mainstream Muslim community. It always seems like the Imams, most of whom are immigrants, are the ones that manage to get on television and embarrass us all.
It was an incident that happened a few months ago, but it is a perfect example of why Muslims need to learn the fine art of Public Relations. The latest incident that I came across was on an episode of the Michael Cohen show. Cohen had two guests, Tariq Fatah of the Muslim Canadian Congress and Steve Rockwell, an Imam from Ontario who hosts a program called “Call of the Minaret.” The topic of the show was supposed to touch on polygamy and then go onto various other topics concerning the Muslim community. Whereas Fatah was representing the view of secular liberal Muslims, Rockwell was supposedly there to represent the mainstream everyday Muslim in Canada. Needless to say, Rockwell did a horrible job at it. Not only was he inarticulate, he did not know how to engage in a civil exchange of ideas. More often than not, he would bring up points that had nothing to do with the issue at hand. And when he was unable to counter an argument, he would throw his hands up and say, “I thought I was here to talk about polygamy.” It was an embarrassment.
Now this is the way I see it. We do have Imams out there that represent the views of the mainstream Muslim community. But they are rare. The ones that do exist either do not wish to partake in media discourse, or are not approached by the various media outlets that exist. Muslims do not like to acknowledge it but there are media outlets that want to have Imams and other spokespeople who represent mainstream, moderate Islam to come and speak. But for one reason or another we never see them. So in the end we are left with people who can’t engage in a proper debate, speak proper English and communicate their ideas in a coherent fashion. Their intentions may be well but in the end, the audience is left with the impression that Muslims are not in sync with the rest of society.
For the past few years, public relations in Muslim in North American and European societies has been a massive failure. If our product is Islam, a religion that claims to be one of peace and tolerance, then we should be marketing our religion as such. In a time where the average person is informed mainly through television and the internet, the Muslim community must become masters of communicating those ideas on those mediums.
It’s one thing to have a person of great Islamic knowledge speak in a lecture style format to a sympathetic audience, in a Jummah setting, for example. But in the public realm, the skills required our totally different. Our leaders need to realize the need for savvy media polished spokespeople. If the Imams don’t have the necessary skills to do it themselves, then we should be appointing qualified spokespeople to be our voice – and every member of the congregation should be trained to direct all media inquiries to them, so that the community speaks with one clear and coherent voice. After all, it is only Muslims that can properly represent our religion. Nobody else is going to do it for us.
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