What is Islamic journalism? It depends on where you stand. In Indonesia or Malaysia, journalism and Islam can have many different faces.
At Sabili, an Indonesian Islamist magazine first established as an underground publication, journalists were hired for their ability at dakwah, or Islamic propagation. They believed that the solution to the ills of modern society lies in sharia, the law laid down in the Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet Mohammad in the seventh century. At Tempo on the other hand, a weekly Indonesian news magazine that was banned by the Soeharto regime and returned to print in 1998, journalists don’t talk much about sharia. Although many are pious and see their work as a manifestation of worship, the Islam they practice has been described as cosmopolitan, progressive, and even liberal. Does Islamic journalism require that reporters support an Islamic party as they do at Harakah newspaper in Malaysia? Or is it more important to practice the kind of substantial Islam promoted by the Indonesian newspaper Republika? What about Muslim journalists who work at secular news organization such as Malaysiakini?
Journalists at these five news organizations in one of the world’s most populous Muslim regions draw upon what are arguably universal principles of journalism, but understand and explain them through the lens of what I call an Islamic idiom. What they say about the meaning of their work suggests a richness of experience that has been overlooked by both scholars and those engaged in international affairs.