What’s in a photograph?

Published: May 4, 2012
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The writer is director, current affairs, Express News and has previously worked with ARY News. He is a former secretary-general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists

The writer is director, current affairs, Express News and has previously worked with ARY News. He is a former secretary-general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists

“No photograph please,” was the reply of the Jamaatud Dawa (JuD)spokesman, Yahya Mujahid, when I went to interview Hafiz Muhammad Saeed soon after 9/11, while working for the international wire service AFP. For years, views of many veteran Islamist leaders remained the same, something which now appears to have changed to some extent with the growing power of media.

After almost 10 years of my first interview, Yahya, one of the highly committed mujahids of the JuD visited my previous employer, Ary News, along with other leaders of the Defence Of Pakistan Council, and requested for TV coverage. “I hope you will show live the address of Hafiz sahab,” he said.

“Yahya, do you remember when you refused to allow photographs of Hafiz sahib?,” I asked. “Yes, but things have changed over the years and the media has become very powerful. We can’t ignore the electronic media,” he said.

While it is true that the 9/11 attacks may have changed the world to some extent, it has changed Pakistan a lot, particularly after the US-led coalition’s attack on Afghanistan and the crossing over of thousands of Taliban and al Qaeda activists into Pakistani territory. Within no time, the country became the centre of attraction for the world media with hundreds of foreign journalists and media teams storming Pakistan. Suddenly religious leaders, particularly the pro-Taliban and indirect supporters of Osama bin Laden, became the centre of the media’s attention.

During this period, the media was confronted with the situation where some leading religious scholars like Mufti Shamzai — a fatherly figure for the Taliban — when approached by many foreign and local journalists to find out details of Mullah Omar’s early days, refused to have his visuals or photographs taken. Shamzai and Maulana Mufti Jamil accompanied former ISI chief General Mahmood Ahmed on the directives of then army chief General Pervez Musharraf to meet the Taliban leader and ask him to direct Osama bin Laden to leave Afghanistan.

In a rare interview that he gave to a leading TV anchor of a private channel, former ISI chief Lt.-Gen (retd) Javed Nasir’s face wasn’t shown for the entire 40 minutes’ duration of the programme. Another interview in which the person’s face was obscured was that of Islamic scholar Maulana Taqi Usmani. However, after many years he gave another interview and this time he did not impose this condition.

Despite this change, in the last few years, members of the media, particularly camera persons, have faced threats by those who do not want to be photographed — and this has happened particularly in Fata and Swat. In 2007, many photojournalists and camera persons allegedly faced life threats when they released photograph of  Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan Swat leader Maulvi Fazlullah addressing a press conference. However, al Qaeda’s philosophy has been different. In the post 9/11 era, they used television as their main weapon by releasing video and audio messages. Prior to Osama’s death, it often released his visuals just to show to the West and the Americans that he was alive and well.

The issue of photographs and TV visuals remains disputed even today, but many Islamic scholars have now realised the importance of electronic media and are of the considered opinion that it can be used for passing their messages to much larger viewership.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 4th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (23)

  • Syed
    May 4, 2012 - 4:27AM

    Ok so photography is “Islamic” if it helps to spread extremism but it is “unIslamic” if used more familial and peaceful purposes! Mullah-logic

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  • Kaalchakra
    May 4, 2012 - 5:23AM

    Promoting the use of images is clearly unIslamic and very dangerous. A great risk exists of uninformed people becoming attached to images, some even using them for shirk purposes. Muslims must not go the way of doomed Hindus and polytheists who love idols. Instead of becoming an agent of Hindus, Pakistan must take the lead and raise this important issue with other brotherly Islamic nations on an urgent basis.

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  • Hamza Arshad
    May 4, 2012 - 6:45AM

    Yes, change is on the move but we, as a nation, are the slow learners. We showed the same attitude when radio, loudspeaker,TV, VCR and computer were invented. Gradually(till the world had laughed at us) we accepted them,one after the other, as a norm. One wonders what the criterion the religious scholars had when they opposed these devices and what authority have they exercised to accept them as ‘Islamic’ One suspects that it was nothing except orthodox whim. If be so, perhaps the same rule is applied on other prohibitions. .

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  • Ashiq Hussain
    May 4, 2012 - 7:11AM

    Kaalchakra….we appreciate your concern and good wishes for your neighbouring country..I hope you have the same feeling for your next door neighbour also inside India…!

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  • Khalid Faiz
    May 4, 2012 - 7:25AM

    Our Ulmah’s first reject facts in the name of Islam but in the end always accept it. There rejection and acceptance started since Fifteenth Century when they claimed that Press is Un-Islamic.
    They claim to be custodians of Islam, while in fact they are slaves of their wishes.

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  • Super Star
    May 4, 2012 - 9:28AM

    @Kaalchakra, why are you then using and blogging on the internet which is full of “images and photos and films “. You will use the infidel inventions and yet complain of them being unislamic. I think this what you and like minded people should be asking yourselves ” Urgently”

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  • Aristo
    May 4, 2012 - 11:29AM

    This is plain and simple HYPOCRISY. These self-proclaimed propagators of Islam are stuck in the stone age, let them be, why should we be concerned about them. The educated, modern and forward looking Muslims must be progressive, if they wish to be a pert of the World community. Otherwise, in isolation, we will only fight among ourselves and go down in history as a set of people who did not progress with time and hence got annihilated.

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  • antony
    May 4, 2012 - 1:18PM

    @Kaalchakra, Though I am not a Hindu , I am pained by the intolerance you show towards Hindus by saying “Doomed” ..If one alien , looks at the current world and want to use that word “Doomed” it would be people who practices your mindset living in your area!.

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  • Mushtaque Siddiqi
    May 4, 2012 - 2:51PM

    You have selected a very interesting topic. You can now either take this discussion forward, or take it backwards. You can start a media ethics debate that on tv channels right to show face or footage of someone from inside the privacy of his home or a personal-private office room/area? You may also decide to talk about the past — print media without, or rare photographs was as affective as any newspaper today. Then we saw a rise of magazines — National Geographic, LIFE … they all were based on photographs. Now we see that newspapers have gone a step forward and are using video clips on/about their stories at their website. etc etc. Anyway, good to see you writing.

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  • Abid P Khan
    May 4, 2012 - 3:47PM

    @Super Star:

    “@Kaalchakra, why are you then using and blogging on the internet which is full of “images and photos and films “. You will use the infidel inventions and yet complain of them being unislamic. I think this what you and like minded people should be asking yourselves ” Urgently””

    My reaction may seem like a personal attack on moniker “kaalchakrabut it is not. His bona fides has been questioned earlier too. If his responses are not tongue-in-cheek then one can be sure he is another reincarnation of Daniel Pipes. It is quite unbelievable that such beings do exist.

    Once his/her contributions are always aiming to prove that Fundos are nothing but low IQ bigots, then he has really succeeded in it. JI should be more careful in choosing its spokesmen in future.

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  • nas
    May 4, 2012 - 4:20PM
  • Engr. Syed Ghulam Mustafa
    May 4, 2012 - 5:07PM

    very rightly pointed thing by the author .. actually we have left following preaching of islam… and all the stack holders of the society are equally responsible for this. those who followed Islam, never looked towards the worldly issues, hence fail to provide solution for routine matter in the light of islam via Ijtihad… on the other hand, those who were exhausted of Mullah’s islam never tried to go through it to discover its real spirit.
    however its pleasant to see that our Islamic scholars turning back to world and realizing the need of the hour..!

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  • Kaalchakra
    May 4, 2012 - 6:26PM

    Brothers

    There is a reason why the use of images is strictly prohibited in Islam. Please think about it. Do you really want your children to turn to idolatry or to accept it as ‘normal’?

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  • Basit
    May 4, 2012 - 6:45PM

    Seems like the molvis are running 50 years behind their own followers, as they are just now accepting something the masses accepted decades ago. What kind of leadership is this?

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  • Kaalchakra
    May 4, 2012 - 6:53PM

    Basit, if people are abandoning Islam, the ulema are not supposed to do the same. They have to bring the masses back in line with Allah’s guidelines.

    Do we have even an idea what idolatry can do to a nation or to people’s morals? It can destroy societies.

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  • May 4, 2012 - 10:17PM

    As a freelance photojournalist based in Karachi I have often found that lot of places and people allow photographs taken from a small camera or a mobile phone but are positively afraid of ‘big camera’ i.e, professional camera. I am not sure why this could be, but it is.

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  • Cynical
    May 4, 2012 - 10:23PM

    @Kaalchakra

    I got the message loud and clear.The risk inherent in promoting photography (for that matter any form of imagery) is too obvious as you have articulated in your posts.
    I would like to draw your attention to another morally repugnant art in the form of music which is creating a havoc among our young ones.
    A few words from you, explaining the ill effects of music to people’s morals will be highly appreciated.
    .

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  • Kaalchakra
    May 4, 2012 - 11:37PM

    Cynical

    I always tell the truth and speak up for Islam as it is, but understandably, ET liberals are often too afraid to face the truth.

    Anyways, music, dance, all these things have great potential for exploitation of human mind, seducing it toward unIslamic paths. Islam is not a religion of philistines. It does not ban creativity. It does emphasize an absolute need for channeling human creativity in proper Islamic directions.

    As much as the moral repugnance of such things, we ought to be very mindful of the social costs they impose and the wrath of Allah that they invite.

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  • Cynical
    May 5, 2012 - 1:36AM

    @Kaalchakra

    Thanks a million, for coplying with my request.I share your views on music,dance etc. as well, but lacked the articulation to express an intelligent opinion on the same.
    Thanks and regards.

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  • May 5, 2012 - 4:44AM

    @Kaalchakra:

    Do we have even an idea what idolatry can do to a nation or to people’s morals? It can destroy societies.

    And yet far right conservative extremists will continue to worship their idols, OBL, Mullah Omar, Hafiz Saeed, etc….

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  • Humanity
    May 5, 2012 - 6:27AM

    Kaalchakra most skillfully makes people fall into his kala chakr. He has honed his deceptive pontification to perfection. Just learn to skip over Kaalchakra. Do not give him the satisfaction to derail any meaning discussion, which is a rare without this hypocrite posing as a dumb wit musla.

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  • Kaalchakra
    May 5, 2012 - 9:24AM

    Big Saaf

    An absurd statement. Nobody worships these leaders any more than leftists worship Bush and Obama.

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  • Abid P Khan
    May 5, 2012 - 10:14AM

    @Humanity:

    “Kaalchakra most skillfully makes people fall into his kala chakr. He has honed his deceptive pontification to perfection. Just learn to skip over Kaalchakra. Do not give him the satisfaction to derail any meaning discussion, which is a rare without this hypocrite posing as a dumb wit musla.”

    .
    You are right. some years back he came out, in another newspaper, saying that he was an Indian Sardar. Lets let him have the pleasure.

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