The Conscience of a Society

From the Editor

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Conscience of a Society

Last week, attended the 1st Global Congress for Muslim Public Relations Practitioners held in Kuala Lumpur, where we were awarded the First Global Muslim Public Relations Excellence Award.

Greatly honored and indeed humbled at having received the inaugural award, being present at such a momentous event was itself propitious.

Jointly organized by the International Islamic University Malaysia and Kargozar PR Institute, and supported by the Federation of ASEAN Public Relations Organizations, the world-first event was attended by over 200 delegates from all parts of the globe and presenters from 17 different nations.

Becoming all the more significant with the participation of the leaders of the world’s major public relations and communication management associations, the Congress -- through papers presented, dialogues and panelist discussions -- offered and cultivated a setting for public relations practitioners of various cultural and faith backgrounds to share expertise and exchange ideas about their experience in public relations, each from their unique communications culture.

While there was no small amount of ideas, themes and experiences permeating the presentations and discussions, there were a certain salient few that I hope to share with you here.

Considering public relations professionals as those who are hired to convey a point of view using the media, keynote speaker from New York Imam Feisal Abd Rauf explored the responsibility that falls upon Muslim public relations practitioners in conveying an idea in an arena of media and communications where the ‘real battles’ -- that is, those between ideas -- are fought.

Here, according to the Imam, God is criticizing the PR professionals of his time, because in 7th century Arabia, the poets were actually the PR and media people for their tribe.

It is in this arena where perceptions are shaped and managed and it is thus this arena where our ethics show. “Therefore in our speech, in our actions we must be ethical. Otherwise we erode God-consciousness,” he said.

His translation and interpretation of the Qur’anic verse criticizing the poets, within the context of the 21st century, is enlightening for those involved in the business of conveying ideas. Here, according to the Imam, God is criticizing the PR professionals of his time, because in 7th century Arabia, the poets were actually the PR and media people for their tribe. Every tribe had their poet who would boast about the accomplishments of his tribe. The verse thus refers to those who are involved in shaping the perceptions of the masses. The verse warns them against ‘selling their souls for a mean price.’

So the aim then is the establishment of a body of PR professionals -- numbering two to four million among a world population of seven billion -- ‘who convey the ideas of faith, of justice, of the positives of human behavior,’ and who are ethical.

As for these ethics, whence do they come?

Faisal al-Zahrani, President of the International Public Relations Association Gulf Chapter (IPRA-GC), in his luncheon talk on Ethics in Public Relations, stated from the outset that Muslims have been given specific, clearly defined guidance in the Qur’an and in the sunna, or way, of the Prophet. The Qur’an presents Prophet Muhammad as an exemplar of morality, whose character alone is a “paragon of virtue, a model for all,” Zahrani added.

With the growing feeling universally that entities are becoming less and less ethical, ethics in practice of public relations serve to steer professionals away from the wrong and make the right decision when it comes to the grey areas.

Ethical public relations is not, in Dr Hook’s view, an oxymoron.

Highlighting the role and value of ethics in public relations, IPRA’s Gulf Chapter President referred to public relations expert and long-time PR professional Dr Steven R. Van Hook’s definition of public relations as the ‘conscience’ of an institution.

Ethical public relations is not, in Dr Hook’s view, an oxymoron.

This seems, to me, to be a great indicator of the place and role of public relations in broader society and follows Imam Feisal’s point regarding public relations professionals as the addressees of the aforementioned Qur’anic caveat.

As such, public relations practitioners could just as easily be described as the ‘conscience of a society.’

Here, the ends as well as the means are clear:

“To us Muslims, as Public Relations professionals, adhering to these values and meaningful ethics and running our practice according to them will not only make us excellent Public Relations practitioners but will also render us generally good Muslims – a superior status that we all long for,” Zahrani said.

Only insofar as society's conscience stays clear and open, can justice -- which overrides even the idea of faith in building a good society – be truly realized.

عن أبي هُرَيْرَةَ ـ رضى الله عنه قَالَ:
قَبَّلَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم الْحَسَنَ بْنَ عَلِيٍّ وَعِنْدَهُ الأَقْرَعُ بْنُ حَابِسٍ التَّمِيمِيُّ جَالِسًا‏.‏ فَقَالَ الأَقْرَعُ إِنَّ لِي عَشَرَةً مِنَ الْوَلَدِ مَا قَبَّلْتُ مِنْهُمْ أَحَدًا‏.‏ فَنَظَرَ إِلَيْهِ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ثُمَّ قَالَ ‏"‏ مَنْ لاَ يَرْحَمُ لاَ يُرْحَمُ ‏"‏‏
God's Messenger kissed Al-Hasan bin Ali (his grandchild) while Al-Aqra' bin Habis At-Tamim was sitting beside him. Al-Aqra said, "I have ten children and I have never kissed anyone of them", God's Messenger cast a look at him and said, "Whoever is not merciful to others will not be treated mercifully." (Bukhari, Good Manners and Form (Al-Adab), 18)

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