Islam is a religion of freedom of speech, right to communication, tolerance and the respect of human beings no matter what and who they are. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (PBUH), as a messenger of Allah and a catalyst and an advocate of Islam, extensively used communication and public relations to introduce a new religion and a new way of life to the people of Quraish, to the Arabic peninsula, and to humankind. The task was not easy given the fact that people had already their beliefs, traditions and habits. A huge work of persuasion, public relations, and communication was necessary to spread the word and explain the new religion to Quraish. The new religion was a radical transformation in the lives, values and habits of people. Indeed, life in Makkah before the advent of Islam was based on a tribal system dominated by force, power and by the rule of the strong and the powerful at the expense of justice, equality, law and peace. The whole land was dominated by ignorance, injustice, and immorality. The people of Arabia were always at war with each other living in an atmosphere of anger, hatred and revenge. When Arabs were not fighting, wine, women and songs were their most favorite pastime.
Islam is a universal religion intended for humankind. It is a religion based essentially on communication and public relations. For Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the messenger of Allah and the catalyst and advocate of the new religion, the task was very challenging, very difficult and, in some instances, almost impossible. To disseminate and propagate Islam, its values and its teachings, Prophet Muhammad needed extraordinary skills of public relations and communication to introduce the new religion and convince people to quit their old habits and practices and embrace the new way of life.
Through Quran, Hadith and Sunnah (“Essira Anabawia”) – his life and conduct – prophet Muhammad used public relations and communication to disseminate and convey Islam to Quraish, the Arabic Peninsula and the whole world. The essence of modern public relations, as stated by the late Edward Bernays [i]in his book “Crystallizing Public Opinion”, lies in modifying attitudes, actions behaviors and efforts to integrate attitudes and actions of an institution with its publics, and of publics with those of that institution. This means consent, persuasion, mutual understanding, two-way communication, mutual respect, credibility, good will and cooperation. Prophet Muhammad’s mission was to prepare the minds, beliefs and convictions of people to adopt a new set of beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. In other words, Muhammad (PBUH) through the Quran, Hadith and Sunnah was crystallizing public opinion to reach consent and to persuade the people to embrace Islam as a new way of life based on peace, justice, equality, freedom of expression, solidarity, and respect.
Khan[ii] wrote about the life of Muhammad: “The prophet’s preaching mission extended over a mere twenty-three years. It was during this short time that he brought in a revolution among the Arab tribes, the like of which the world had never seen. It ushered in the age of the press, ensuring the preservation of the Quran for all time. It brought the age of democracy and freedom of speech to the world, removing all artificial barriers that had obstructed preachers in their call to truth. It made new discoveries possible in the world of science, enabling religious truths to be proven and explained on a rational, intellectual level.”
Public relations in Islamic culture dates back to as far as fourteen centuries. It has been extensively used during the prophet Muhammad era to disseminate the new message, the new religion, thus a new way of thinking, behaving, and living peacefully with others. Then, public relations was perceived and conceived within the confines of the teachings of Islam, democracy (Shura) and the respect of Muslims and other people and nations, no matter what their color, gender, and race are.
Prophet Muhammad and Public Relations:
Prophet Muhammad used communication and public relations to crystallize public opinion, persuade people and convince them to embrace a new religion with new principles, new rules, new way of life based on the respect of human beings, equality, justice, peace and harmony. The Quran generally deals with the broad principles or essentials of religion, going into details in very rare cases. The details were generously supplied by the Prophet Muhammad himself, either by showing in his practice how an injunction shall be carried out, or by giving an explanation in words. The Sunnah or Hadith of Prophet Muhammad was not, as is generally supposed, a thing of which the need may have been felt only after his death, for it was very much needed in his lifetime. Without communication, public relations, good conduct and good governance the prophet would have never been able to propagate, and convey the teachings of Islam to the population of Quraish and the Arabic peninsula and the whole world. The success of Muhammad in his extremely difficult mission was due to a large extent to his communication and public relations skills, his conduct, morals, ethics, modesty, generosity, tolerance, personality, character and his command of crystallizing public opinion and reaching consent.
Modern Public Relations: Concepts and Definitions:
Public Relations Society of America offered two definitions of “public relations”. The first states that it “helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other” while in the second it “is an organization’s efforts to win the cooperation of groups of people”. Sharpe argued that public relations is a process that harmonizes long term relationships among individuals and organizations in society. This process according to him is based on five principles:
- Honest communication for credibility.
- Openness and consistency of actions for confidence.
- Fairness of actions for reciprocity and goodwill.
- Continuous two-way communication to prevent alienation and to build relationships.
- Environmental research and evaluation to determine the actions or adjustments needed for social harmony.
Public relations therefore, is the crystallization of public opinion, meaning that an opinion is the expression of an attitude on a particular issue. When attitudes become strong enough, they develop into the form of opinions. When opinions become strong enough they direct behaviors and actions of human beings.
As we will see below, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was a good illustration of this paradigm in conveying and disseminating Islam and building the Islamic Umma not only in Quraish, but in various parts of the world as well.
In politics, public relations is the cornerstone of any success, and no politician can reach his goals without professional and effective public relations. As noted by Gandi: “Public relations is one of the lubricants of democracy. Governmental and industrial processes are becoming increasingly complex. It is through public relations that these processes can be made intelligible to the people and enable them to leave their impress on the shaping of policies”.
As the impact and extent of government increase, the need for adequate communication between public officials and citizens becomes more urgent. Government has become increasingly a matter of administration. A vast machinery of commissions, boards, and bureaus has grown up to meet the complex problems in society. There is a need in today’s large and complex government for mechanisms devoted solely to receiving, examining, and channeling citizens’ complaints, and securing expeditions and impartial redress. Effective administration must grow out of the lives and problems of the people rather than be imposed from above. Skilled, conscientious practitioners can contribute much to solving these urgent problems. In 1971, Zechariah Chafee, Jr. Said: “Government information can play a vital part in the cause of good administration by exploring the impact of new social forces, discovering strains and tensions before they become acute, and encouraging a positive sense of unity and national direction.” He added that “Democracy will live where there is free communication of dependable information.” (Cutlip and Center[iii]). The justification for government public relations rests on two premises: (1) A democratic government has to report to its citizens, and (2) effective administration requires citizen participation and voter support.
Here are the generally agreed upon objectives for a planned, continuing program in government:
- To win consent for new laws and new reforms dictated by the needs of an ever changing, technological society. This involves a deep, fundamental shift in our theory of government and has dangerous applications.
- To overcome apathy and bewilderment toward new and complex functions of government; also, to provide reliable information for the voter seeking to make an intelligent decision at the polls.
- To keep the citizen informed of the services and the functions provided so that he may participate and gain full benefit from them.
- To give the citizen usable devices for relaying his views and opinions to the administrator without employing intermediaries.
- To interpret public opinion to the law enforcement agencies so that regulations will be realistic and acceptable.
- To crystallize public sentiment and pave the way for non-coercive compliance. This requires convincing the citizen of the need for the administrative rules and assisting him in understanding them.
- To build a reservoir of support for an agency which it may tap when the going gets rough; to have friends in time of need when a conflict develops with other agencies, with the legislature, or with the public. (Cutlip and Center[iv]).
Freedom of Expression in Islam:
Islam praises freedom of expression, which is considered as an integral part of the pride and dignity of the Muslim. Freedom of expression in Islam is based essentially on the following principles:
- Sacred human rights: Human being as a creature of Allah is respected and enjoys human rights without distinction or segregation. There is no superior race and inferior race. The only difference between human beings in Islam lies in faith, work and knowledge.
- Respect of others, with no distinction based on color, gender, or ethnic origin.
- Advice: “Religion is advice”, this is to help others in their daily life. Advice here is conceived as expressing one’s point of view, speaking out by denouncing what is against the teachings of Islam and the interests of the Umma. Advising others to reach the welfare of all is an important mission and duty of any Muslim.
- Freedom of expression is related to a score of principles in Islam such as the respect of the dignity of the human being, consultation (Shura), justice, equality, good will, solidarity, tolerance and social welfare. Islam attaches great importance to consultation. Everyone has the right to put forward his or her point of view. (Khan) The right of expression in Islam is thus an inalienable right. The citizen achieves his dignity and his pride through this right.
- The right to know and to be educated is also a duty so as to pursue and acquire knowledge to use it for the welfare of the Muslim community and humankind. The Prophet said « seeking knowledge is compulsory for every Muslim man and woman. » Implicit in this statement is the centrality of an information-rich environment for the Umma. The value of information does not rest in its individual acquisition, but rather in using it for the general good of the community.
- Everybody is subjected to criticism and disagreement no matter what his/her status in society is. The right to express an opinion involves the duty to speak out. If the individual believes something is wrong, he does not have the right to remain silent about it. The Prophet said: « He who remains silent about truth is a dumb devil. » This principle is congruent with the concept of commanding good and forbidding evil. In matters of public concern, individual interests are subordinated to those of the general public to safeguard the highly-cherished ideals of the community.
- The opposition has the right to express and convey its views and opinions. In Islam you don’t have to agree with the ruler or the majority in order to express your opinions and views. The right of political opposition and of honest criticism of authorities is also a duty. The first Muslim Caliph Abu Bakr, in his inaugural speech said: « If I do wrong, correct me. » The second Caliph Omar asked « what will you do if I do wrong? One of those present stood up and said: « By God, Omar! We will set you right with the edge of our swords. » Omar replied : »If you don’t do so, You’ll lose Allah’s blessings, and if I don’t accept your correction, I will lose God’s blessing. » (Ayish and Awad[v], 1994).
- The ruler is accountable for those who elected him and accepted him as their leader, thus they have the right to know what he is doing, and to control him and to sue him when he misbehaves.
Shura – Democracy in Islam:
Shura means consultation and deliberation to bring forth ideas and opinions from peoples’ minds. Shura is no more than a procedure for making decisions. It can thus be defined as “the procedure of making decisions by consultation and deliberation among those who have an interest in the matter on which a decision is to be taken, or others who can help them to reach such a decision”. (‘Shura and Democracy: A Conceptual Analysis’, www.islam.com). The important matter on which Shura is made can be at an individual level, or at that of a group of individuals, or the whole Umma.
Islamic Shura is not a political system, because most of the principles and values according to which society is to be organized, and by which it should abide, are stated in that higher law. The proper description of a political system that is based on those principles is that it is Islamic and not Shuraic, because Shura is only one component of it.
This characteristic of Islam made the society immune to absolute tyranny and dictatorship. There has been Muslim rulers who were despotic, but they were so only in that they were not chosen by the true representatives of the Muslim people, or that they were not strict in abiding by some of the Islamic teachings; but none of those who called themselves Muslim rulers dared, or perhaps even wanted, to abolish the Islamic law. Shura, therefore, is a way of life and a culture that cannot be practiced in real life without effective communication and public relations, and without establishing a healthy and democratic relationship between the ruler and the citizens of the Umma. Shura is the practice of political public relations in Islam.
In the remainder of this article we will discuss aspects of public relations and communication practices in Prophet Muhammad’s life. We will also try to cover how he was a great communicator and public relations practitioner and how this was used effectively in performing da’waa (conveying the Message of Islam).
Mohamed Kirat is a professor of Public Relations in the
Department of Mass Communication at Qatar University
[i] Bernays, Edward (1961a). Crystallizing Public Opinion. New York: Liveright.
[ii] Khan, Maulana Wahiduddin (2000) Muhammad A Prophet for All Humanity. Translated by Farida Khanam. New Delhi: Goodward Books.
[iii] Cutlip, Scott, and Allen Center. (1971). Effective Public Relations. Fourth ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc.
[iv] Cutlip, Scott, and Allen Center, Idem.
[v] Ayish, Muhammad and Ali Awad (1994) Public Relations: An Islamic Perspective. Unpublished paper. Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, United Arab Emirates University.