American print media ‘very pro-Muslim’
Karachi: Born in a sufi family in India before Partition, Shabbir Mansuri was chosen by his father to go to the United States, and do all the things that Americans do. Several decades later he was invited by the US consulate at a local hotel as an American citizen and founder of the Institute of Religion and Civics to head a talk titled ‘religion, media and politics in the United States’.
“As far as editorial content is concerned, [the] print media in the United States is very pro-Muslim,” he said talking about this one time when controversy sparked about designating an area for ablution (wudhu) at the Michigan Universities especially for Muslims.
“The Los Angeles Times protected the decision in the name of freedom of religion.”
He talked about how curiosity about Islam in general rose in the West after 9/11 and it was portrayed in the print media. A daily newspaper took out a series about what Muslims did in Las Vegas, “a place which is also known as Sin City there”.
The first of the series came with a picture of glamorous skyline of a sunset in Las Vegas with a taxi driver in his cab reading the holy Quran. “It was one of the most educational series ever taken out about Muslims. And the reporter for that series was stationed in Las Vegas for a whole year.”
He maintained that though in the US there was “freedom of religion and freedom from religion”, there was still confusion in institutions. “Because,” he said, “on one hand they say ‘in God we trust’ and on the other hand there is separation between the church and state.”
During the question-answer session, a journalist pointed out from his visit to the United States a meeting with the director of the Council of Churches, who said that America was a Christian country, no matter how much it called itself secular. “This is because Sundays, Christmas and Easter are official holidays and not Eids or Diwalis.”
To this Mansuri replied, within Christians there were a lot of factions, “some more tolerant than others”.
He shared that the Lutheran Christians in the United States has begun a programme where seminaries, before they become clergy, volunteer to study a course on understanding Islam which he teaches. “I have them stay at my house for weeks and we exchange interfaith debates.”