May 5, 2014 By KC Saleem

A Dirge to English Muslim Magazines

London-muslim-fashionIn the formative years of my life, magazines kept me posted on the developments in the world. They were the only resources to go beyond the obvious to the deeper significations of events. When I read, it seemed to me that magazines observed from the sidelines and presented various shades of opinions. And that was much before the studios of TV channels took a cue from Tim Sebastian and came up with the desi versions of BBC’s Hard Talk. Now we have live altercations and verbal encounters on issues whether they are newsworthy or not. Educated middle-class youths of my generation pored over Time and Economist to know much better than others about the events that mattered:

In hindsight, the motivation for reading magazines was not right. Time and Economist  set the standard, even when we friends thought about publishing a Muslim magazine. We wanted to adopt the language, style, and framework of these magazines to speak about issues that are Islamic and Muslim. Sort of Islamization of  Knowledge theory applied. Khalid Abou el Fadhl, a Muslim scholar of repute, has aired the concern about the paucity of professionally run magazines in the Muslim world. In an email communication addressed to Council on American–Islamic Relations (which has appeared in his website in the form of an article), Khalid says:

‘It is imperative that we get out of the habit of publishing our books in largely parochial and under-funded presses. We must publish our thought in mainstream presses in order to effectively disseminate our ideas. However, in order to be published in mainstream presses there is a mode of discourse and a style of analysis that very few American Muslims have mastered. It does not help to simply claim discrimination as an excuse for our poor intellectual product, and our failure in reaching the reading public. There are, so to speak, rules to the publishing process in mainstream presses. Among the rules are a clear and grammatically correct style of writing, and a conventional method of citation. Many of the books published in, what one might call, ghetto-like Muslim presses are embarrassing if examined from the perspective of standards set by mainstream publishers.

This is a serious problem because the influx of hate-tracts written against Islam, and published and disseminated by influential mainstream publishers, feed the type of governmental policies that persecute many Muslims. We seem to fail to understand that a hundred works published by a relatively small Muslim press is not as effective in shaping public opinion and influencing public policy as a single book published by Harper Collins, for instance. 


But there was the contradiction of adopting the professionalism of mainstream media institutions on the one hand and taking it, on other hand, a launching pad to air our perspectives. Professional standards often reflect the ideological persuasions. Always mainstream media had the sole aim of selling themselves and taking up issues in such a way as to sensationalize them for maximum financial advantage. However, as Khalid rightly observes, there is the dearth of intellectual vigor and linguistic niceties in all magazines deemed non-mainstream (contextually Muslim). There is a clamour for the lost golden eras in the Muslim civilization without any serious attempt to reconstruct them in the new context. To a certain extent, Afqar Inquiry satisfied us.

Edited by Parvez Manzoor from London, the magazine had a pool of blessed writers and editors like Ziauddin Sardar, Merryl Wyn Davies, Gulzar Hyder etc. From another angle, we read the brilliant polemics of Kalim Sidheequi, whose legacy chiefly remains in the Muslim Institute, Crescent International and numerous books he has authored. Islamic Revolution in Iran buoyed us up in the run up while it rendered us dispirited in the aftermath. A state ruled by the clout of mullahs and a harshly policed bureaucracy which plays the vindictive game against the imaginary foes was not what we are motivated to dream about by the lectures of Ali Shariati. Kalim Sidheequi and Cresent kept supporting the Iranian regime. Though we can’t brush aside Kalim Sidheequi’s contributions for his strong pro-Iranian polemics and to some extent, his detractors were harsh in their judgment about him, he justified the rampant fear that when rebellious institutes and personalities achieve power or get funded by the power that be, they blatantly toe the official line.

I have kept all issues of Inquiry bound in cardboard paper. The most interesting feature of Inquiry was that it gave us a perspective. It did not try to profess Islam on all and sundry but diligently subjected issues to incisive journalism. When it explored the symbols related to contemporary Islamic civilization, it kept a critical distance. This criticism, however, did not have an Orientalist predisposition; but the writers had a keen desire to take their subject to the ideal goal.

In Desperately Seeking Paradise, Ziauddin Sardar explains how Inquiry came to a standstill. The article Sardar wrote against Imam Jafar al Sadiq was the reason. The Iranian group which funded the magazine has been intimidated by the critique. In the case of Iran and Islamic revolution, one is forced to think that Islam as a state religion does not turn out as an auspicious alternative  unless we radically rethink of the tenets of Islam and the role of a welfare state today.

I faced in the subsequent decades the falling standard of journalism (not only in the Muslim world but the world over). There was indeed a proliferation of journals and magazines. In India, a decade ago, Meantime, a mainstream journal run by a Muslim group, was indeed a beacon of hope. But it did not have a long lease of life. Now we read Milli Gazette, Islamic Voice, Young Muslim Digest. All these magazines seem to have adopted the line of Crescent International. In a multi-cultural world, where one expects a garden of identities (courtesy Ziauddin Sardar:, there is so much antipathy to the West that the very headlines keep away the readers who want to listen to assertive, unapologetic voices. Islam or Muslim in these magazines was structured around a sense of inferiority on the one hand (in the context of comparing Muslims to non-Muslims) and superiority on the other (in the context of ascertaining the legacy of Islam or Muslims)

Now, we have entered the era of Internet. And running magazines is a risky job nowadays. Magazines like Newsweek have announced their infirmity.  Journalism has also undergone change. There is no linear, top-to-down production. All are well informed and all can state his comment on an issue virtually free of cost thanks to Twitter, Facebook, and Blogs. But post-modernity has weaknesses as well. Whatever superficial is celebrated aloud. Identities are getting formed around hairstyles and restaurant menus. In the euphoria of the comical, public space has become crassly commercialized and sexualized. At the deep level, rationales of the market are being validated in post-modernity.

Posted in: Articles