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The history of public relations

Islam and the evolution of art to communicate

The history of public relations

Some scholars claim that public relations is a new science which took shape as a distinct discipline at the beginning of the twentieth century. Though their contention is partly true, evidence suggests that even as early as 5000 BC, in ancient civilizations like Iraq, there existed people who carried out some functions that today form an essential component of the overall job of a public relations officer (PRO).

During the pre-Christ period, the ancient Egyptians knew the advantages of spreading information through advertising. The rightful Caliphs of Islam also made use of persuasive communication techniques and they had set up a dedicated cadre of PROs. In support, one may cite the fourth Caliph of Islam, Hazrat Ali’s epistle to the governor of Egypt, Malik Ashtar.

In his letter, Hazrat Ali advised the governor to manage State affairs, including appointments to official positions keeping in view the requirements, basic qualities and traits of persons for each and every position. A remarkable document on the techniques of statecraft and management, it forms an interesting reading. While describing the types of state minions, Hazrat Ali writes: “We have the army formed of the soldiers of God. We have our civil officers and their establishments, our judiciary, our revenue collectors and public relations officers.”

Hazrat Umar, the second rightful Caliph of Islam, had appointed correspondents who sent him detailed reports regularly on each and every department and walk of life. Through this system of feedback, the Caliph remained abreast of every happening throughout the Muslim world.

While in the past, PR programmes largely involved inter-personal communication, the choices available to the PR practitioners of today are immense and these are increasing every day due to innovations in the communication technology, invention of satellite, PCs and social media.

Quran, the best guide

The Holy Quran is a complete code of life: It guides the human-beings and teaches them what is good and what is bad for them, what is permissible and what is forbidden for them, what gives meaning to their earthly existence and what reduces it to an exercise in absurdity. The Holy Prophet of Islam (PBUH), like his predecessors, served as a medium for divine communication to the mankind and the Quranic communication is positive communication. It lays down definite prescriptions and prohibitions for mankind for leading a meaningful and purposeful life.

The message and communication of the Holy Quran has an appeal not only to the reason and understanding but to the whole nature of man by which he is enabled to know and appreciate the truth and to be in spiritual accord with the planning will of God. The Quran is also the most effective form of communication because it leaves no scope for doubt and skepticism. Naturally, the Holy Quran served the Muslim as the best guide for preparing messages for persuasive communication with the people, following some of the techniques that Allah, The Almighty, has revealed to the faithful.

The communication techniques used in the Holy Quran are vast and varied: “We have explained (things) in various (ways) in this Quran.” – 17.41. These appear to be in keeping with the psyche, knowledge, background and experience of the people referred to in the Ayahs. Knowledge of the Quran has helped the faithful in developing the technique of audience analysis and tailoring communication messages for each and every target group keeping in view their knowledge and background. This instruction is very important for those who are engaged in the propagation of information.

In a voluminous work — “Tafhim al-Quran — Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi writes: “Wisdom implies that one should use discretion in the work of propagation and should not do this blindly, like foolish people. Wisdom demands that one should keep in view the knowledge, intelligence, capability and circumstances of the addressees and convey the Message in accordance with the requirements of the occasion. Moreover, one should refrain from applying one and the same method to each and every person or group, but should first diagnose the real disease of the addressee and then cure it by appealing to his head and heart.” Furthermore, “the invitation must take place with wisdom and within ethical parameters. The invitees or those being addressed must not be coerced, counselled, not compelled to accept the faith.” This technique of persuasive communication has become a cardinal principle of PR, which is now being widely used globally.

Furthermore, Maulana Maududi notes: “One should not be content with convincing the addressee with arguments alone, but should also appeal to his feelings. Likewise, one should not confine oneself merely to arguments in condemning evils and deviations but should try to convince the other of their repugnance that lies embedded in the human nature. One should also warn of the worst consequences of those evils. Besides, one should not only try to convince the addressee rationally of the soundness and excellence of guidance and righteous deeds but should also create in him interest and love for them…

‘Best manner’ also implies that one should have a sweet tongue, show noble character and give reasonable and appealing arguments, and refrain from indulging in polemics, argumentation and controversies. The one who discusses things with people in the best manner, does not resort to accusations, crooked arguments, taunts, nor makes fun of the opponent in order to defeat him and to win applause for his own superiority in argument. For these things will produce obduracy and obstinacy. In contrast to this, he will try to convince the other in a simple and humble way, and when he feels that the other person has come down to crooked arguments, he will leave him alone lest the other should go further and further astray in his deviation.

In Quran, Allah also exhorts the Holy Prophet (PBUH) that while engaged in persuasive communication, he should lay stress first on points which are undisputable and common between him and his audience. For preparation of advertisement material, PR experts now widely use this technique.

In the Quran, the messages of vital nature have been repeated again and again lest human beings, who have short memory, forget the fundamental and vital points of the teachings. The technique of repetition is being widely used by the advertising industry these days.

The principle of “scare tactics” has been used to prevent the masses, who are accustomed to authoritarian education and refrain from doing things which carry penalty, from indulging in social vices like adulteration, smuggling, hoarding, grafting, favouritism, nepotism, adultery, etc. This approach has been beefed up with stories pertaining to races and nations that benefitted by practicing good deeds and those races who were ruined by indulging in bad and abhorring customs and traditions. Based on the experiences of others, the technique of ‘Case Study’ is today recognised as an effective method for preventing people from vices like drug abuse, gambling, horse-racing and other similar bad habits and rituals. However, the Holy Quran advises the faithful to “repel the evil with that which is best.” -23:96

One can change the opinion of the educated through logical articulation — argumentation, reasoning and presentation of facts. The Holy Quran uses this technique while dealing with topics like their being but only one God, there being no offspring of God, His being the sole and the absolute wielder of authority, power and might, having no partners or co-sharer of authority in His scheme of things, His being the only one Who provides food to all human beings and other forms living on the planet Earth and so on and so forth.

Another technique that we find in the Holy Quran can be called “challenge” — the universe and the system governing it that He has created are unparalleled and cannot be created by anyone else or there is none who can make these systems deviate from the course prescribed by Allah, The Almighty. The Holy Quran also throws a challenge to all doubting Toms and Dicks, saying: “Who is more true in statement than Allah.” (4-87)

Reward is a commonly used technique in PR. However, it seems to have been borrowed from the Holy Books. The Holy Quran promises a very good recompense to the virtuous ones in the hereafter: They would live forever in the Paradise where they shall have lofty mansions, equipped with all comforts of life in addition to all other necessities in abundance that they may wish or desire.

The Holy Quran also carries an advice for all communicators: Communicate truth because truthful men and women are deserving of forgiveness and great reward. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) advised the faithful not to disseminate any report without verifying its authenticity.

Holy Prophet’s personality

The personality of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is a role model for all PROs, who can draw a lot from his manners, style of speech, traditions and method for interaction with others for establishing a positive channel of communication with the public. All biographers of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) have described him to be a social being of unusual charms and an embodiment of fine manners — truthful, honest, kind, brave, courageous, forgiving, helpful, hospitable, gracious, compassionate, neat, clean, eloquent speaker, keen listener, champion of justice, equality etc; whose style of living was, by choice and design, most austere but nonetheless he was high-minded and noble in attitude.

In his book Sunshine at Madina, Zakaria Bashier writes that the style of the leadership of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was not that of an overbearing lord, obsessed by promoting his own image and strengthening his personal grip. Nor was it the style of an envious professor irritated if one of his students excelled. Far from trying to dim and lessen the merit of his Companions, he forever sought to exalt and improve them and lead them towards the realisation of what was best and most noble in them…He would even ask his Companions to convey to him the needs of those who could not convey them in person, saying “whosoever conveys them, God would establish and strengthen him on the Resurrection Day… Far from attempting to mock them or demoralize them, he would say things which would help them overcome their vices and weaknesses.”

Open conference

The rightful Caliphs of Islam introduced the concept of Open Conference, another technique of PR which is being widely used these days for motivating the public. The fourth Caliph of Islam, Hazrat Ali, through an epistle, advised the governor of Egypt Malik Ashtar to “meet the oppressed and the lowly periodically in an open conference…having heart-to-heart talk with them, and let none from your armed guards or civil officers or members of the Police or the Intelligence Department be by your side, so that representative of the poor might state their grievances fearlessly and without reserve… Accept the recommendations made by your officers for the redress of the grievances of the clerical staff. See to it that petitions or applications submitted for your consideration are brought to your notice the very day they are submitted, however much your officers might try to prevent this. Dispose of the day’s work that very day, for the coming day will bring with it its own tasks.”

In short, Muslims have glorious traditions in management and statecraft. The personality of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and his behaviour/dealings with various segments of the public, both Muslims and non-Muslims, are the best examples of developing and fostering human relations, changing their orientation and motivating them to strive for achieving the loftier goals in life.

No doubt, the nature of PR work and also the media and the communication techniques have significantly improved over the years, enabling one to use latest techniques perfected by man over centuries for communication with fellow human beings. While in the past, PR programmes largely involved inter-personal communication, the choices available to the PR practitioners of today are immense and these are increasing every day due to innovations in the communication technology, invention of satellite, PCs and social media, which has made it possible to send messages to people all over the globe within the twinkle of an eye.

Alauddin Masood

alauddin masood
The writer is a freelance columnist based at Islamabad. He can be reached at alauddinmasood@gmail.com

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