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Using media to promote peace and harmony
Jeddah Letter by Habib Shaikh

14 October 2005

NEARLY half a century ago, when I was in school I learnt a poem in the English textbook. It was titled ‘Abu Ben Adam’, and is one of the few poems whose major parts I still remember till this day because of the universal message it conveyed.

It went something like: “Abu Ben Adam (may his tribe increase) /Awoke one night from his sleep." What he sees is "exceeding light" at the window and somebody writing in a book. He asks the stranger who he was and what he was doing. The stranger said that he was writing the names of those who love God. "Is my name on the list," asks Abu Ben Adam, and receives a reply in the negative. "Write my name in the list of those who love man," he requests. The stranger vanishes.

The next night Abu Ben Adam again wakes up and finds the same man with light "far exceeding" than the previous night. The same question and the stranger informs him that his name figures on top of the list.

Less than five days ago, I met a man, who I can say without exaggeration, has been living the message conveyed in the Abu Ben Adam poem.

S.G.P. Jafry, President of Jafry Communications that is based in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada, has been promoting multiculturalism, peace and harmony between peoples of different religions and faiths.

In the service of society he has gone from weaving to air waves, and progressed from entertainment to enlightenment.

"In my opinion, the best way to ease tension and hatred is to respect each others’ faith and religion," Jafry, who was here with his wife Farida Nuzhat to perform Umra, told Khaleej Times in an interview.

Jafry, who was born in Jaipur, India, migrated to Pakistan, and later immigrated to Canada. Before coming to Canada in 1966, he worked as a weaving master in a textile mill in Karachi. Initially, he worked in the same line in his adopted country.

Sensing the lack of avenues and opportunities for entertainment for people from the sub-continent, he launched himself into entertainment business — arranging movies and shows, including the first live show of Lata Mangeshkar in Canada, and theatre programmes.

"We are pioneers of Indo-Pak entertainment,  we started in 1969 with mainly presenting radio programmes. In 1978, we started television programmes," he said.

Since 1969, his company has produced more than 3,100 one-hour radio programmes and over 5,451 half-hour TV programmes.

He has regularly produced inter-faith programmes — Islamic, Sikh and Hindu, and his "ability to work with all faith groups" has been widely recognised.

Moreover, he has been very active and productive in fund-raising for humanitarian causes and purposes across international borders. So much so that he was congratulated and appreciated in a statement by a member in the Canadian House of Commons for being instrumental in raising $175,000 to meet cost of surgery and care of the Hira and Nida Jamal twins.

On January 23, 1995, a 23-member team of surgeons at the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children performed the more than 15-hour "extremely delicate surgery" on the two-year old twins from Pakistan who had been conjoined at the head since birth. There have been only 30 such operations in the world. In 60 per cent of the operations, only one of the twins survives. Hira survived but her sister Nida did not.

"We closed entertainment in 2000. We are a national broadcaster presenting three TV programmes — two on cable in Toronto, London (Ontario), and Ottawa on the air, and one national all over Canada using CTS — Christian Television Station and Vision TV Network," Jafry said.

He said Muslims should create, develop and make use of the media properly and reasonably. "The system of messengers is a long-established and well-known tradition. The media is a powerful messenger, and Muslims have to learn to use it effectively, especially in post-9/11 era," he added.

He explained that post 9/11 situation has opened up more opportunities for the Muslim media.

"It has created an environment for reception of ideas. Questions are being asked, which have to be answered in a well-reasoned manner," he added.

Jafry said in such a receptive environment, it was the duty of Muslims to use the media to build bridges of understanding. "The media should concentrate on explaining what real Islam is. For example, when we say that we believe in all the prophets, it breaks the ice, and helps to remove several mental blocks, and clear cobwebs of ignorance and misunderstandings," he added.

Jafry said people are not getting real Islamic education. Islam is a full set of rules for the benefit of mankind.

He said the Holy Quran talks about two kinds of duties — duties towards the Creator and duties towards man or society, with a major portion devoted to the latter duty.

"The problem is we do not give much attention to duties towards man. In the post-9/11 situation, it is very important to explain how much importance Islam attaches to the betterment of mankind and service to mankind," he stressed.

"We started producing definitive information, like the rights of neighbours (including non-Muslims), duties towards parents (who could be non-Muslims), looking after the community (which includes non-Muslims as well), honesty in dealings, why four wives, and so on," Jafry said.

"In other words, we try to explain to Muslims and non-Muslims what Islam is. We do not preach Islam. Some strict scholars do not like this format," he added.

He said Muslims should try to understand the very first line of the holy Quran wherein God is mentioned as Sustainer of the worlds.

"It does not say Sustainer of Muslims," Jafry added.

He has presented one-hour specials on Muslim, Sikhs and Hindus, besides A Century of Sikhs in Canada.

He has also presented religious TV programme on the Internet, and broadcast history of Saudi Arabia on its National Day in 1997, Rituals of Haj, development of Makkah, a documentary on Zamzam, and a documentary on Haj and Umra.

According to Jafry, Rituals of Haj, produced by the Saudi government, was seen by more than 2 million Muslims and 120 million non-Muslim homes in the UK, Europe, Canada and Chicago.

 



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