Journalist: Role & Responsibility

  The duty of the journalists, inter alia, includes reporting incident, making comment in the form of personal column, commentary and writing editorial. Above all the press being the fourth estate does exert political power and influence as watch dog and discharge its responsibility for the general good of the people, society and the state at large. A question however frequently been raised whether Islam provides any guideline or code of conduct for the journalists in the discharge of their responsibility and obligation. In answering this question we must fall back on the Holy Quran, the last Revealed Book and the sunnah, the Tradition of the Holy Prophet Salla Allahu ‘Alayhi Wa Sallam  (saws)- May peace & blessings of Allah be upon him.

Indeed in the sight of Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala (Glory and Praise be to Allah) all people including the journalists who are engaged in the pursuit of knowledge are honourable. The first verse of the Holy Quran is: Read in the name of thy Lord Who created [Al Quran 96 (Sura Al Alaq): 1]. It then follows: He Who taught the use of the pen (i.e. writing) [Al Quran 96 (Sura Al Alaq): 4]. The journalists remain very much busy in reading and writing or in other words in the pursuit of knowledge throughout their professional career. It is therefore naturally expected that man being the vicegerent or Khalifa of the Creator on the earth [Al Quran 2 (Surat Al Baqarah): 30] should remain conscious of his/her responsibility of attaining the pleasure of his/her Master [Al Quran 48 (Sura Al Fath): 29] by following the Siratul Mustaqim [Al Quran 1(Surat Al Fatiha): 6], the Straight Path. Man has to pass a time in this world [Al Quran 2 (Surat Al Baqarah): 36] and after death on the day of Resurrection he/she will be awarded for his/her actions in this life [Al Quran 3 (Surat Al Imran): 185]. It is through the remembrance and consciousness of the Creator and the Day of Judgement that Islam instill in each individual the sense of accountability.

This accountability has been made distinct which is the guiding principle of just reporting. Al Quran states: And cover not truth with falsehood, nor conceal the truth when you know what it is [Al Quran 2 (Surat Al Baqarah): 42]. In another verse Al Quran states: …whenever you speak (i.e. express) speak (i.e. express) justly …[Al Quran 6 (Surat Al Anam): 152]. Holy Quran states: And pursue not that of which you have no knowledge; for every act of hearing or seeing or of the feeling in the heart will be enquired into on the Day of Reckoning [Al Quran 17 (Surat Bani Israil): 36]. Al Quran further elaborates: And he who brings the truth and he who confirms and supports it- such are the men who do right [Al Quran 39 (Sura Az Zumar): 33]. Al Quran states: …so judge you between men in truth and justice and follow not your desire- for it will mislead you from the Path of Allah … [Al Quran 38 (Sura Sad): 26]. Prophet Muhammad (saws) said: That which is lawful is clear and also that which is unlawful is quite clear; and between these two is that which is ambiguous, which most people do not know. One who avoids the doubtful, safeguards his faith and his honour (Riyadh-Us-Saleheen - R.S. 588). Holy Prophet (saws) said: Leave alone that which involves you in doubt and adhere to that which is free from doubt for truth is comforting and falsehood is disturbing (R.S 55). Holy Prophet (saws) is reported to have said: A perfect Muslim is neither a taunter, a curser, an abuser, nor one having a long tongue (R.S. 1555). Holy Prophet (saws) said: Allah hates the person who twists his tongue in eloquence while talking (R.S. 1737). Al Quran states: When you are propagating it with your tongues and uttering with your mouths that whereof you had no knowledge; and you thought it to be a light matter, while it was most serious in the sight of Allah [Al Quran 24 (Sura An Nur): 15]. Holy Quran states: Whoever intercedes in a good cause becomes a partner therein and whoever recommends and helps an evil cause shares in its burden … [Al Quran 4 (Surat An Nisa): 85]. Al Quran states: Cursed be the conjecturers [Al Quran 51 (Sura Az Zariyat): 10]. Holy Quran states: …Those who stir up sedition in the city (i.e. put false rumours in circulation to excite the crowd), desist not, We shall certainly stir thee up against them … [Al Quran 33 (Sura Al Ahzab): 60].

The journalists who write editorials, columns and commentaries or give views in various issues have the moral responsibility of advocating righteousness. Al Quran states: Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong … [Al Quran 3 (Surat Al Imran): 104]. Prophet Muhammad (saws) said: You should enjoin virtue and check evil (R.S. 193). Another verse of the Holy Quran states: … Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most righteous of you … [Al Quran 49 (Sura Al Hujurat): 13]. Al Quran states: … Stand out firmly for Allah as witnesses to fair dealing and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just, that is next to piety and fear Allah … [Al Quran 5 (Surat Al Maida): 8]. Holy Quran states: … Stand out firmly for justice … follow not the lusts of your hearts lest you may avoid justice and if you distort your witness or refuse to give it … [Al Quran 4 (Surat An Nisa): 135]. Al Quran states: … We shall hide not the evidence we owe to Allah. If we do, then behold, we shall be sinners [Al Quran 5 (Surat Al Maida): 106]. Holy Quran states: That is the most suitable that they may give the evidence in its true nature and shape …[Al Quran 5 (Surat Al Maida): 108]. Al Quran states: … Only say those words that are best … [Al Quran 17 (Surat Bani Israil): 53].  Al Quran states: … Whoever expects to meet his Lord, let him work righteousness … [Al Quran 18 (Surat Al Khaf): 110].

Journalists should present thing in clear and distinct language. It should not be ambiguous or allegorical and should be understood fully. Al Quran states: … Warn openly and without ambiguity [Al Quran 15 (Surat Al Hijr): 89]. … But what is the mission of messengers but to preach the clear message [Al Quran 16 (Surat Al Nahl): 35]. … I am sent to you only to give a clear warning [Al Quran 22 (Sura Al Hajj): 49]. … The Messenger’s duty is only to preach the clear message [Al Quran 24 (Sura An Nur): 54]. … And the duty of the Messenger is only to preach publicly and clearly [Al Quran 29 (Sura Al Ankabut): 18]. … I am to give warning plainly and publicly [Al Quran 38 (Sura Sad): 70]. … I am but a warner, open and clear [Al Quran 46 (Sura Al Ahqaf): 9]. … I am from Him a warner to you, clear and open [Al Quran 51 (Sura Az Zariyat): 51]. … I am a plain warner [Al Quran 67 (Sura Al Mulk): 26]. Prophet Muhammad (saws) used to repeat his words thrice so that the same were fully understood (R.S. 696). Al Quran states: … Make your utterance straightforward [Al Quran 33 (Sura Al Ahzab): 70]. 

The objective of the media along with other sections of the society should be to establish peace, stability and fraternity and not to encourage conflict and hatred. Al Quran states: … Make peace and reconciliation … [Al Quran 49 (Sura Al Hujurat): 10]. Prophet (saws) said: Do not create hatred (R.S. 637).

The objective of the journalists should be to advice and warn and not to create fitna-fasad, mischief and rebellion. Al Quran states: Allah commands justice, the doing of good … He forbids all indecent deeds and evil and rebellion … [Al Quran 16 (Surat Al Nahl): 90]. Holy Quran states: Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from error … [Al Quran 2 (Surat Al Baqarah): 256]. Al Quran states: … Commit no excesses in your religion … [Al Quran 4 (Surat An Nisa): 171]. In another verse Al Quran states … Exceed not in your religion the bonds of what is proper, trespassing beyond the truth … [Al Quran 5 (Surat Al Maida): 77].  According to the fuqaha, the Muslim jurists’ excess here means that truth is sometimes concealed or trampled upon, to exceed limit while supporting or assisting any matter or to interpret in the light of superstitious ideas and beliefs. Prophet Muhammad (saws) said: People who exaggerated are ruined (R.S. 1736). Al Quran states: We send the messengers only to give good news and to warn … [Al Quran 6 (Surat Al Anam): 48]. The mission of the Prophet (saws) is to convey the truth. Holy Quran states: … I am only a warner [Al Quran 27 (Sura An Naml): 92]. In another verse Al Quran states: … I am but a warner and a bringer of glad tidings … [Al Quran 7 (Surat Al Araf): 188]. Al Quran addressing the Prophet (saws) states: We have truly sent thee as a witness, as a bringer of glad tidings and as a warner [Al Quran 48 (Sura Al Fath): 8]. The Messenger’s duty is but to proclaim the message … [Al Quran 5 (Surat Al Maida): 99]. … And Allah sent messengers with glad tidings and warnings … [Al Quran 2 (Surat Al Baqarah): 213]. Messengers who gave good news as well as warnings… [Al Quran 4 (Surat An Nisa): 165]. … Verily I am sent unto you from Him to warn and to bring glad tidings [Al Quran 11 (Surat Hud): 2]. … But thou art truly a warner and to every people a guide [Al Quran 13 (Surat Al Rad): 7]. … And We sent thee but to give glad tidings and to warn [Al Quran 17 (Surat Bani Israil): 105]. We only send the messengers to give glad tidings and to give warnings … [Al Quran 18 (Surat Al Kahf): 56]. But thee We only sent to give glad tidings and warnings [Al Quran 25 (Sura Al Furqan): 56]. … I am only a warner [Al Quran 27 (Sura An Naml): 92]. … Truly We have sent thee as a witness, a bearer of glad tidings and a warner [Al Quran 33 (Sura Al Ahzab): 45]. Thou art no other than a warner [Al Quran 35 (Sura Fatir): 23].  Verily We have sent thee with truth, as a bearer of glad tidings and as a warner … [Al Quran 35 (Sura Fatir): 24] … Truly am I a warner … [Al Quran 38 (Sura Sad): 65].

The responsibility of the Prophet (saws) is not to force. Al Quran states: … Not mine is the responsibility for arranging your affairs [Al Quran 6 (Surat Al Anam): 66. … And I am not set over you to arrange your affairs [Al Quran 10 (Surat Yunus): 108]. … Thy duty is to make the message reach them. It is Our part to call them to account [Al Quran 13 (Surat Al Rad): 40]. … And thou art not one to compel them by force …[Al Quran 50 (Sura Qaf): 45]. Thou art not one to manage their affairs [Al Quran 88 (Sura Al Gashiya): 22]. This means that the responsibility of the Prophet (saws) was not to force or compel people to accept guidance but to explain clearly all the implications and consequences of not following the truth. The journalists while discharging their duties should bear this in mind and try to follow this principle.

The journalists while reporting should be meticulous for conveying true and accurate information. There is no room for error or speculation in the absence of conclusive proof and must avoid half-truths for the journalists are accountable to Almighty Allah for his deeds. As regards false allegation Al Quran states: … Produce your proof if you are truthful [Al Quran 2 (Surat Al Baqarah): 111].  Holy Quran states: Why did not bring … witnesses to prove it. When they have not brought the witnesses, such men in the sight of Allah stand forth themselves as liars [Al Quran 24 (Sura An Nur): 13]. In another verse Al Quran states: … If a wicked person comes to you with any news, ascertain the truth, lest you harm people unwittingly and afterwards become full of repentance for what you have done [Al Quran 49 (Sura Al Hujurat): 6]. Al Quran states: When there comes to them some matter touching public safety or fear, they divulge it. If they had only referred it to the Messenger or to those charged with authority among them, the proper investigators would have known it from them direct… [Al Quran 4 (Surat An Nisa): 83]. Referring the matter ‘to those charged with authority’ in the journalistic profession would usually mean that when a matter concerning public safety, national security or such other important matter comes up, the junior in the profession should consult the senior in the profession or those more informed in the matter and more qualified to give opinion such as editor, executive editor, news editor etc. Holy Quran states: Those who witness no falsehood and if they pass by futility, they pass by it with honourable avoidance [Al Quran 25 (Sura Al Furqan): 72]. The teaching of this verse is not to give evidence to false and not to assist anything, which implies fraud or falsehood. The condemnation is not restricted to positive falsehood or of being mixed up with things implying falsehood; but futilities- vain random talk, un-edifying jokes, useless show etc. - are all condemned. Holy Prophet (saws) said: It is sufficient to make a man liar when he goes on circulating without verification all that he has heard (R. S. 1547). The proper course for the journalists is to cross check information for not becoming the victim of wicked source. Al Quran states: … Never can surmise take the place of truth [Al Quran 53 (Sura An Najm): 28].

Mass media under Islam can be fruitful and legitimate only if it works for those higher objectives and purposes for which Muslims are required to live for. Al Quran states: You are the best of peoples evolved for mankind enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong … [Al Quran 3 (Surat Al Imran): 110]. Holy Quran states: … We have made of you an ummah justly balanced that you might be witnesses over the nations … [Al Quran 2 (Surat Al Baqarah): 143]. Al Quran states: … You be witnesses for mankind … [Al Quran 22 (Sura Al Hajj): 78]. In another verse Al Quran states: … That you might lead mankind out of the depths of darkness into light … [Al Quran 14 (Surat Ibrahim): 1]. Holy Quran explaining the responsibility of the Messenger (saws) states: … That he may lead forth … from the depths of darkness into light … [Al Quran 65 (Sura At Talaq): 11]. It is therefore naturally expected that the journalists must work to realize the higher objectives of the Creator.

In fact the journalists are the communicators of the message and media is the most powerful means of moulding public opinion and winning hearts. The journalists should therefore be careful while using pen. Al Quran states: Invite all to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious … [Al Quran 16 (Surat Al Nahl): 125]. In another verse Al Quran addressing the Prophet (saws) states: And by the Mercy of Allah, you dealt with them gently. And had you been severe and harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about you …  [Al Quran 3 (Surat Al Imran): 159]. Al Quran states: And speak … mildly …[Al Quran 20 (Sura Ta-Ha): 44]. Al Quran states: And of those whom We have created, there is a community who guides others with the truth and establishes justice therewith [Al Quran 7 (Surat Al Araf): 181].  In another verse Al Quran states: Those who love to see scandal circulate (i.e. published and broadcast) among the believers will have a grievous penalty in this life and in the Hereafter … [Al Quran 24 (Sura An Nur): 19].  Holy Quran states: … Come not near to indecent deeds, whether open or secret … [Al Quran 6 (Surat Al Anam): 151]. Al Quran states: … The things that my Lord has indeed forbidden are indecent deeds, whether open or secret; sins and trespasses against truth or reason … [Al Quran 7 (Surat Al Araf): 33]. In another verse Al Quran states: Woe to every kind of scandalmonger and backbiter [Al Quran 104 (Sura Al Humaza): 1]. Holy Quran states: And be moderate in thy pace and lower thy voice for the harshest of sounds without doubt is the braying of the ass [Al Quran 31 (Sura Luqman): 19].

Freedom to investigate facts so as to formulate and express opinion is essential. This helps a journalist to fulfill his or her responsibility or duty to ascertain the truth, speak out against injustice and actively support and establish what is good. Al Quran states: And what is the wrong with you that you fight not in the Cause of Allah and for those weak, ill-treated and oppressed among men, women and children whose cry is: Our Lord, rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors and raise for us from Thee one who will protect and raise for us from Thee one who will help [Al Quran 4 (Surat An Nisa): 75].

But this freedom is subject to certain limit and must not unnecessarily create sensationalism and expose the mistakes and shortcomings of others without good, valid and justifiable reason. Prophet Muhammad (saws) said: One who covers up the failings of somebody in this world will have his shortcomings covered by Allah on the Day of Judgement (R.S. 240). On another occasion Prophet (saws) said: Every one of my followers will be forgiven except those who make public the faults of other people (R. S. 241). Al Quran states: Those who avoid great sins and indecent deeds, save lesser offences, verily thy Lord is ample in forgiveness … [Al Quran 53 (Sura An Najm): 32].

Al Quran states: O you who believe avoid suspicion as much as possible for suspicion in some cases is a sin. And spy not on each other, nor speak ill of each other behind their backs …  [Al Quran 49 (Sura Al Hujurat): 12]. From this verse it is clear that conjecture is not forbidden as such. What is not permitted is to follow every kind of conjecture. It means one should not entertain suspicion in respect of a person without any valid ground and reason. The teaching of the Holy Quran is not that one should refrain from conjecture or suspicion altogether but what is enjoined is that one should refrain from much and not required suspicion. The last limit of lawful conjecture is that one should conduct oneself cautiously in order to ward off any possible mischief from him. It is not right to take an action against an individual only on the basis of a conjecture. It is necessary to investigate before forming an opinion and be sure that there are sound and valid reasons for the conjecture and whether the conduct one is adopting on the basis of the conjecture is permissible. The general principle of Islam is not to be engaged in such activities as finding fault, shortcoming, mistake, defect and weakness of others. From the conduct and behaviour of a person or persons if some signs of corruption are visible and there is apprehension that he is about to commit a crime, the government including the journalist can enquire into his or her affairs. Attack on the honour and dignity of people unjustly and unnecessarily is not permitted in Islam. Holy Prophet (saws) said: The worst excess is to attack the honour of a Muslim unjustly (Sunan Abu Dawud). This tradition of the Holy Prophet (saws) implies that if criticism is made for valid reason and justly then it is permissible. Basically backbiting or gibat is not allowed in Islam except in case it is needed for a real and genuine necessity and the necessity may not be satisfied without having resorted to it. The fuqaha, Islamic jurists and scholars are of opinion that the general principle of backbiting or gibat however does not stop the oppressed from raising his or her voice against the oppressor before such person who, he thinks, can do something positive to stop such oppression, persecution and injustice.  In Islam it is allowed to make public the wrong doings and mistakes of any individual or group with the intention of reform and warn people of the mischief of person or persons so that they may ward off the evil and its negative impact. To raise voice publicly against person or persons who are engaged in spreading sin, immorality and corrupting people’s faith is permissible in Islam.

Holy Quran states: Allah loves not the public utterance of hurtful speech except by one who has been wronged …  [Al Quran 4 (Surat An Nisa): 148]. According to Islamic legal principle, in practicing the right of criticism a line should be drawn between criticizing the ordinary man and criticizing one in public office. In the later case, a distinction should be made between their public activities and their personal life. The ethical values of Islam that secure privacy and forbid any violation of personal rights should be observed. Groundless or avoidable allegations without any justification cannot be tolerated, and slander and libel are forbidden (Fathi Osman. Muslim World: Issues and Challenges. p107. Islamic Center of Southern California, Los Angeles, C.A. 1989.).

The basic objective of Islam is the general welfare of mankind and not any particular group. The journalists like other sections of the society should therefore work for the welfare of the people by way of promoting benefit and preventing harm. God’s purpose is but to promote and foster welfare and prevent corruption in the earth. Al Quran states: We have not sent you but as a mercy for all creatures [Al Quran 21 (Sura Al Anbiyaa): 107]. God never intends to impose hardship upon people. Al Quran states: … Allah does not wish to place you in difficulty … [Al Quran 5 (Surat Al Maida): 6]. The general objective, nay the essence of the Islamic teaching is to work for public good. This very precept is an integral part of the fundamental belief of Islam. But while working for public interest it must be understood that the benefits must not confine to a person or a group of persons rather the efforts should be for yielding benefit to the largest possible number of people. Leading Islamic scholars are in agreement in principle that all efforts to promote public interest, which does not go against the objective of the shariah, are allowed nay encouraged by Islam. In Islam it is not permitted to invite people towards asabiah. Prophet Muhammad (saws) said: One who invites people towards asabiah is not my follower (Sahih Muslim, Kitabul Imarat, Bab Ujubi Mulajamati Jamaat Al Muslimeen and Sunan Abu Dawud, Kitabul Adab, Bab Fil Asabiah). Asabiah is group feeling, which obviously believes on the superiority of a particular group over the other, hatred of one group towards the other, supporting a particular group even if it commits wrong against another group which is following a right and just course. In Islam people must work to promote public interest and not group interest if such activities go against the general welfare. Working to promote group interest however allowed only when such activities in no way go against the public interest. The journalists while working for the social interest should keep this principle of Islam upper most in their mind.

To sum up, Allah has sent Rusul or Messengers (aws) to communicate to humankind what He has revealed. In fact the Prophets (aws) were the best communicators. It is interesting to note that the journalists are communicators not only of the present day situation and past historical events but like other sections of the society should shoulder the responsibility of the Prophet (saws) who is no longer among us in conveying truth and opposing evil, wrong, oppression and injustice. It behoves that journalist should work and live for this natural expectation and should in no circumstance take part in slander, mischief and should exercise utmost restrain, for the cause of truth and justice can be best served by those who act cool-headedly and should take appropriate steps for the well-being of mankind after due consideration rather than under the influence of impulse and emotion.


  1. The Holy Quran. English translation and commentary by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. Revised and edited by the Presidency of Islamic Researches, IFTA, Call and Guidance, Saudi Arabia.
  2. Interpretation of the Meanings of the Noble Quran. A summarized version of At-Tabari and Ibn Khatir with comments from Sahih Al Bukhari. Summarized in one volume in English by Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan and Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali. Dar-us-Salam Publications, Saudi Arabia.
  3. The Message of The Quran. Translated and Explained by Muhammad Asad, Dar Al-Andalus, Gibraltar.
  4. Al Quraner Bishoy Ovidhan (Concordance of the Holy Quran in Bangla) by Asad Bin Hafiz. Pritee Prokashon, Dhaka, Bangladesh
  5. Sahih Muslim, a collection of Hadith, Sayings of the Prophet (saws) by Imam Abul Hossain Muslim Ibn Hajjaj.
  6. R. S. abbreviation for Riyadh-Us-Saleheen, a collection of Hadith, Sayings of the Prophet (saws) by Imam Yahiya Al Nawawi.
  7. Sunan Abu Dawud, a collection of Hadith, Sayings of the Prophet (saws) by Imam Sulaiman bin al Ashath.

21st February 2002